PODCAST The history of African-American settlements and neighborhoods which once existed in New York City
Today we sometimes define New York City’s African-American culture by place – Harlem, of course, and also Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, neighborhoods that developed for groups of black residents in the 20th century.
But by no means were these the first in New York City. Other centers of black and African-American life existed long before then. In many cases, they were obliterated by the growth of the city, sometimes built over without a single marker, without recognition.
This is the story of a few of those places. From the ‘land of the blacks‘ — the home to New Amsterdam and British New York’s early black population — to Seneca Village, a haven for black lives that was wiped away by a park. From Little Africa — the Greenwich Village sector for the black working class in the late 19th century — to Sandy Ground, a rural escape in Staten Island with deep roots in the neighborhood today.
And then there’s Weeksville, Brooklyn, the visionary village built to bond a community and to develop a political foothold.
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Three boys from Sandy Ground, Staten Island, circa 1912.
More information about the Black Gotham Experience here, including a list of walking tours. Check out the websites for Weeksville Heritage Center and the Sandy Ground Historical Society for more information about visiting hours and tours.
Have plans tomorrow (Saturday, June 10)? Both the Black Gotham Experience and Weeksville Heritage Center have daytime events. Stop by and see both of them!
This map of Seneca Village was made by Andy Proehl illustrating what the settlement looked like in the years before its destruction.
The approximate area via Google Maps. The Great Lawn now sits on the spot where the reservoir is.
The approximate area of Little Africa. The map is from 1889.
Richard Hoe Lawrence and Jacob Riis’s images of a “Black and Tan” dive bar on Broome Street near Wooster Street, 1890.
Minetta Lane, circa 1900.
The approximate location of Weeksville, Brooklyn
The three surviving houses today
The picture at top features an African-American family posed in front of the John Brown Homestead in Torrington, Connecticut, circa 1890s-1900. I particularly love this picture (despite it not being in New York City) because the house is reminiscent of the Weeksville houses and those that were in Sandy Ground.
Regrettably there are not a huge trove of photographs of any of the places mentioned in the podcast. If you know of any photography websites or resources, please leave the information in the comments so others may check them out. Thanks!