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Corky Lee Way sign unveiled in Chinatown honoring legendary lensman

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | The unveiling of Corky Lee Way on Sun., Oct. 22, brought hundreds of people to Mosco Street, just east of Columbus Park, near the courts.

The street co-naming honors the legacy of Lee, a fighting activist photographer and beloved figure and mentor in New York City’s AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community and beyond.

Lee died Jan. 27, 2021, from COVID. He was 73.

Councilmember Marte had to climb the light pole — as Corky Lee would often do to get photos — to unveil the sign. (Photo by David Mulkins)
Luckily, the councilmember is tall. (Photo by David Mulkins)

Councilmember Christopher Marte was given the honor of unveiling the sign. But because the pull rope to remove the covering failed, he had to climb up the light pole and use someone’s cane to take it off. Everyone said it was fitting, because Lee had regularly climbed light poles in pursuit of photographs.

The event also featured a Chinatown block party, a walking exhibition of Corky Lee’s iconic photographs and film screenings featuring Lee. There were also free “Where’s Corky” stickers designed by artist George Hirose; Corky Lee was known for always “being everywhere” and covering all kinds of news and cultural events, so everyone was always curious where he was at any given moment.

John Lee, Corky Lee’s brother, right, proudly received one of the honorary co-naming signs for him to keep. (Photo by David Mulkins)
The photographer’s last public exhibition was an open-air one during the pandemic — at a newsstand at the spot of the co-naming sign. (Photo by David Mulkins)

The corner of Mott and Mosco Streets was where Lee held his final public exhibit. It was an open-air show in a newsstand, whose owner let him use it, a few months before the photographer died.

Lee, who grew up in Queens, was known for capturing the vibrant stories and diversity of the Asian American community through his lens. A gentle soul with a fierce passion to communicate through his images, he held the wry title of the “Undisputed Unofficial Asian American Photographer Laureate.”

Among his most famous projects was reshooting the famous “Golden Spike” photo in Utah — this time, though, with descendants of the hard-working Chinese laborers who laid track for the first transcontinental railroad but were excluded from the original photo.

Getting the sign installed was a two-year effort. Darci Siegel, executive vice president of OCA, above, spoke at the dedication. Photo by David Mulkins)
Karen Zhou, Corky Lee’s partner — standing in front of a poster of Lee — gave remarks at the unveiling. State Senator John Liu is at far right. (Photo by David Mulkins)
Members of the Chinatown American Legion Post turned out to honor Corky Lee. Lee’s father was a veteran and the photographer was an active member of the post. (Photo by David Mulkins)

The effort to install the co-naming sign was led by the Corky Lee Way Street Co-Naming Committee, which includes members of local chapters of OCA (previously known as Organization of Chinese Americans), Chinese Adoptee Alliance and Think!Chinatown.

Over a period of more than a year and a half, the committee worked to petition and advocate for the street co-naming. They gathered more than 1,000 signatures from community members and supporters nationwide, more than 20 letters of support from community leaders and AAPI-centered organizations, and received support from Community Board 3, the City Council and Mayor Eric Adams.

The Corky Lee Way co-naming was passed in an omnibus street-co-naming bill and signed off on by the mayor this past July.

One Comment

  1. Carol Frances Yost Carol Frances Yost November 1, 2023

    This looks like a wonderful ceremony to commemorate the work of an important photographer. What a loss to COVID!

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