New Yorkers Honor a Black Village That As soon as Thrived in Central Park
Earlier than the Civil Struggle, a predominantly Black group flourished in Seneca Village, on the land that’s now Central Park.
On Sunday, as a part of a commemoration of Juneteenth, a federal vacation that acknowledges the tip of slavery in the US, Black storytellers, dancers and musicians carried out within the park to inform the story of life in that village. It is among the earliest examples of what life after slavery seemed like for some Black folks in New York State.
“It’s actually necessary for everybody to know that this land wasn’t simply Central Park at all times. It was truly owned by our personal folks at one level,” stated Andrew Thomas Williams V, 30, a descendant of Andrew Williams, a shoe shiner who at 25 grew to become one of many first Black folks to purchase land in what would turn out to be Seneca Village.
Census information and maps present that round 1,600 folks lived on the land that will turn out to be Central Park, stated Marie Warsh, a historian on the Central Park Conservancy, which organized the occasion. Round 225 of these folks lived in Seneca Village, a thriving African American group.
“It’s undoubtedly essentially the most densely populated and most organized settlement on the land that grew to become Central Park,” Ms. Warsh stated.
New York Metropolis officers used eminent area to grab the land in 1857 to construct Central Park and supplied compensation to the individuals who lived there. A lot of folks protested, arguing that what they had been supplied wasn’t ample. Amongst them was Mr. Williams, who requested for $4,000 however was supplied $2,335, in accordance with a video produced by the Conservancy.
New York Metropolis Mayor Eric Adams, who participated in Sunday’s celebration, famous how that upheaval resonates immediately, evaluating the displacement of Seneca Village to gentrification that’s forcing Black residents out of New York neighborhoods now.
“When this village was torn aside to construct this park, we displaced the power of Seneca Village,” Mayor Adams stated from the spot the place the group’s first church, African Union Church, is believed to have been positioned.
“It by no means got here again,” he stated of Seneca Village. “Beginning anew time and again, and we surprise why we see a number of the crises that we’re going through in Black and Brown communities.”
He stated the Black households who lived in Seneca Village supplied a basis. “Black communities within the space had been compelled to maneuver and rebuild in different neighborhoods, akin to Harlem, Downtown Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant,” Adams stated, including, “And now what’s occurring now? We’re displacing them once more.”
The settlement in Seneca Village dates again to the ending of slavery in New York State. In 1817, the New York Legislature handed a legislation that abolished slavery and set July 4, 1827, because the date the legislation went into impact — practically 36 years earlier than President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
Black individuals who lived in Decrease Manhattan started transferring north within the 1820s. Ms. Warsh stated they wished to flee the “racist local weather” of Decrease Manhattan.
“Although emancipation had began round 1827, there have been nonetheless a number of challenges confronted by African Individuals residing downtown,” she stated. “There was a need to type of transfer away from that and create an autonomous group the place there was simply extra alternative.”
German and Irish immigrants additionally lived on the land that will turn out to be Central Park, however Seneca Village had not solely homes however gardens, church buildings and a faculty, Ms. Warsh stated. Many individuals had been landowners and had the suitable to vote.
Isheeka Edwards, 37, watched the commemoration on Sunday together with her two youngsters, Lesedi, 8, and Kopano, 3, as Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin, a spoken phrase poet, led the group singing “This Little Gentle of Mine” on the west aspect of the park close to eighty fifth Road, the previous location of Coloured College #3 in Seneca Village.
Ms. Edwards, who stated she lived in a group that was 1.6 p.c Black out west, stated she particularly visited town to have fun Juneteenth. “Something that’s particularly African American or simply seeing Black folks commonly is fairly restricted there,” she stated.
She wished her youngsters to “concentrate on that aspect of America, that historical past, their very own tradition,” she stated.
Natasha Mast, 42, who attended the occasion together with her husband and two sons, who’re 7 and 11, stated she was grappling with what ought to occur subsequent. “Ought to it’s given again ultimately?” she requested. “It’s undoubtedly one thing that I’m fascinated with, and I don’t fairly know what the suitable motion is at this level in historical past.”
Within the meantime, she deliberate to proceed educating herself and her youngsters about Seneca Village and Juneteenth.
“I’m from Canada, however I wasn’t conscious of Juneteenth till not too long ago, and I don’t need my children to develop up not being conscious of this necessary date and what it means, so I’m right here for my very own training but additionally for them as properly,” Ms. Mast stated.
Priscilla Bruderer, a nurse who lives on the Higher West Facet, additionally wished to ensure her little one knew about Seneca Village and Juneteenth.
“I really feel pleased as a result of African Individuals truly obtained a spot to dwell,” stated her son, Mathias Bruderer, 10, who listened to music and made bracelets as he discovered in regards to the historical past of Seneca Village.
Laika Calhoun, 17, a rising senior at Nanuet Senior Excessive College in Nanuet, N.Y., attended together with her brother and fogeys. She stated she was experiencing a variety of feelings, together with each gratitude and unhappiness.
“Not solely am I on this location, I’m witnessing different Black excellence,” Ms. Calhoun stated. “The dancers are actual, the individuals are actual — it’s not simply remembering what occurred, it’s seeing a brand new, up to date model of it.”
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