This four session series explores the history of the black presence in the Greenwich Village area of New York City from 1600-2020. Join Village Preservation as we outline the history of African presence in Lower Manhattan.
- February 27, 2023: Session 1 – The Geography and History of Early Manhattan 1600 – 1860.
- March 27: Session 2 – Arts, Culture, and Activism of Black Communities 1790 – 1870
- April 26: Session 3 – Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, and the Great Migration 1880 – 1960 (NOTE CHANGE IN DATE TO WEDNESDAY)
- May 22 (third Friday): Session 4 – Evolution of Arts, Culture, Activism and The Fight for Civil Rights 1954 – 2020
The program begins with a conversation about the lives and experiences of people of African descent who were trafficked to New York City through the transatlantic slave trade from the 1620s to 1808. The series will discuss the children and descendants of the first Africans in America. These descendants owned property in Manhattan, built churches and schools, and created their own culture. Learn about Black Americans from our neighborhoods who fought in the Civil War, participated in the Underground Railroad, and were members of the abolitionist movement.
As we move into the 19th century, we’ll share history, arts, culture, and activism of Black communities in New York City and Greenwich Village. Many critical threads of the movement for black civil rights in America over the last 175 years run through or have roots in Greenwich Village. This rich history and deep impact will be explored, and we’ll bring you through the 21st century. Discover the impact of Africans and Black Americans on the art, history, culture, and activism of Greenwich Village from 1600 to today.
Each of these free sessions will be held via zoom and requires pre-registration (see below for registration link.) Check out the individual sessions for additional details about the content covered at each webinar. For this special series, we ask that registrants be present to participate. A recording of these sessions WILL NOT be shared with registrants nor the public after the session is held.
Note: All Village Preservation programs are designed to explore preservation, history and culture in a safe and welcoming environment. We cultivate a community that celebrates diversity, includes all people, and respects the identities of all participants. We expect participants to be respectful and reflect these values in their participation. Anyone who threatens, intimidates, uses hateful language, or participates in harmful behavior may be asked to leave a program and/or not participate in future programming.
Session 1: The Geography and History of Early Manhattan 1600 – 1860. Monday, February 27, 2023
Join Village Preservation for the kick-off of our new Black History in Greenwich Village Series. This content was first developed as a part of our renowned, first-of-its-kind children’s education programs. It was so popular with children, teachers, and parents that we have now developed an adult version of this program to share with our entire community.
The first session will focus on the early history of Manhattan. Beginning with the Native American Lenape presence in New York City, we will explore the lives and impact of the first non-native visitors, residents, and businesses in Lower Manhattan. African American communities in Greenwich Village, such as Little Africa, will be covered as well as the leaders of this community. You’ll learn about the formation of the first free black community in North America, located in our neighborhoods, starting around 1643, whose residents included Manuel Groot, or Big Manuel, Simon Congo, and Manuel de Gerrit de Rues. We’ll discuss the role of the New Amsterdam Director General in affecting the lives of black people in the colony, including free Black men and women in the area of the Village known as the “Land of the Blacks.”
We will learn about the lives and experiences of people of African descent who were trafficked to New York City through the transatlantic slave trade from the 1620s to 1808. We will look at how slavery was enacted and enforced under Dutch, English, and then American control of New York City. Voting rights under these different controlling interests will also be explored. This session will begin to delve into the history and impact of the rebellion of enslaved people, the manumission process, and the abolition movement.
Session 2: Arts, Culture, and Activism of Black Communities 1790 – 1870
Session 2 of Village Preservation’s new series, Black History in Greenwich Village, will explore the political, social, and economic forces that enabled and ended the institution of slavery in New York City between 1790 and 1827 (the emancipation year for New York State.)
The civil rights movement began on plantations, has been fought since before the Civil War, and did not end when slavery was abolished.
We’ll reflect on questions like “what is an artist?” and “what is an activist?” through the lens of the experience of Africans and Black Americans in Greenwich Village, New York City, and America. Art and activism are often intertwined and this is especially so in Greenwich Village. We’ll learn about the African Grove Theatre, a Black owned and operated theater on the corner of Bleecker and Mercer Streets that presented productions with a black cast. Co-founded by James Hewlett, who was also a principal actor, this theater and company was not the first attempt to create a Black theater within New York City at this time. However, based in Greenwich Village, Grove is remembered as the most financially successful.
Art often has subcurrents of dissent and reflect current political movements. This session will tie together these historic fights for human rights and justice with the artistic practices of Africans and Black Americans in Greenwich Village and beyond.
Session 3 – Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, and the Great Migration 1880 – 1960
Session 3 of Village Preservation’s new series, Black History in Greenwich Village, will focus on how the demographic changes of the Great Migration fueled Greenwich Village’s role as a hotbed for the Civil Rights movement in the early-to-mid 20th century. We’ll continue the discussion of how art and activism intertwined in our neighborhood, especially around Black Americans and civil rights. We’ll learn about the work of influential artists and authors who lived in Greenwich Village during the 20th Century.
Questions will be considered such as: “Can you imagine a silent protest?” and “Why do you think 6 million people choose to leave their homes, communities, neighborhoods and extended families in the South?”
We’ll be challenged to remember who actually could vote in 1917. The program will take a look at important historic sites and events in our communities, such as the establishment of the headquarters of the NAACP at 70 Fifth Avenue.
Session 4: Evolution of Arts, Culture, Activism and The Fight for Civil Rights 1954 – 2020
Monday, May 22, 2023
In Session 4 of this series, we will travel from the mid-20th century to the present. The program will begin with a summary of the people, places, protests and laws that have shaped and influenced Black History in Greenwich Village between 1954 and 1965 – a key period in the American civil rights movement between the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling and the passage of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts. From street activism to revolutionary performance spaces, the lives and work of Black Americans in Greenwich Village will be celebrated and shared, giving even greater context to the impact of Black Americans on our communities and society. Examples include Bayard Rustin, Martin Luther King’s right hand and the organizer of the watershed 1963 March on Washington, who began his life as an activist after being exposed to the radically integrated and politically charged environment at legendary Village club Cafe Society.
We’ll look at how events and locations in Greenwich Village helped to keep a spotlight on civil rights and the great societal strides made in America thanks to Black Americans who lived, worked, and created art here.