Take a look at Washington Square’s Black History

February 10 2017

Land Grants

In 1643, North of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, a group of “half-freed” black militia members and elders such as Domingo Anthony, Manuel Trumpeter and Catalina Anthony, received land grants to build and maintain farms in the areas containing and surrounding Washington Square Park.

Minetta Lane, Courtesy of Ephermeral New York
Minetta Lane, Courtesy of Ephermeral New York

They had to pay annual fees for the land, and their children were still enslaved, but the farmland was passed down through families, solidifying the strong black community in the area that was consistently pushing for equality and abolitionism. The area became known as the “Land of the Blacks” and was later called “Little Africa,” where a black community continued to develop and grow well into the 20th century.

 

African Free Schools

Courtesy of New York African Free School Collection, New York Historical Society, by Student John Burns, 1800's
Courtesy of New York African Free School Collection, New York Historical Society, by Student John Burns, 1800’s

In 1787, the New York Manumission Society, a group dedicated to promoting equality between the races, created the African Free School for freed blacks to have access to education, resources, and opportunities for a better future.

What started as a one-room schoolhouse with forty students that were children of slaves grew into seven school houses, the third of which was located in the Village near Washington Square Park. By 1835, the African Free Schools were incorporated into the New York City public school system and educated thousands of black students. This early black schooling system became a jumping off point for future decades of black communities advocating for equality and a voice in education systems.

 

Black & Tan Saloons

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, the Village was known as “Little Africa,” and most of the black population lived on Minetta Lane, the street that now covers Minetta Brook.

Black-and-tan saloon. Courtesy of Jacob Riis, NYPL Collection
Black-and-tan saloon. Courtesy of Jacob Riis, NYPL Collection

The area did not have a favorable reputation, but it was home to the famous “Black and Tan” saloons that provided opportunities for interracial socializing, where blacks and whites mingled freely. Although largely associated with the black community, records from the 1900’s indicate that a large amount of buildings were home to both white and black families, and there were a number of interracial couples living in the area.