Early Black Property Owners
During the period of slavery, early free Black people knew that land was not just a form of freedom; it was also a tool for survival and community building. Seneca Village in New York was an interracial enclave that included Irish and German residents among its predominantly Black population. In 1825, Black residents and the AME Zion Church purchased land in Manhattan and began to build the community that would become known as Seneca Village. Despite New York's passage of emancipation laws, African Americans were still treated as second-class citizens who faced racism and threats of violence. They faced racism and threats of violence. Seneca Village provided a safe haven for residents, who built churches, a school for Black children, and at least 50 homes. The community demonstrated the vision of early Black residents as they raised livestock, grew gardens, and were able to supplement their diets with fishing in the nearby waterways. The community also included a burial ground, further strengthening the connection between the land and the people. Black residents who met New York landownership and residency requirements were allowed to vote in the state. Records show that at least 11 Black Seneca Village residents met these requirements.
By 1857, Seneca Village ceased to exist. New legislation enabled the state to seize property through eminent domain and to build a recreational space in an effort to combat the city’s unhealthy environment. The residents of historic Seneca Village were displaced for the creation of what is known today as Central Park. Seneca Village demonstrated Black self-determination and self-reliance in an otherwise unwelcoming nation.