Thursday, July 4, 2019

Independence Day Reflections 2019

One of my social media handles reminded me of this July 4, 2010 post:
Someone put it this way, "Independence Day is also a celebration of entrepreneurship! ... The freedom to launch and grow our companies. The freedom to see our ideas become reality. The freedom to live outrageously successful lives." I'll add, the freedom/obligation to do so responsibly. Happy Independence!
I came across an article this morning that speaks about an African American community named Seneca Village in what was in the now Central Park of New York City.  The writer tells us, "the community, called Seneca Village, began in 1825 and eventually spanned from 82nd Street to 89th Street along what is now the western edge of Central Park. By the time it was finally razed in 1857, it had become a refuge for African Americans."

I have no recollection of ever hearing about this community before so I found the story intriguing.  The story was originally published in February 2017 and is titled, An entire Manhattan village owned by black people was destroyed to build Central Park.

Prominent abolitionist Albro Lyons and Mary Joseph Lyons were residents of Seneca Village. (NY Public Library)

What I found fascinating in this story was the independence of the African community in New York, a community that was probably also a stop on the Underground Railroad. Reading about Epiphany Davis and Andrew Williams, two prominent members of the The New York African Society for Mutual Relief, and then apparently another organization named the African Society (or maybe it’s the same organization with the name shortened for convenience), whose purpose was in part to build black communities, and also the AME Zion Church who collectively bought land was definitely empowering.

So my question then became, what happened to these organizations? 

The article states that “more than three-fourths of the children who lived in Seneca Village attended Colored School №3 in the church basement. Half of the African Americans who lived there owned their own property, a rate five times higher than the city average.” Imagine that for the 1850s.

The article leaves very little doubt that some Africans in New York had actively taken charge of lifting their community. It points out that, "owning land in Seneca Village meant more than finding a refuge from the slums and violence of Manhattan proper. Buying property meant voting rights (at least for men), as laws in New York at the time required that all voters own at least $250 worth of real estate." This paints a very unpopular picture of Africans in the early development of the city, and perhaps we should be learning more about some of these individuals because stories like these go a long way in changing the narratives we have been fed.

I definitely would like to know more about The New York African Society for Mutual Relief and The African Society. These are clear demonstrations that Africans would like to claim responsibility to be in charge of matters that are important to them, to the extent that they can. Being left alone to develop independently is not at all a bad idea for Africans when examples such as these come to light. If only all people could be left to enjoy unbridled freedom -- the freedom to live outrageously successful lives."

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