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  • Writer's pictureNia Clark

S4 E2 The Black Elite in Antebellum New York City Part 1

Updated: Sep 28, 2023



George Downing and family circa 1890s (Museum of African American History)












An introduction to the Black elite or "the colored aristocracy" in antebellum New York City. The Black experience in the city prior to the Civil War varied and was contingent upon different socioeconomic factors. New York's Black elite were often educated, entrepreneurial and socially-minded, similar to the more embellished portrayals on the HBO series, “The Gilded Age.” Black high society of the 19th century has historically been an under-explored part of American history, in part, because of the stereotypes of African Americans formed during Reconstruction. Guests in this episode include Professor Carla Peterson, author of the book, Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City.


So an example of a scrap that I found was my great grandfather, Philip White, went to the African free school on Lawrence Street. And I found a little record that said that he was paid three dollars over a three month period for building fires to keep the Lawrence Street School building warm. So that's a little scrap that told me that Philip's family, the father had died. They had no money, and this is the way he...made money and was able to continue his schooling." ~Carla Peterson

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Guests in this episode

Carla Peterson

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