The Felony Buried Under Central Park
An American landmark built on African American suffering and despair
Central Park is a national landmark, it’s the first place aside from the Statue of Liberty that every tourist wants to explore when they arrive in New York City (NYC). In fact, I love to take frequent walks in Central Park, but all that shines is not gold. Central Park was founded on the struggle and despair of the African American community.
Since we are in Black History Month, it’s a perfect time to look back into this.
In the mid-1850s, New Yorker’s realized that their city was missing something; NYC was kind of bland. Unlike Europeans, New Yorkers did not have a grand park to escape the stress of the city. Often, they had to plan their picnics at cemeteries.
NYC had few green spaces that were open to the public and eating there must have taken a lot of mental preparation (for me).
With all their wealth and power, New York’s elite had to do something about this. I mean, why shall they not have a grand park? This led to the creation of a contest to draft ideas of what the park should resemble, people from all over New York became invested in the idea of a new park.
After 33 submissions, the plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux was chosen. To bring this plan to life, New York State Officials purchased 340 acres of land, running from 59th — 106th street.
The Land That Was Never up for Sale
When slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, African Americans began to settle on what is now Central Park. As freed slaves, they began to own homes, hold jobs, and build wealth.
Seneca Village became the first African American community.
In 1855, Seneca Village had a total of 225 African Americans living in 52 homes. It was a vast community, everyone knew each other as they enjoyed the freedom of going to the same schools and churches. Everyone felt at home, there was no outside presence to further separate and intimidate them.
Sadly, for African Americas, this Black autonomy was going to end.