Seneca Village, Remembered

For my final project, I wrote a historical narrative about Seneca Village, a free Black community in New York City that existed during the antebellum period. Founded when slavery was abolished in New York state in 1827, Seneca Village became a thriving center of Black political activism and resistance.  Community members sought to qualify for voting rights through the acquisition of land, which was a requirement in New York State at the time, and Seneca Village was home to the largest enclave of Black voters in the state. Unfortunately, during the mid-1850s, white New Yorkers were interested in creating a grand park in their city and the area surrounding and including Seneca Village was slated as a viable option for its development. After a long battle with city government, the residents of Seneca Village were forcibly evicted and Central Park was constructed, largely erasing the site and the memory of Seneca Village as the community scattered.

Detail from Egbert Viele’s 1856 topographical survey of the area to become Central Park, which includes Seneca Village. The horizontal street is today’s Central Park West (then 8th Ave). [Source: The Junto,]

Despite having visited New York and Central Park on numerous occasions, I had never heard of Seneca Village until I went in search of a topic for this project. It was precisely for this reason that I felt compelled to write this narrative – the stories of antebellum Blacks in the North are not well known.

How I picture my fictional character, Sarah Walker. [Source: Beinecke Library, Yale University, Call #: Uncat JWJ MS 59]

Although I had many resources to draw upon, I found it very difficult to write this story. As a white woman living in the 21st century, I have few obvious commonalities with my fictional character, Sarah Walker, and I struggled to imagine what it would be like to be her and to live through the events of the mid-19th century as a Black woman. I found some inspiration in Alice Walker’s short stories, In Love & Trouble, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, but I still wondered if it was right for me to be writing Sarah’s story. Ultimately, the narrative that unfolded became a way for me to practice listening to and amplifying others’ voices because, although they are my words on the page, they are drawn from all I have read and all I have heard about Seneca Village and the Black community that lived there. It is my hope that Sarah’s story can contribute to the remembrance of this place and this community so that it may not be neglected again.

If you would like to learn more about Seneca Village, please visit the Seneca Village Project website.

Click here to read my narrative. I apologize for the strange formatting on Google Docs, it did not translate well from my Word document.

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