Known today as Central Park, originally this was a black inhabited area known as Seneca Village. Lucius Anneaus Seneca was a Roman philosopher and statesmen whose book, ‘Seneca’s Moral’ was read carefully by many African American activists involved with abolition, and it is believed that the name for the village was inspired by the books title.
When everything in Upper Manhattan was pretty much uninhabited, Andrew Williams and Epiphany Davis became the first African Americans to purchase land in the area in 1825. The property stretched from West 82nd to West 85th streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. A week later trustees of the AME Zion Church purchased eight lots of nearby land. By 1829 nine houses were built.
By 1855 the census has a recording of 250 residents, 70 houses, 3 schools, 2 churches, and 2 cemeteries. The distance from Lower Manhattan’s congested, over populated, madness provided a peaceful environment for the black residents.
In 1821, New York State decreed that African-American men were required to possess $250 in property holdings and prove three years of residency in the state in order to be eligible to vote. Many residents became eligible to vote through land ownership in Seneca Village.
Through the 1830s and 1840s, Seneca Village continued to grow and came to include more Irish and German immigrants among its residents. The Irish and German people who were new immigrants to New York City were welcome in Seneca Village, because at the time they were considered to be a lower class than African Americans. Seeing how the village was flourishing, the powers that be implemented imminent domain and after a long and arduous battle in court, the black peoples of Seneca Village lost everything they built. Everything. When New York City decided to move the park to the Seneca Village and surrounding area, they gave the residents of the settlement two years to pack up their things and leave.
Despite its short history of only thirty-two years, Seneca Village should be remembered as a strong community that served as a stabilizing and empowering force in uncertain times. For example:
In 1855, there were 2,000 African Americans in New York and only 100 were eligible to vote. Of those 100 residents, 10 lived in Seneca Village.
Within Seneca Village, 50% of African-American residents owned their own land; which was five times the average ownership rate for ALL New Yorkers.
Several Seneca Village property owners, including Albro Lyons, Levin Smith and S. Hardenburgh, were prominent in the abolitionist movement.
The history books never mentioned them or kept track of them. 99% of the black people alive right now have never heard of the village. The last time I was in NYC I went to the site where Seneca Village was, they're excavating it now for research purposes. Knowing the history, I felt very upset. Like really mad. ...but I knew what I had to do...