OldSoul : Remnants of an African-American Past Found Beneath Central Park

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  1. OldSoul

    OldSoul Permanent Black Man PREMIUM MEMBER

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    May 16, 2002
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    Remnants of an African-American Past
    Found Beneath Central Park


    Today marks the end of an important excavation of New York City’s Central Park to uncover the remnants of Seneca Village, an African-American community founded in the 19th century. Researchers from the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History have been digging for weeks to find clues about the village, which was founded in the 1820’s and destroyed by the construction of New York’s iconic park in the 1850s...
    The digging focused primarily on properties once owned by two black residents: Nancy Moore, and William G. Wilson. Researchers found all sorts of artifacts, including an iron tea kettle, roasting pan, and a small shoe that possibly belonged to a child. “It’s just such an intimate thing,” Madeline Landry, a junior anthropology major at Barnard College, who found herself choked up by the discovery, told the Times. “That shoe fit someone who walked around here.”

    Seneca Village

    As a community of free black property owners, Seneca Village was unique in its day. It was located in the hilly, rock-strewn woods between 82nd and 89th Streets and 7th and 8th Avenues. At that time it was a long walk to the crowded city. The village grew steadily from 1825, when Andrew Williams first bought three lots for $125. By 1832, about 25 more lots were sold to African Americans. And by the early 1850s, the village boasted three churches, a school, and a population of some 300 people. Over the years, German and Irish immigrants joined the community. This diverse community lived in peace, attending the All Angel’s Church together and sharing the services of one midwife.

    But as the city pushed north, the media began to paint a different picture of the little village, calling it a “shantytown” and calling the property owners “squatters” who were “wretched and debased.” Many people in the city, including Mayor Fernando Wood, wanted the land for a great new park. In 1855, the mayor used the power of eminent domain to claim the land. Then he sent the police to clear it. For two years the residents resisted the police as they petitioned the courts to save their homes, churches, and schools. In 1857, they were finally removed. As one newspaper put it, the raid upon Seneca Village would “not be forgotten…[as] many a brilliant and stirring fight was had during the campaign. But the supremacy of the law was upheld by the policeman’s bludgeons.”
    (from: http://maap.columbia.edu/place/32.html )