HARLEM, Manhattan (PIX11) — Their names were cleared two decades ago for horrendous crimes that took place in Central Park in 1989 for which they’d been wrongfully convicted.

On Monday, the Exonerated Five — the five men falsely charged with the rape, assault, and attempted murder of a jogger — returned to the park to see a new chapter of their lives set in stone, literally.  

A stone gate into Central Park was named to honor them, and all other people who’ve been wrongly accused and punished. The men, once known as the Central Park Five, were the guests of honor at the unveiling and dedication of the Gate of the Exonerated. 

State Sen. Cordell Cleare was one of the emcees of the event, at which she honored Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson, along with their two friends Korey Wise and Antron McCray, who weren’t able to attend.

“Today we are making history,” she said, as she convened the late morning gathering near the part of the park where the crimes took place. The teens ended up serving sentences ranging from six to eleven years behind bars, even though they didn’t commit the crimes.

“We’re all here today because of mistakes made by my office,” said Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. He went on to call those mistakes, made under then-D.A. Robert Morgenthau, “injustices.”

Former state assemblymember and New York County Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright was the other emcee of the event. He led the gathering in exclaiming the change in how the honorees are referred to now. 

“The Central Park Five, which is now known, say it with me,” he declared, as the audience joined in, “the Exonerated Five!”

The attendees’ list included a who’s who of Manhattan and New York City civic affairs, including Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Rev. Al Sharpton, and many others.

Mayor Eric Adams said that the city honors the men and their overcoming adversity. 

“We want to give you a key not only to unlock this gate,” the mayor said, “but a key to the city, because you represent all of us.”

The ceremony climaxed with the three of the five — Richardson, Santana, and Salaam — addressing the hundreds who had gathered. Santana said that returning to the park had been too painful to bear for him, even after he became a father.  

“After exoneration, she was born, and I never came to the park,” he said. “Today is the first day that I really enter into the park, and I bring my daughter with me.”

After making comments at the ceremony, the men walked the 50 yards or so to the park entrance, on 110th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Malcolm X Blvd.

On the way, they were flanked by their many supporters, many of whom had helped to ensure that the actual criminal’s confession and DNA linking him to the crime got the men’s names cleared. The three men thanked their families, friends, and supporters on their way to the gate. 

When they arrived, the etched stone sign was covered with a velvet cloth.

The men counted down, and removed the cloth, while the crowd cheered the unveiling of the five-feet-long engraved sign that read, “Gate of the Exonerated.”

Santana called it unbelievable.

“I’m gonna touch it, I’m gonna feel it, I want to make sure it’s real,” he said. 

Richardson said that while he and his lifelong friends were honored on Monday, the gate is about more than just them. 

“It goes beyond the Exonerated Five,” he said. “I know we’re the poster boys for it. [but] It’s for everyone who’s been done wrongfully.” 

Salaam acknowledged that it was a very emotional day, as well as a gratifying one. 

“You want to cry, you want to yell, you want to scream,” he said,  but you have to be thankful, because you were used [by God] to bring about this moment.”