The lost neighborhood under New York's Central Park



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.

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The Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History website:

The exhibit on Seneca Village through the Central Park Conservancy:

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:

Read the full report on the 2011 Seneca Village excavations:

Read the New York Times’ coverage of Seneca Village:

Read The Park and the People by Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig for a comprehensive history of Central Park, including Seneca Village:

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50 comments

  1. 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

  2. With that being said it might as well be History. I learned black Americans don't seem to want to listen in History class. At my school most definitely. must be sad to lose.

  3. With that being said it might as well be History. I learned black Americans don't seem to want to listen in History class. At my school most definitely. must be sad to lose.

  4. This reminds me of the reconstruction after the Civil War. Black people were being integrated into the government all over the country and there seemed to be some form of equality on the rise. Then there was a deal made in 1877 that threw it all away in the interest of money which put southern senators back in power who believed slavery was good. It set equality back by decades and ruined the reconstruction period which was actually beneficial towards the country as a whole. Central Park may have been beneficial itself but the fact that they destroyed such a wonderful example of how equality can be achieved makes it all the worse.

  5. I was born & raised in NYC, I went to school here, made friends, lived with family, I was a Tour Guide here for 20 years, I guided people around town (NO one was as good as me), I even witnessed 9/11 from my rooftop, I witnessed NYC change over the years, in a few days I will be 46 year young. Right now, I sit in the heart of Seneca Village & I am heart-broken to know the Park I have always known & led people through for fun & education, was once an actual Village that was torn down by rich people. 💔

    We need to go back & learn about our history, & EMBRACE IT, & TEACH IT, so we DON'T RELIVE THE HORRORS.

  6. i feel like the more i know more of history, the harder it is to enjoy things. i don't know how i can get out of this but it's necessary to learn.

  7. "Its not just African American History its American History"
    💯👴🏾👩🏽‍🦱👩🏻‍🦳👨🏻‍🦱👩🏽‍🦰👩🏽👨🏿‍🦲🙎🏻🙎🏾‍♂️👱🏻👶🏽👦🏻👵🏾

  8. I cannot imagine having anything, much less a Home being just TAKEN. I hope they try to reward the descendants of those who made "those" sacrifices. 😇💛 deb in SC

  9. see, this is just an example of many instances that displaced people of color, which ultimately caused a domino effect on many generations of families (generational wealth was ultimately destroyed); but then you will other folks say "pull yourself up by the bootstrap", how can you, when the "boots" are simply taken by force…🤷‍♂️

  10. This really goes to show that Black people really care less about race than Whites.
    We always have and get frustrated that so many White people don't want us around.

  11. They say it's not just African American history but clearly zero in on it because they were black. Tons and tons of poor white communities destroyed for same reasons

  12. Thank you for educating me today on something that I wouldn't have ever guessed. I'd wondered how Central Park once looked and how it had been developed. I am so saddened that the original occupants were not ADEQUATELY compensated, or even compensated at all. Those brave pioneers should of had houses given to them, ideally surrounding the park, so they too had something to hand down to their descendants.

  13. Im 61 years old -a life long NYer. I have never heard this story and im not surprised by that.the " victors" in a conflict are the authors of the history books.someon should write a book about the disoosseed and_ or naje a novie

  14. people may call this racist, but they are just ignorant. because white's houses get demo'd all the time to build roads and other community buildings. but they dont want to talk about that since white people are racist and black people are innocent

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