Ex-Slave Community Discovered Underneath New York’s Central Park

July 28, 2011  |  

By J. Smith

Every now and then, history finds a way to come back around and set the record straight. Such is the case with the story of Seneca Village, a short-lived African American community that was destroyed to build New York’s Central Park in the 1850s. A band of professors and students formed the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History and have begun digging in an area of the park to uncover remnants from one of the flagship – and forgotten – ex-slave communities in the nation.

Until now, historical records falsely described Seneca Village – established a few years before slavery was abolished in New York – as “a squatter camp,” but it was actually made up of working and middle-class property owners, The New York Times reports. “This is the most formal, coherent community that we know of, because it was laid out in a grid pattern and had three churches and schools,” Nan A. Rothschild, an anthropologist, told the Times.

Vestiges of the old community remain buried beneath Central Park, but eight weeks into the digging, anthropologists have uncovered an iron tea kettle, jar lids, a roasting pan, toothbrushes made from bone, a leather shoe, a stoneware beer bottle, fragments of Chinese export porcelain and the yard area of a resident who lived in a three-story wood-frame house.

“The vast array of materials that we uncovered really gives us a true sense of a strong, stable community,” Cynthia R. Copeland, a member of the research team, said. Soon, many of the pieces of that strong community will be on display in a museum exhibit, and an open house at the site in Central Park is planned for October 25.

History indeed has a way of correcting itself.


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