The lost neighborhood under New York’s Central Park

This is Central Park. It’s an iconic part of New York City. A piece of nature, tucked inside Manhattan. If you’ve lived in New York, or even visited, you’ve probably been here. But, there’s a part of this land’s story that visitors will never see. It’s the story of what was here before the park. And the community that was destroyed to make way for it. In the 1820s, New York City looked like this. Most people lived in this area — Lower Manhattan. Pretty much everything above it, was yet to be settled. In this map, you can see how different the
geography was. These little lines illustrate what used to be hills in Manhattan. This was the countryside. Downtown was the opposite. Lower Manhattan was dense and crowded. A few small neighborhoods were home to many of the city’s poor whites, and immigrants. and also, to much of its black population. This document shows the number of slaves in New York State. You can see how it went down gradually, from 20,000 in 1800, to 10,000 in 1820, and finally to just 75 in 1830. That’s because in New York, slavery wasn’t abolished all at once. Instead, it was ended gradually over about 30 years. And as more free black people joined the work force, racial tensions rose. The people who were enslaved were now in competition
with people coming over for jobs. That tension led to violence — and lower Manhattan became increasingly dangerous for free black people. Then, in 1825, plots of land started to go up for sale here, uptown. It was a way out. A black man named Andrew Williams decided to buy three lots. You know word gets out, black people, seeing other black people and say oh there’s a little bit of a community developing here, maybe we can just fold into this community, so they start to move in. After Williams, more lots filled up with black families and churches. And it was here, between 82nd and 89th Street, that the community of Seneca Village was born. Moving up to Seneca Village offered black families, an affordable, safe place. It also gave them the chance to vote. Black men could only vote in New York if they owned property. Over the course of the next three decades, the community grew to nearly 300 residents. Records from the census show that they were laborers, domestic workers, waiters, and shoemakers. And they built dozens of homes, three churches, and a school for black students. Later, when Irish and German immigrants started moving into Seneca Village, it became unique for another reason. It was an integrated community. It seems that people of all ethnicities were likely getting along based on the church records that were here. Among the documents, are evidence that some white and black families attended baptisms together, were buried next to each other in the same cemetery, and intermarried. The people who lived in this area were individuals who were trying to find a new way of life. Over the next three decades, the population of New York City nearly quadrupled. Lower Manhattan could no longer hold everyone. The city’s white elite were worried that the entire island would be consumed by development. They said it called for the necessity of a city park, to “give lungs to the city”. This came out of the elite being able to start to travel to Europe and they see the Champs Elysees and they see Kensington Park and they think that the city deserves to have a park of that stature. On July 21, 1853, New York set aside 750 acres of land to create America’s first major landscaped public park. “The Central Park.” But the proposed area for the park included Seneca Village — along with thousands of other lots of land, home to about 1600 people. In order to facilitate the park’s development, the city’s newspapers started to downplay who really lived there. They really describe these people as living in shanties and shacks, people of debased cultures were living off the land. But that wasn’t true. In 2011, Cynthia and a team of archaeologists excavated in the former Seneca Village site. They came away with 250 bags of objects to analyze, which now live here, in New York City’s Archaeological Repository. These objects suggest that Seneca Village was wealthier than many assumed. When we compared the objects from the homes of the people in the village with artifacts from Greenwich Village, an elite upper middle class neighborhood. In some cases, they were using the same kind of ironstone plate in what was called the Gothic pattern. Quite a few pieces of porcelain in Seneca Village and porcelain was an expensive ware. They also found other objects — like a comb, a smoking pipe, roasting pan, and part of a  toothbrush, that probably didn’t belong
to poor people. Toothbrushes were not common among the working class as well as the middle class until around 1920. And the artifacts themselves were only one part of their analysis. For example, from the census records from 1855, we know that there was a very high level of education. Getting a high school education was clearly an important factor in the community and that’s very much a part of middle class identity. The findings indicate that Seneca Village wasn’t a shantytown. It was a working and middle class community, a growing neighborhood of black property owners, and an experiment in integration. But to the white New York elite of 1856, it wasn’t worth saving. A July 1856 article in the New York Times referred to it with a slur. “The Ebon inhabitants, after whom the village is called…have been notified to remove by the first of August.” Many residents fought to keep their land by filing objections to their forced removal. But Seneca Village — along with the other
settlements on the land for Central Park — was seized and destroyed. In their place, the city made pathways,
built bridges and arches, and planted thousands of trees. Central Park was done, and Seneca Village was gone forever. We can’t imagine New York City without Central Park. But I’m finally grateful that the recognition of the pre-park history has emerged. Today, New York is starting to reckon with this part of its history. An exhibition with information about Seneca Village is temporarily up in the park. But the real legacy of Seneca Village is a story that’s repeated itself again and again, in cities everywhere. Land, property ownership, That’s how you get wealth and you pass wealth on from generation to generation. But you’re getting a bulldozer that comes
through because a new highway has to come through or a new hospital or development site
has to come in. Seneca Village was no different. It’s time that we own it and we come to recognize that there are these great stories that live beneath the surface of the park. It’s not just African-American history. It’s just American history.

100 comments on “The lost neighborhood under New York’s Central Park”

  1. Cj James says:

    Let’s not forget the homestead act of 1861 and 1862.

  2. Hello Hello says:

    Why is this not surprising?

  3. James Cross says:

    Yeah, nowadays these types of neighborhoods are called “da projeks” 😂😂

  4. Gianni Martin says:

    stop calling them black there brown

  5. Seneca H says:

    my name, cool!

  6. Ya Ya says:

    Did the city compensate the people living in Seneca Village to vacate?

  7. Mark Grant says:

    What they forget to mention that the majority the large majority of people removed for the building Central park where actually White… it was all kind of black and communities throughout New York City not just this one in fact we're The plaza hotel stances in upper class richer Black community.

  8. Rehan Zainul Abdeen says:

    Tax the poor, no one cares
    Tax the rich, people cry about authoritarianism.

  9. Leo Gao says:

    It's really important to expose what is hidden in history and dig the truth out of the ground. Private property is sacred and inviolable, black people are citizens too! I am Chinese and I support the real democratic movement of the world, whether it is in China or US, the government can not take our property and our freedom!

  10. rob andone says:

    If it’s Black, Native American, or Latin, it will be stolen, appropriated, or destroyed by whites.

  11. Chad Coley says:

    Reminds me of black Wall Street. Just anything black people do that’s good for themselves being destroyed by racists.

  12. Jason Purwoko says:

    Love this!

  13. Mark Scott says:

    The lost BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD. Stop being so sensitive people 🙄

  14. Gabriel says:

    Too much politics in this… slavery was slowly abolished in every state that abolished it.

  15. Humberto Celli says:

    Amazing video! The poorest are the richest in heart and soul. Bless

  16. JAY DESAI says:

    Such a nice Park, nice job

  17. Rodney Wollam says:

    Just about every time a prosperous neighborhood of mostly black people emerged, white people came along and purposely destroyed it. Burned the whole town down, plowed over every standing structure, destroyed every building in the village. This is the legacy of white people.

    And this is the America Trumpists are thinking of when they say "Make America Great Again".

  18. tubester4567 says:

    No mention that the people were compensated at a fair market value for their properties. This has happened in every city of the world, the city expands and the poorer areas are redeveloped.

  19. YoungBlissLife says:

    Same thing to Black Bottom/Paradise Valley in Detroit but destroyed to make a freeway.

  20. Kevin Bruenjes says:

    6:35 – look closer

  21. odinmage says:

    Saying they weren't poor because a few pieces of broken pottery is a bit naive.
    Could have been stolen, could have been dumped as trash, could have been people falling on bad times and forced to move there.
    That's like saying bums are rich because they have shopping carts.
    The real victims are the natives.
    I am suprised how few slaves there were, still so many crying about it to this day.

  22. Ugly German Truths says:

    How can the paper get away with calling it "Squatter" settlement if there are records they BOUGHT the plots of land?
    And was the disownment an unintended side effect of the park or was it one of the reasons to go for the park?

  23. Oikku Oek says:

    No matter how you look at it, USA is inherently racist country that is based on slavery and exploitation.
    There is no "land of the free", it's a fairy tale to lure more and more victims to the machine. War machine.

  24. G.O.A.T says:

    I can listen 👂 to you all day

  25. box boi says:

    wait did they call it n*gga village

  26. Cisco4kid1990 says:

    idk wth you call a shanty or a shack but from the pictures you just showed those where a 100% shacks and shanties

  27. Cisco4kid1990 says:

    idk about you but from the pictures of the past and what it looked like back than was very much an improvement

  28. Lengkong Sanggar Ginaris says:

    It remind me with my hometown in Purworejo, Indonesia. During colonial periods, my town had small settlement for African people. They brought by Dutch as a colonial troops. Some of them marry with local woman. After independence, they are immigrated to Netherlands. Now their former settlement called "Gang Afrikaan", or Afrikaan Alley.

  29. masterofthecontinuum says:

    Remember that the Keystone originally was going to go through a white area, but then decided to go through native american land instead. Minority communities are still destroyed by "progress" even today.

  30. Ethic Ethnic says:

    the "White elites" not the "elites".

  31. Barbs B says:

    This exact example is happening in my home town, El Paso, TX. It's so sad that a rec center is much more important than our history ☹☹☹

  32. Viking Walrus says:

    Do y'all remember good Vox from back-when?

  33. J R says:

    Why am I not surprised

  34. Betch says:

    Give back the land

  35. Lígia Ramos says:

    "Lower Manhattan became increasingly dangerous for free black people"
    Well, as Lin Manuel Miranda once said… it's quiet uptown

  36. Maulana Fariz says:

    "This small community was displaced to make something for the white people"

    The entire Indian community: Well that's unfortunate

  37. Lasha Chakhunashvili says:

    Why is this such a big deal? The expanding metropolis needed a green oasis in the middle, not a bunch of underdeveloped slums.

  38. Ricarlo Richards says:

    So they Bought land and was forced off without compensation?? Heartless

  39. Jacob Pratt says:

    Why the name Seneca Village? The Senecas are from the Finger Lakes region.

  40. Narjie La Mangue says:

    And once again white people act like where black people live aren't actual settlements

  41. Converser says:

    it's scary to see how things worked in the US in the past, has barely changed much in the present today

  42. Syed Moiez Bukhari says:

    “Its not just African-American history, it’s American History.”
    Cmon, ask yourself lady. ITS AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY FOR SURE!!

  43. whatsgoingon07 says:

    Proof that white supremacy has always been apart of American history and will never change

  44. whatsgoingon07 says:

    Don’t forget the firebombing of Black wall street in Tulsa Oklahoma!

  45. CherryBoo65 Boone says:

    I knew it! I still think there’s more they’re not telling

  46. Peter Bartlett says:

    The reasoning behind the “lungs for the city” is incomplete in this video. It came out of a fear of foul odours and pollution being the cause of yellow fever, cholera and tuberculosis. New York’s Central Park is the prime example of political action in attempt to create a cleaner city. It probably didn’t help that the other main fear of disease was of immigrants and the cleanliness of non-whites. Of course they were wrong about the causes of each of these diseases.

  47. Meowdy Partner says:

    The African Americans really didn't have it easy.. Its like having an entire country bully you.

  48. Elias Håkansson says:

    I would love for Seneca village to be zoned for real estate development, if only as a symbolic gesture. Look up the families that were evicted and make the descendants the property owners.

  49. Ryan Farndale says:

    I never took into a fact that a lot people didn’t have toothbrushes. I just completely overlooked that

  50. moises sainz says:

    Same thing happened with the building of Dodgers stadium.

  51. Lord Louis says:

    It's highly likely that the residents were not given remuneration for their displacement, so calculated the amount, start a trust… And help those in need to form a positive legacy.
    Seneca trust/Andrew Williams trust?
    Some one some where is accountable and no doubt got rich from it!

  52. Melyssa Hawes says:

    reminder that the white americans didn’t view the irish as “entirely white” so they still racially discriminated against them as well

  53. TooReal says:

    This is happening today. Take a look at Chinatown in Lower East Side. In another couple years, there will be no more Chinese or poor people living there. The rich white people are moving in and driving up the prices to the point where now it is either Brooklyn or Flushing for Chinese people.

  54. Carlos Curry says:

    White folk destroy everything 🤦🏾‍♂️

  55. Reflex says:

    Fascinating, I had no idea of the existence of this place.

  56. Հովսեփ Խաշունի says:

    Kind of like how California took billions of dollars from the federal government and used imminent domain to seize thousands of properties. And then shut down its project, didn’t pay the property owners, and left the federal government with no results for their investment. All in the name of inefficient public transport.

  57. Hezowo says:

    "destroyed community" this catch phrase really grinds American gears doesn't it?

  58. Hezowo says:

    It's incredible how you yourself fuel white/black conflict by constantly highlighting how only white people were destroying the property of the people of color.

  59. Lesego Rapoo says:

    Discovery of another case white America's rich history with racism.

    Nothing new here.

  60. Ojay Is Ojay says:

    enslaved not slaves.

  61. Punto y Coma says:

    America: Full respect to private property is one of our fundamental and most important values
    Also America:

  62. oinkpiggin says:

    People in Seneca village stole those items in Greenwich Village. That's why you see them there.

  63. Joshua Koniseti says:

    I thought there was a lost neighborhood in central park

  64. jztouch says:

    When I lived in NY I always heard that people had been living in the area that became Central Park but they had been living in wretched conditions. The misinformation lives on but I’m glad the real story is getting out.

  65. Aidan McLeod says:

    I love for videos like this

  66. Tab Pau says:

    This is the best series Vox has ever produced hands down

  67. SoberRS says:

    this video put me to sleep

  68. Chris Satriano says:

    Beginning of vox video: Seneca village was home to integrated poor white irish and german folks and free black folks

    End of vox video: white elite bulldozes black neighborhood

  69. itsoVery Julia says:

    Im more interested in what became of the inhabitants and landowners of seneca village..

  70. Nate Kwezi says:

    @Vox Where the residents of Seneca village compensated for after the land was reclaimed for the park?

  71. Mohammed YASSINE says:

    This strongly reminds me of what happened in Palestine, expect that it was more brutal.

  72. Deeptiranjan kar says:

    What about compensation? were there any?

  73. Aku The Shapeshifter says:

    this definitely ain’t the 1st or last time🙄white people cant help themselves🤧

  74. ilovejendog says:

    @1:08. the correct + current terminology is "enslaved Africans"; they were not just "slaves".

  75. Dan Ross says:

    Same ole wicked gov't.

  76. Ibrar Ali says:

    White people can't even leave other whites alone.

  77. Mellie says:

    Suspicious how they chose the exact spot where a thriving African american/multi-racial community was established to build the park. Seems like it might have been targeted. Destroy a good thing that threatens white upper classes and get a nice park out of it on the side. 🙁

  78. Wally & Tony says:

    Jeez, cry for the poor blacks.

  79. SilverStrumer says:

    But the big question is out of all the places in NYC why did they choose Seneca Village to build Central Park?

  80. Awt says:

    So many poor white people homeless in New York too😒

  81. George Jeong says:


  82. Abby Ghost says:

    Did anyone played assassins creed 3 and kind of thought this was the homestead?

  83. WarmVideosBR says:

    Man think about how much that property would have been worth if they could have held on it and passed it down

  84. charliemcnuggets says:

    1800s black people bought property's? It's 2020 and blacks still yell slavery

  85. Raul Hernandez says:

    They did the same thing to the Mexican community in L.A. to build dodger stadium.

  86. Julián Pinzón Eslava says:

    Missing chapter is right up there with Borders and Earworm. Great stories, neatly presented. Keep ‘em coming!

  87. amal zuhair says:

    So they just seized their homes without giving them other land elsewhere as compensation??

  88. Abe Wichers says:

    She sounds like kelly kapoor

  89. Cam Darlington says:

    Same thing happened in the 1940s in Halifax Canada. Africville was destroyed to make way for a suspension bridge. The African Canadian residents were 'given' land outside the city… Swampy land far from jobs.

  90. Chez Nashi says:

    Like Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL…

  91. LampuHijau says:

    Another "unique" mising history.

  92. Diory N says:

    Most likely the power of eminent domain and just compensation was used. But where did the people transfer?

  93. inbetween 1-0 says:

    So its a conspiracy to suppress the colored community from growing more prosper under the guise of a city lung. Keh! Politics…

  94. Jacob Shapiro says:

    This was a great video, although it's depressing that we have to say "look these people were wealthier than we thought!" to empathize with them. Even if they WERE all living in poverty, the city destroying their homes is still a tragedy.

  95. TheExistentialist. says:

    The piano in background is too much, can you guys fix your music , seriously, you tell ruining these docs.

  96. HenryManson says:

    nothing special really, that big citys demolish old parts to build a new "planned" city, its sad for those who will be removed, but good in the long run!

  97. Robert Affandy says:

    “Land of the free”

  98. James Angius says:

    The fact we had to learn this through archeology is extremely disheartening.

  99. Orella Minx says:

    Place would have been a total slum if it hadn't been bulldozed over.

  100. Lumberjack king the great says:

    Well at least it's destroying buildings to make nature instead of the other way around but culture is still lost

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