In honor of Black History Month, here’s a few sites in Manhattan to see (but certainly nowhere near a comprehensive list) of the history of African-Africans in New York City.
These first two photos tell the story of Seneca Village, founded in 1825, the first settlement in NYC created by free black people. It had over 300 residents by mid-century, including Irish & German immigrants. It was demolished in 1857 to make way for Central Park (the overwhelming majority of the land that the park sits on was uninhabited). The stone foundation of one of its buildings-- believed to be the village church-- is visible in the park in between two playgrounds near the West 85th St entrance.
Slavery was abolished in New York State in 1827. Prior to that, in the 1700s, a slave market existed on Wall Street. Much of colonial-era Manhattan was built using slave labor. Lower Manhattan has several monuments dedicated to this monstrous time in our history, including the African Burial Ground National Monument, on Duane St, where thousands of Africans were buried in the 1600s & 1700s.
There were several stations in NYC for the Underground Railroad, including Brooklyn’s Pilgrim Church (home to pastor Henry Ward Beecher) and (pictured here) the Ruggle home in Manhattan, on Lispenard St in modern-day Tribeca. In 1838, Frederick Douglass arrived here. Ruggles estimated that he brought 600 runaway slaves to freedom through his boarding house.
Originally a Dutch Village, Harlem became New York's premiere black neighborhood residentially and culturally starting around the 1920s. This was known as the “Harlem Renaissance”. Its most famous cultural landmark is the Apollo Theater. The theater opened as a burlesque venue in 1914, and was whites-only. It reopened as a new performance venue, the Apollo, in 1934, and opened to black patrons. It remains one of the city’s great theaters today.
These are just a few of the sites I visited this month in Manhattan.
You can find a more detailed guide-- and interactive map-- here:
Black History Month in NYC: 15 historic sites to visit