“Get Tall Charles up here. He’s a good reader.”
The boy was fetched. He puzzled over the parchment. “From what I can make out of this, they gonna take all our land for what they call the greater good of New York.”
Owens was indignant. “They can’t do that. We own this land. We own the houses on it!”
Williams smiled at this sally. A one-time shoeshine and the first settler of the village, he’d always thought it was only a matter of time before the whites realized what they had done. They’d probably pay the landowners, but not enough.
For African-Americans, Seneca Village offered the opportunity to live in an autonomous community far from the densely populated downtown. Despite New York State’s abolition of slavery in 1827, discrimination was still prevalent throughout New York City, and severely limited the lives of African-Americans. Seneca Village’s remote location likely provided a refuge from this climate. It also would have provided an escape from the unhealthy and crowded conditions of the City, and access to more space both inside and outside the home.
In 1853, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that set aside 775 acres of land in Manhattan — from 59th to 106th Streets, between Fifth and Eighth Avenues — to create the country’s first major landscaped public park.
The City acquired the land through eminent domain.