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Before Central Park There was Seneca Village – Owned by African Americans

The historical New York landmark was once a small black neighborhood

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Central Park is a historical landmark in New York City, an oasis inside a bustling, urban landscape. However, few people know how Central Park was established, or more importantly, what the land was once before. A lot of research on the subject has been done by historian Cynthia R. Copeland, who meticulously searched through old newspapers and other documents to get to the truth.

In reality, the land on which central park now stands was called Seneca Village; a neighborhood that was too ahead of the times for its own good. It was established in 1825 when Andrew Williams, a free African American, bought three plots of land for $125. By 1832, there were 25 African Americans who owned plots of land there. The area developed significantly with the building of three churches and school. Around 1850, it had a population of about 300 people.

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The community was mostly African American, but not exclusively. A number of immigrants moved in somewhat later. The neighborhood was home to Irish immigrants in particular because at the time the Irish were treated with a type of discrimination comparable to that of African Americans. Records show an interracial couple lived there and all the families had their babies delivered by an Irish midwife.

Sadly, there was a smear campaign against the village in the newspaper at the time. People called it a “shantytown”. In 1855 Fernando Wood set out to claim the land, citing eminent domain. Police were sent into to clear the village of people, but the resisted as long as the could through petition and other means. Two years later, all the residents had been evicted and the village was razed.

While no trace of the village remains, historians have recently been conducting more research on the area.

 

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