The lost neighborhood under New York's Central Park

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Before Central Park was built, a historically black community was destroyed.

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If you’ve been to New York, you’ve probably visited Central Park. But there’s a part of its story you won't see.

It’s a story that goes back to the 1820s, when that part of New York was largely open countryside. Soon it became home to about 1,600 people. Among them was a predominantly black community that bought up affordable plots to build homes, churches and a school. It became known as Seneca Village. And when Irish and German immigrants moved in, it became a rare example at the time of an integrated neighborhood.

Everything changed on July 21, 1853. New York took control of the land to create what would become the first major landscaped park in the US -- they called it “The Central Park.”

In the Vox series Missing Chapter, Vox Senior Producer Ranjani Chakraborty revisits underreported and often overlooked moments from the past to give context to the present. Join her as she covers the histories that are often left out of our textbooks. Our first season tackles stories of racial injustice, political conflicts, even the hidden history of US medical experimentation.

Have an idea for a story that Ranjani should investigate for Missing Chapter? Send it to her via this form! http://bit.ly/2RhjxMy

Sign up for the Missing Chapter newsletter to stay up to date with the series: https://vox.com/missing-chapter

Explore the full Missing Chapter playlist, including episodes, a creator Q&A, and more! https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJ8cMiYb3G5fR2kt0L4Nihvel4pEDw9od

The Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History website: http://projects.mcah.columbia.edu/seneca_village/

The exhibit on Seneca Village through the Central Park Conservancy: https://www.centralparknyc.org/programs/discover-seneca-village

Check out the 1856 before and after Central Park plans at the New York Public Library, as well as dozens of other Central Park maps and archives: https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/6850fc74-5e61-8806-e040-e00a18067a2c

Read the full report on the 2011 Seneca Village excavations: http://s-media.nyc.gov/agencies/lpc/arch_reports/1828.pdf

Read the New York Times’ coverage of Seneca Village: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/28/opinion/seneca-central-park-nyc.html

Read The Park and the People by Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig for a comprehensive history of Central Park, including Seneca Village: https://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/9780801497513/the-park-and-the-people/

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4128 comments
Vox 4 month ago
hi everyone, thanks for checking out the first Missing Chapter episode of 2020! we've got a lot more reporting planned this year, so if you want to stay up to date with the latest in the series you can sign up for the Missing Chapter newsletter: https://vox.com/missing-chapter . -Ranjani
F N 4 month ago
''It's not just African-American history, it's American history''
Steve Edward 3 month ago
Why were there 4 slaves in the 1840s? They're like the unlickiest, most confused mfs.
not your mum 4 month ago
working class community: exists the elites: *it’s free real estate*
Vtmb2 coming 2020 4 month ago
I don’t think the info panels put in the park should be temporary, they should stay there forever, it’s the history of that land
Keke 4 month ago
There’s actually a lot more African American history like this in NYC. They just discovered a park in the Bronx, was actually a burial for slaves. Then, there’s Weeksville in Brooklyn a free black neighborhood in Crown Heights people forgot about. A discovered cemetery in East New York. An old town in Staten Island.... And much more.
Rudie Obias 4 month ago
Are you telling me New York City pushed out a neighborhood of working people to make room for development and the wealthy? That's news to me!
ChromxRobin And CorrinxCamilla Lover And Supporter 4 month ago
........... I didn’t even know there was originally a village there.
Spoiler Alert 4 month ago
"And the community that was destroyed for it." Ahh yess, good ol *gentrification*
OneThicChihuahua 4 month ago
Anyone else thought that this was a Native American village?
Blu Skiez 3 month ago
And that’s exactly what happened in dodger stadium in Los Angeles . They destroyed the Latino community on the hill to make way for new stadium .
Surfer 4 month ago
Why is the Seneca exhibition temporary? It should be a permanent exhibit to what happened as other places in the city are. Own the history.
rbatista20 4 month ago
I wonder why they never taught us this or even talked about this in school. This was informative.
Janek Keediniihii 4 month ago
Another Missing Chapter almost gone in Northern Arizona: the Dineh (Navajo) of Black Mesa. This is happening right now, there is still time to help us save our homelands! please
zoe fofo 3 month ago
Everytime a black community is successful the white elite interfere
thegreatcalvinio 3 month ago
The rich New Yorkers were already playing Sims 4 back in the 1800’s...
Allan Reford 4 month ago
I guess private property isn't such a foundational value to the American elite when it comes to poor people or people of colour.
b9y 4 month ago
Of course it was destroyed. Middle-class black people in those times? Shocking (apparently).
jbello1968 4 month ago
How about the story of The African Burial Ground that was discovered over 200 years later in 1991, 290 Broadway NYC !!
Arron Williams 3 month ago
Hey Mom I learned a New Word.... What is it? Oh it's: Gentrification
carnivalwrestler 3 month ago
Too bad nobody does a vid on the "displacement" of Seneca Indians.
Siddharth Prabhu 4 month ago
The elites wanted 'lungs for the city'. Now, the elites won't do anything big for climate change :-\
Ruhisha Eesha 4 month ago
I did a whole essay about this!!! 🥺🥺❤️ happy this came out
youtooberman9001 4 month ago
doesn't surprise me one single bit that the only empty space in NYC is the ruins of the old black neighborhood.
SQUIDYXDD 4 month ago
This creeps me out I just learned about this yesterday in my schools history class
Genix 4 month ago
Of course the media would lie about the people living there, that’s all the media does is enforce the status quo.
art of war on 2 wheels 4 month ago
Apparently the population inside the park is higher now than ever before too lol
Wnzel Jay 4 month ago
Now I feel bad whenever houses and buildings gets deleted when I upgrade the roads on my City on City Skylines.
Mike Garba 4 month ago
“Why can’t they just pull their bootstraps up though?” 😂
The Evil 4 month ago
History isn’t perfect it’s important we don’t sugar coat it
James Angius 4 month ago
The fact we had to learn this through archeology is extremely disheartening.
M0nkeyb0mber 339 4 month ago
Seneca Village: we used to be here but now we’re gone. New Amsterdam: first time?
Maroon Horizon 4 month ago
Makes me look at Central Park differently. I live in ny and never knew this! They defiantly need a historical site!
geruner 4 month ago
This historical event has predecessors and will have decedents as such is the way of the world.
F Maz 4 month ago
So did they get a settlement for being relocated, if so was the amounts given reasonable?
Jan Smolinski 3 month ago
Why didn't they just build it a little to the east of Seneca? I feel like this could've been avoided.
Hans Oconner 4 month ago
The racist way they decided everything back then and the echoes that still exist even today is disheartening. The way history is buried and distorted by racism not to mention justified and excused is a disgrace 😡
Lavoid Gaskins 4 month ago
I was born in, and lived my first 18 years of life in NYC, and I NEVER heard of this. Feeling some type of way
01 SPIRIT 3 month ago
Within 30 seconds of I said to myself, “I’ll bet it was a minority community”.
Soya 4 month ago
Just shows how good America is at covering up corruption. Still to this day it is true...
Good luck everyone 3 month ago
Imagine if they never created the park 😮. Even worse. They should do a virtual village for smart phones, visualise the past
A I 4 month ago
They needed lungs for the city but now climate change is a myth? It’s like these rich elites only believe in whatever benefits them!
John Cicali 4 month ago
wow, how many villages were "moved" ?. this village wasn't the only one. . "Eminent domain" ugh
teccec 4 month ago
Look at how the Pentagon and Arlington cemetery was built. There was a large black "shantie" town that was destroyed.
Merrill George 4 month ago
People: living happily in a nice integrated neighborhood. New york white elite: *allow me to introduce myself*
Kandi Roy 4 month ago
Stealing land yep that's the American way, smh!
titlewave 4 month ago
"in the 1820's, New York City, looked like this." *Me: a horses head, exactly.*
Ella Collins 4 month ago
I would love some sort of Seneca village museum near the park
wintor 3 month ago
they did this more than once. multiple times
ThatKindaGuy Travel 4 month ago
It's a shame that something that brings joy to millions of New Yorkers and Tourists has such a sad and dark history.
ramiro meza 4 month ago
That's why no land here in the US is actually ours they make us believe we own it but in reality it's the governments and they will take it away when they please
-Gemberkoekje- 4 month ago
I just can't stop thinking about the tribe when they say Seneca village
sim mo 4 month ago
We've got the opposite here in England, what was once lush countryside is now sprawling developments
enchainedtreasures 4 month ago
In situations like this, t's their land, the government should have to give other equal lands in return.
Susan Ananda 4 month ago
Slavery still prevails till now. It just takes a different form
Sarai Cortez 4 month ago
The elders talk about the past, and the youth talk about the future ~unknow~ It's nice to preserve the past, but it is also wondrous to look into the future.
Xieon Gaming 4 month ago
They are still doing this today Tons of land grabs for the elite
Raheim Jones 3 month ago
This sums up America in a nutshell🤦🏾‍♂️
Passeron 4 month ago
This seems like golden material for a movie.
Militant Pacifist 4 month ago
That’s the Hidden Leaf Village.
Alicat 72 4 month ago
Fascinating video, I learned something new today.
abbey 4 month ago
reminds me a lot of Africville in Nova Scotia :(
adam hasny 4 month ago
I want to know more about African American History!!
botjanks 4 month ago
As a Canadian, this reminds me of 'Africville' in Nova Scotia, a community similarly destroyed. Was this community at least paid for their land?
ShaunieBNaturalista 3 month ago
Great. So, they put up a placard. WHERE'S THE MONEY?!
Patricia Raymond 4 month ago
They didn't even pay the people for their land?! SMH...
Rob Fineout 4 month ago
@4:40 classic media framing. Make 1 source (one paragraph really) seem like 3 to legitimize the agenda
Stephen Bennett 3 month ago
If y’all liked this, look into the East St. Louis race riots of 1917. It’s almost similar to this story
Tim Otgens 4 month ago
Thanks Vox for putting this out! This is really a "missing chapter".
Isaac Dodsworth 4 month ago
The map bit at the beginning be looking like EastEnders
daggius 4 month ago
Some shady reporting not at least mentioning that they were paid for it
Azubuike Akunne 3 month ago
Thank you to this research team for spending their time uncovering the past.
boxerfan2 4 month ago
And the people who lived there before the seneca village. How where they run out? I bet they uncovered arrowheads and pottery underneath the toothbrush and comb.
BROJAK HORSEMALE 4 month ago
Very cool piece of hidden history. Love watching stuff like this.
Mikka Stikka 4 month ago
Move every building above the Hudson and East river. Make central park Central forrest.
Mark De Voto 3 month ago
perfect place to put in a plug : go learn about Henry George
RO AIR 4 month ago
Oh wait that’s where they animated for the bee moive
I. Matamoros 4 month ago
I wish we could know where Seneca Village inhabitants were displaced to.
Zoë Graziella 4 month ago
I remember learning about this in middle school
ProcardcollecterAndGamer 3 month ago
Who cares Central Park is amazing
zz12345aaa12345zz 4 month ago
Been to NYC twice, didn't made it to Central Park xD :(
Chris Grim 4 month ago
That Village was not the only one that was there, groups of 1,000's were displaced.
Marye the quene 4 month ago
"It's not just African American history, It's just American history." We need more of that in today's society.
Zach Crosset 4 month ago
Why didn’t they just move it to the right a little? The park I mean
Dave F. 4 month ago
Never heard of this until today. Amazing.
Our Little Safe Haven 4 month ago
the hidden leaf village!
Adrian Granfelt 4 month ago
Never realized that Seneca Falls by The Distillers was based upon a real event, til
Marcos Castineyra 4 month ago
Same thing happened in L.A. when building Dodgers Stadium.
Tony Blakeney 4 month ago
6:43 ""the other settlements on the land for Central Park"" ............. what of the other settlements? A similar story? A less racially-contentious situation?
TroutFink 4 month ago
Senior producer: Makes documentary on gentrification. Also Senior Producer: has apartment in Brooklyn.
Colton Ward 4 month ago
"give the city lungs" needed because of every vehicle burning TEL
swukelz 4 month ago
The definition of “Hippity Hoppity this is now my property”
Satwik V 4 month ago
history is so beautiful and amazing. I wonder what our story will be like 100 or 200 years in the future
Rebekah 4 month ago
When I heard 'temporary exhibition' my heart sank. This should be a part of history that is never forgotten.
Courtney Willingham 4 month ago
I never know this of Central Park in New York. Thank you for the history lesson. 🤗
Austin Cook 4 month ago
"Enemy at the shanty town!"
WisnuBae 4 month ago
Wow, now im imagining if their neighbourhood never been demolished. They would live inside the park which is kinda cool
Blaydin 4 month ago
This is truly inspirational to watch. Its inspiring to see how when these successful determined men and women came together they were able to clear these people from the land and create a public park we still love and enjoy to this day. Its disturbing to imagine that central park was almost never created.
olivier sabourin 4 month ago
Great video about the history of the United States! But I'm wondering : what about the indigenous perspective? Since Seneca is the name of an indigenous nation of the Haunonosaunee confederacy. African-American history is important. The history of the first inhabitants is all the more important
R L 4 month ago
1:08 - Ahhh...the good old days!
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