Thriving Black Community In NYC That Was Destroyed To Construct Central Park – Seneca Village

As more blacks in the United States gained their freedom from slavery in the 18th century, many of them relocated from the south to more urbanized areas in search of work and a new life. Many people used the Underground Railway system to get to places like New York.

Despite their freedom from slavery, newly liberated African-Americans had to develop thicker skin in order to deal with racism and segregation, and they often had to live together in areas where the white population had abandoned them.

Andrew Williams, a wealthy shoe shiner (also known as a bootblack) and Epiphany Davis, a laborer and trustee of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, bought land from John Whitehead, a real estate protector, in 1825.

Andrew Williams paid $125 for three pieces of land, according to a New York History article. Epiphany Davis, according to the Gotham Gazette, also purchased 12 lots for $578.

Map Of Seneca Village
Map Of Seneca Village

The two African Americans agreed to gift the land to African Americans in New York who wanted to start their own town. Seneca Village, which was founded in September of 1825, was the name given to the community.

The reason for the community’s name is still unknown, despite the fact that various theories have been proposed to explain it. According to several popular hypotheses, the community was named after a Roman philosopher whose works were widely read by prominent African Americans in urban areas. Another idea claims that the name was a mangled version of Senegal, a West African country from which numerous African Americans claimed they were descended.

Seneca Village grew and prospered quickly as more African Americans chose to move there. A few Irish and German immigrants coexisted peacefully with the African Americans.

Seneca Village was a few streets above the American Natural History Museum, between 82nd and 89th Streets at Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Manhattan (in what is regarded as the western fringe of Central Park).

Albro and Mary Joseph Lyons prominent residents of Seneca Village
Albro and Mary Joseph Lyons, prominent residents of Seneca Village.

The village was modest at first, but it grew into a powerful community of black settlers who worked hard to become prosperous and self-sufficient. By 1855, Seneca Village had attracted a number of notable African Americans, including Albro Lyons and his wife Mary Joseph Lyons, who were runaway slaves who ran a sailors boarding house and a clothing outfitting store.

There were three churches, two schools, two cemeteries, and a variety of enterprises in the village. Seneca Village landowners made up the majority of the 91 Black New Yorkers who were eligible to vote. A number of African Americans were wealthy enough to hire white midwives.

In 1848, a plan for a central park in Manhattan began to take shape, with Seneca Village as the preferred location. By 1856, a group of white real estate developers and owners had persuaded the government to start planning the park, and the project was underway.

Seneca Village residents were asked to leave their homes because they had nowhere else to go. Several white folks dubbed the settlement Nigger Village. According to the Gotham Gazette, numerous African Americans residing in Seneca Village were hesitant to leave their own home. “The officers find it impossible to talk them out of the belief that has gripped their stupid minds, that the main goal of the government in establishing the Park is to procure their expulsion from the homes that they occupy,” according to The New York Daily.

Photo – The Weekly Challenger
Photo – The Weekly Challenger

The residents of Seneca Village were forced to vacate the area using political power as a key tactic, and some were fortunate enough to get a little sum of money in exchange for the properties.

By 1870, all traces of Seneca Village were vanished, replaced by the $14 million Central Park that had been built. The Seneca Village initiative was founded in 1998 to raise awareness of the once-thriving African American community that welcomed non-African Americans and lived in harmony.

Seneca Village Sign in Central Park
Seneca Village Sign in Central Park

Several excavations have taken place in the vicinity to provide more evidence of the village’s existence. In Central Park, there is a little memorial to the people who formerly called it home.

Seneca Village, like Tulsa’s Black Wall Street, is thought to have been demolished to halt the Black community’s rapid progress in urban regions.

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