When: Saturday, February 10, 12:00pm – 1:00pm
Price: Free with Museum admission

As part of the Black Gotham Experience day at the Museum, a panel of experts will discuss early Black communities in New York City.

Dating back to the 1600’s, before New York was New York, free and enslaved residents of African descent were integral contributors to the growing metropolis. As we take a look back at early Black communities such as New Amsterdam, Weeksville, and Seneca Village in the 17th through 19th century, join a lively conversation with Dr. Prathibha Kanakamedala, curator of In Pursuit of Freedom, Kamau Ware, Founder of the Black Gotham Experience, and professor Dr. Deborah Gray White to make connections between these legacies through today. Moderator Sarah Seidman will guide a conversation to unpack the the daily lives, means of organization, and early efforts for Black liberation.

This panel is part of a larger program, which includes a performance by The American Slavery Project at 11:00 am. Learn more.


About the Moderator:

Dr. Sarah Seidman is the Puffin Foundation Curator of Social Activism at the Museum of the City of New York. She curates the ongoing exhibition Activist New York, and has also curated Beyond Suffrage and King in New York at the Museum. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies and an M.A. in Public Humanities from Brown University and a B.A. in American Studies from Wesleyan University. Her research centers around questions of political culture, race, and social movements in the United States and the world. She has received fellowships from the University of Rochester, New York University, and the American Council of Learned Societies, and her writing has appeared in the Journal of Transnational American Studies and The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture, among other places.

About the Panelists:

Dr. Prithi Kanakamedala specializes in the Black Atlantic during the long  nineteenth century. Her more recent scholarship examines New York’s free black communities. She has published on a number of topics including black identity in nineteenth century transatlantic performance culture, New York’s cultural heritage, and the labor history of the Brooklyn Bridge. Dr. Kanakamedala is a committed public historian and served as both historian and curator for In Pursuit of Freedom (www.pursuitoffreedom.org), a partnership of Brooklyn Historical Society, Weeksville Heritage Center, and Irondale Ensemble Project. The project traced Brooklyn’s anti-slavery movement. She continues to work with a number of non-profits including City Lore/ Place Matters and the Brooklyn Historical Society. She received her PhD in Atlantic Studies from the University of Sussex, England and is originally from Liverpool, England.

Kamau Ware (b. 1974) is a Brooklyn-based visual artist born in Pittsburgh, PA. His work focuses on visual storytelling by using photography, history, and fantasy to produce moving narratives about people and spaces. His works include America: The Legacy of African American Legacy, Arsenal Gallery, New York, NY (2016); #INSIDEBLACKGOTHAM, Civil Service Cafe, Brooklyn, NY (2015); Exposed, Sweet Lorraine Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2014); and Bed Stuy Story, Warehouse Gallery, Brooklyn, NY (2014).

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It’s no secret that New York City was a major destination for black people from the South during The Great Migration (for a good book on the phenomena, see The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America), and that “Harlem, located at the north end of Manhattan is still the most dense (people per square mile) Black community in the nation.”  How it got that way: a case of reverse discrimination combined with black blockbusting and white flight:

“In 1905 Philip Payton and his company, The Afro-American Realty Company, was almost single-handedly responsible for migration of blacks from their previous neighborhoods. He did this by buying, leasing, and selling empty and white owned properties to Blacks without apologies for and against the white tenets objections. Less than two decades later African Americans from the south fueled the Great Migration, taking trains from southern U.S. states, especially Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia, As blacks moved in, white residents left; between 1920 and 1930, 118,792 white people left the neighborhood and 87,417 blacks arrived.”

New York City also experienced a not-insignificant uptick in Black migration/immigration in the 1980s.

MUG reports that a digital window has been provided into the historical perspective of black folk who came to NYC as either tourists or more permanent residents in the mid-20th century past. Many would likely have tried to avoid potential race-oriented confrontations or worse, by availing themselves of the following resource:


The Green Book, published by Harlem resident Victor Green from 1936-1966, listed hotels, restaurants and other attractions and services at which black travelers would be welcome. The Schomburg Center has digitized 21 Green Book volumes.

New York’s black (or as the terminology then regarded as correct had them, “negro”) population was active in trying to secure their civil rights at various times and in various ways, too many and varied to list here, but in addition to black oriented/published papers and periodicals, they made it into the mainstream news media of the early to mid 20th century as well:
One of the photos from PM: a short-lived, but well-loved paper that circulated in NYC during the 1940s shows Adam Clayton Powell speaking at a “Negro Freedom Rally” at (an older version of) Madison Square Garden. (There is an exhibit of some select articles and photos highlighting major stories from PM in the 1940s at the Steven Kasher Gallery through February 20th.)…

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