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10 Black History Sites & Neighborhoods in NYC You Don’t Expect…But You Should!

Updated: Mar 2, 2022

Harlem. Bed Stuy. Flatbush. These are all areas often associated with Black History in New York City. However, do you ever think of Bowling Green, Greenwich Village, or Flushing, Queens? Black History truly exists everywhere if you know where to look for it!

New York City has had a significant impact on the good, bad, and ugly associated with Black History. At one point, it was the largest slave trader north of the Mason Dixon Line. It also has a legacy of being the location of several thriving free Black communities before the Civil War. This is a result of the passage of New York State’s Gradual Emancipation Law in 1799, which led to a slow abolition of slavery in New York State. As a result, in the early to mid-1800s, freed Black men and women established free Black communities – they owned property, had the right to vote, and built schools and churches. Centuries later, we now have uncovered these burial sites that preserve this culture.

New York City is also the site of some of the most significant moments of Black culture flourishing in the country: the Harlem Renaissance, which was an integral part of the NYC Civil Rights Movement. We also have been a part of the Great Migration and, over the decades, have seen the development of various immigrant communities, including from the Caribbean and the African continent. It is no wonder that Black residents make up 22% of NYC’s population: a total of 1.9 million Black residents!

Some questions that will be answered in this blog post are:

  • Where can I find Black history in NYC?

  • What are some black history sites new york?

  • What is the black history new york city?

  • How can I find Black History Sites to Explore in NYC?

  • Where do I explore Black History Sites in NYC?

  • How can I find A Look at Black History in the Village?

  • How did Black people get to New York?

Here are ten areas across the five boroughs to find NYC’s Hidden Black History:

  1. Greenwich Village

  2. Seneca Village

  3. Weeksville, Bro oklyn

  4. Lower East Side

  5. Financial District

  6. Sandy Ground, Staten Island

  7. Newtown, Queens (Elmhurst, Queens)

  8. Flushing, Queens

  9. The Green (Jamaica, Queens)

  10. Centerville AME Church, Bronx


1. Greenwich Village

Did you know Greenwich Village was home to North America’s earliest free Black settlement in the 17th century? Freed African Americans established an agricultural community near the Minetta stream. This community increased as a result of New York-born Blacks moving into the neighborhood and southern-born Blacks moving north after the Civil War. From the 1880s to the late 1910s, the area around Minetta Lane, Minetta Street, and Minetta Place was referred to as “Little Africa,” developing into the center of a growing African-American community. Interestingly, interracial socializing became more common at “Black and Tan” clubs. For example, the Federal census records from 1900 show that most buildings housed both black and white families. In fact, several interracial couples were noted in the census. This neighborhood was composed of African American, West Indian, Irish, and Italian communities. As a result of the growing Black community, Greenwich Village became the location for some of America’s first black churches in the 19th century and many developing African-American artists, civil rights leaders, and organizations in the 20th century.


Some Sites to Check Out:
  • Mother Zion A.M.E. Church, The First Black Church in New York City

  • Location: corner of West 10th Street and Bleecker Street

  • Description: The church has moved a few times with the migration of Black communities. It was home to some of the most prominent African-American civil rights leaders, including Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Frederick Douglass. The church moved to Harlem in the early 20th century and was replaced by the pair of tenement buildings that occupy the site today.

  • The African Free School, The first school for Blacks in America:

  • Location: African Free School No. 3 was located at 120 West 3rd Street (formerly 120 Amity Street).

  • Description: This was one of seven schools dedicated to educating the children of free and enslaved blacks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The first African Free School, founded in 1787 by the New York Manumission Society, was the very first school for blacks in America.

  • The African Grove Theater, the First Known Black Theater Troupe

  • Location: corner of Mercer and Bleecker Streets

  • Description: William Alexander Brown, a free African American who was an actor and playwright, traveled extensively through England and the Caribbean, where he was exposed to different types of theater. Upon returning to New York City, he founded the African Grove Theater, where Shakespearean plays and original works were performed.

  • St. Benedict the Moor Church, the First Black Catholic Church in the North

  • Location: 210 Bleecker Street

  • Description: It was the first church for black Roman Catholics in the North. The Church of St. Benedict was named for a 16th-century African-born friar. By 1898, the church moved to a new location at West 53rd Street, following the migration of the black population uptown, and was taken over by the predominantly Italian-American Our Lady of Pompeii congregation. The beautiful church building was later demolished due to the extension of Sixth Avenue in 1926.

  • First Course in African-American History Taught

  • Location: New School on West 12th Street

  • Description: W.E.B. DuBois taught the first African American history class at the New School on West 12th Street. Called “The Negro in American History” the course description simply said it would “follow the development of American history with a special emphasis upon the influence which persons of Negro descent have had upon the thoughts and activities of this country.”


2. Seneca Village

Seneca Village was a free African-American community that existed before Central Park between 1825 and 1857 from West 82nd to West 89th Streets. The community was founded in 1825 when newly freed Black people and the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church bought plots of land for development. In 1855 there were approximately 225 residents, a population of roughly two-thirds African-Americans, one-third Irish immigrants, and a small number of Germans. There were over 50 homes in Seneca Village, plus three churches and a school. For African Americans who owned property, it gave them the right to vote. Coined the “Black Utopia,” this became the largest concentration of African American property owned in NYC. This new community provided a safe haven from the crowded conditions and racial discrimination prevalent in downtown New York at the time. It also served as a spot on the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, this community was destroyed to make room for the construction of Central Park: residents were displaced and forced to relocate. Today, there is very little evidence of the village except for visual signs and guided tours by the Central Park Conservancy.



3. Weeksville, Brooklyn

At one point, Weeksville, Brooklyn in Crown Heights, had the second-largest free black community in the United States. In 1838, only 11 years after slavery ended in New York, Weeksville was formed by a free black man named James Weeks when he purchased a substantial area of land from Henry C. Thompson, another free black man. Weeks then encouraged other free black professionals to settle on the property as he sold lots to the newcomers who named the community Weeksville. This grew to become the second-largest free black community pre-civil War. By 1855, over 520 free African Americans lived in Weeksville, including some of the leading activists in the Abolitionist and Equal Suffrage movements. During the draft riots of 1863, Weeksville was a haven for Black people fleeing the racist violence in Manhattan. Weeksville was a community where black doctors, professionals, and entrepreneurs could practice skills and develop a clientele. For example, Dr. Susan McKinney Steward was the first Black doctor in New York State. Her sister, Sarah Smith Tompkins Garnet, was the founder of the Equal Suffrage League of Brooklyn, the first organization advocating for the voting rights of Black women. Residents established churches, schools, Black associations, Black-owned businesses, an elderly home, and had an orphanage by the 1860s. The neighborhood also had one of the country’s first African-American newspapers, the Freedman's Torchlight. Today, Weeksville is part of present-day Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights. There are remnants in the Hunterfly Road Houses and the Weeksville Heritage Center.



4. Lower East Side

The Lower East Side of Manhattan has an African American history as rich as Harlem. Its history dates back to the 1600s when a formerly enslaved African named Bastien Negro and 11 others petitioned for freedom from the Dutch in 1647. They were each granted a few acres north outside the New Netherlands settlement, creating Manhattan’s first free black settlement, called the “Land of the Blacks,” which spanned 130 acres, today’s equivalent of 100 city blocks. The area spans modern-day Greenwich Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side until the British took over and turned the area into a commercial district. Fast-forwarding to the 1960s, the Downtown headquarters of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was located in the LES at 66 Delancey St. They were on the front lines of fights for tenant rights and against racial discrimination. Downtown CORE co-founder Michael Schwerner was one of the three CORE field workers killed by the KKK in the south. Today, you can take a “Reclaiming Black Spaces” tour from the Tenement Museum to learn more about the LES’s Black History.


Some Sites to Check Out:
  • Sebastiaen de Britto’s Farm

  • Location: 143 Allen Street

  • Description: The farm was part of the first free Black community in North America. The land here was owned by Sebastiaen de Britto, a formerly enslaved African brought to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam from Santo Domingo in the early 17th century. De Britto and his wife, Isabel Kisana, were part of 30 enslaved people who petitioned the Dutch West India Company for their freedom and were given land. There are no remnants now.

  • Studio We

  • Location: 193 Eldridge Street,

  • Description: Studio We was a community music performance and rehearsal space built inside an abandoned building in 1968. A group of African American musician friends built a stage on the sixth floor and set up other performance and practice spaces throughout the building. They even built a soul food restaurant on the first floor so people could grab food for the performances. Studio We quickly became central to the city’s Loft Jazz scene.

  • Engine 55

  • Location: 363 Broome Street

  • Description: This is the fire station where Wesley Williams, one of the very first Black firefighters in New York City history, started working in 1919. Williams became the first Black lieutenant in the FDNY in 1926, and was the second person in department history to earn a perfect score in the physical exam required to earn that rank. He later co-founded the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization for Black EMTs and firefighters dedicated to fighting discrimination in the fire department.


5. Financial District

Did you know the Financial District was the site of New York City’s first official slave market? On December 14, 1711, a municipal market auctioning enslaved Africans as laborers was established in Downtown Manhattan, in what is now the Wall Street area between Pearl Street and Water Street. Operating between 1711 and 1762, the market also traded corn and grains. Companies such as New York Life insurance, Aetna, Chase, and Citibank have a deep connection to the Black history in this area? These companies provided insurance policies for precious cargo, aka slaves for slaveowners. For example, life insurance companies sold policies that ensured slave owners would be compensated if the slaves they owned were injured or killed. New York Life Insurance alone sold 500+ policies and paid over $200,000+. About ⅓ of their policies during this time were slave policies. Banks like Chase accepted enslaved people as collateral for loans. If plantation owners defaulted on loan payment, the banks took ownership of these slaves. Presently, the area is known as Mannahatta Park, an open space with benches and a view of the East River. Today, the only reminder of Wall Street’s history in the slave trade is a small plaque at the bottom of Wall Street that was dedicated in 2015. You can learn this history by taking a NYC Slavery & the Underground Railroad Walking Tour from Insider Out Tours, a Black-owned, woman-owned company.

Some Sites to Check Out:
  • Intersection of Wall Street and Water Streets: Two blocks from the New York Stock Exchange, this is the site of one of the USA’s largest slave markets

  • Fraunces Tavern: The owner is of French, West-Indian descent (half-Black) & exposed General Benedict Arnold as a traitor. In 1783 the Book of Negroes was compiled at the tavern: listed the more than 3,000 black loyalists who would be evacuated with the British Army to Nova Scotia.

  • Triumph of the Human Spirit sculpture: This is dedicated to all the unknown and unnamed Africans brought to this country, including the 427 Africans excavated near here.

  • Wall Street: The very name "Wall Street" is born of slavery, with enslaved Africans building a wall in 1653 to protect Dutch settlers from Indian raids.

  • South Street Seaport: where enslaved Africans first touched land in chains.

  • Civic Center Foley Square: Before the square was created in the early twentieth century, the area was the Five Points, a 19th-century neighborhood located at a five-way intersection. Infamous for its difficult living conditions, the neighborhood provided jobs and cheap rents for newly-freed Black communities, Irish immigrants, and the longer-established Anglo-Dutch working class. In 1741, dozens of people were convicted and brought to Foley Square after allegedly participating in the Great Negro Plot, a false conspiracy by enslaved people and poor whites to start fires across what is now Lower Manhattan. Historians have debated whether or not such a plot even existed. Regardless, 17 Black (and 4 white) people were hanged, 13 were burned at the stake, and 72 were banished from the colony.

  • African Burial Ground: The burial ground comprises nearly six acres and dates back to the mid-17th century. As many as 15,000+ free or enslaved Americans were buried here, making it New York’s oldest African American cemetery and the largest known excavated African cemetery in North America. While digging to construct a new federal office, 419 African body remains were excavated. The burial ground was converted into a National Park site and memorial, designed by Haitian American architect Rodney Léon.