MAAP | Mapping the African American Past

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Cynthia Copeland on the Seneca Village community
Public Historian Cynthia R. Copeland describes the diverse community of Seneca Village.
Then
Now

This map (pictured) shows Seneca Village, a largely black community that thrived from 1825 until 1855,  when the land was made part of Central Park by the city.

Seneca Village

Today, as you walk in Central Park near West Drive and 85th Street, you can see a plaque commemorating Seneca Village.

Current view of the Seneca Village site

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.”

This entry contributed by Curriculum Concepts International

Related Media


Video
Public Historian Cynthia R. Copeland talks about the decision to build Central Park and the displacement of the residents of Seneca Village by eminent domain.
Public Historian Cynthia R. Copeland describes enclaves of free African Americans and the unusual beginning of Seneca Village.
Public Historian Cynthia R. Copeland describes the diverse community of Seneca Village.
Columbia University Professor of History Kenneth Jackson discusses the emergence and demolition of Seneca Village.

Images
Today, as you walk in Central Park near West Drive and 85th Street, you can see a plaque commemorating Seneca Village.
Fernando Wood (pictured) was Mayor of the City of New York when Seneca Village was cleared to make way for the creation of Central Park.
This map (pictured) shows Seneca Village, a largely black community that thrived from 1825 until 1855, when the land was made part of Central Park by the city.



Produced by CCNMTL, Chase, Teachers College, and CCI