History

Seneca Village, a black neighborhood, was torn down in Manhattan to clear the way for New York’s Central Park

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Seneca Village, a neighborhood of working class black homeowners, located on Manhattan’s West Side, was bulldozed to clear the land for New York’s Central Park.

New York’s elite demolished Seneca Village, the largest community of African-American homeowners in 19th Century New York.
The 5-acre neighborhood existed between 1825 and 1857.  According to the 1855 census, 225 residents called the area home.
The population was two-thirds African American, but Irish, Germans and Native Americans also lived there.
Blacks founded Seneca Village in an area bounded by what later would be designated as 81st and 89th Streets.
Three African Americans founded Seneca Village after New York abolished slavery in 1827. The AME Zion Church and the African Union Church purchased the land from John and Elizabeth Whitehead, white farmers. Seneca Village was home to three churches, two schools, and two cemeteries.
The churches and William Matthews, a black entrepreneur, sold the parcels of land to black buyers, who had been prohibited from owning property until New York ended slavery.
Property ownership had its benefits. Black men who owned $250 worth of property could vote. White men could own property valued at a much lower amount also could vote.
Blacks lived in the one-story frame and board houses. They owned the homes and the land. Men worked  construction jobs. They also were day laborers and they were employed by the food- service industry. Women worked as domestics.
In 1856, the New York City elite asserted eminent domain to destroy Seneca.
Homeowners received very little money for their loss of property.  Renters got nothing. Residents scattered but no one knows where.
This is another case study that whites will push out blacks to take control of what they own.
Central Park’s construction began in 1857.
Seneca Village was all but forgotten until the 1990s when scholars and archeologists began working to bring the history of the village to light.
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