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  • Writer's pictureNia Clark

S4 E3 Seneca Village (Manhattan)

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Egbert Ludovicus Viele's topographical survey of the land upon which Central Park was created, showing map of Seneca Village June 1856

An exploration of what was once the 19th century settlement known as Seneca Village. Before Central Park was created, the landscape along the Park’s perimeter from West 82nd to West 89th Street was the site of Seneca Village, a community of predominantly African-Americans, many of whom owned property. Over time, other immigrant groups began to settle there, though it remained a predominantly African American settlement. By 1855, the village consisted of approximately 225 residents, made up of roughly two-thirds African-Americans, one-third Irish immigrants, and a small number of individuals of German descent. One of a few African-American enclaves at the time, Seneca Village allowed residents to live away from the more built-up sections of downtown Manhattan and escape the unhealthy conditions and racial discrimination they faced there. By the late 1850’s the city took over the land on which the village sat through eminent domain, and about 1,600 people were displaced. Seneca Village had been all but forgotten until its history was rediscovered in the late 20th century. Guests include archeologists Diana Wall and Nan Rothschild and Bard Graduate Center Professor, Dr. Meredith Linn. Listeners will also hear a previously recorded interview with historian Cynthia Copeland.

And it was also affordable land. It was three miles north of where the settled part of Manhattan was. And so, the land was inexpensive. And of course the other thing about owning land was that if you owned land worth $250 and you could demonstrate that you had been there for several years, you were then entitled after 1820 to vote if you were Black, a Black man...We also think that in the 1820s, there were laws being passed in the city to remove some of the cemeteries, or I should say not continue using them as cemeteries. And that was why we think that one of...the churches were looking for places to bury their dead. And that was why we think AME Zion bought the land to be able to put their cemeteries there." ~Nan Rothschild and Diana Wall

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Guests in this episode

Nan Rothschild

Diana Wall

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