Location: Central Park West, between 81st and 89th Streets, New York City, New York, USA
Who Considers it Sacred? African Americans
Significance: According to Carol Inskeep, in “The Graveyard Shift,” surprised laborers found a coffin containing the remains of a Black man when digging up trees in 1871 in the area near 85th Street between what was then, 7th and 8th Avenue. A gardener later discovered an entire cemetery in the 1920s.
In fact, a vibrant community of emancipated Black property owners had once settled a village situated on that very spot. The settlement of Seneca Village began with the first purchase of land from Whitehead by Andrew Williams, an African American, with more people settling in the area after that. For over thirty years, the small town was comprised of Black men and women who built their homes and churches there, conducted their businesses and buried their dead in the villages’ cemeteries.
However, in 1857, New York City leaders, wanting to build a public park there, invoked eminent domain to confiscate the land of Seneca Village along with an additional 800 acres. The New York Daily Tribune reported that police forces were eventually used to drive the Black residents from their homes.
The Threat: Urbanization; development and building of a public park
Status: Today, you can visit the site of Seneca Village by entering Central Park on Central Park West at 86th Street near the Great Lawn. If you look closely, you can see a few insistent stones poking above the grass; these stones are believed to be part of the foundation of All Angels’ Church, the Episcopal Church in Seneca Village. The tale of Seneca Village is imparted on a commemorative sign that was funded by the Central Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization.
For More Information: Sacred Sites Newsletter Volume XXI, Numbers 1 & 2, Fall 2009/Winter 2010