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Thinking about Race

2020 Items

Seneca Village and Central Park - (February 2020)

From a New York Times Opinion piece by Brent Staples, a member of the NYT Editorial Board, about the destruction in the 1850s of Seneca Village. It was “Manhattan’s first significant settlement of black property owners and the epicenter of black political power in Manhattan during the mid-19th century. The village occupied land along what is now Central Park’s western edge, between roughly 83rd and 89th Streets.” (www.nytimes.com/2019/11/28/opinion/seneca-central-park-nyc.html)

“New Yorkers who grew up with the fiction that slavery was limited to the South learned otherwise in 1991, when construction in Lower Manhattan unearthed hundreds of skeletons from a forgotten colonial-era cemetery that had served as the resting place of 15,000 Africans. The burial site, known since 2006 as the African Burial Ground National Monument, underscored the fact that New York City in the late 18th century was an epicenter of the slave trade, holding more Africans in chains than any other city in the country, with the possible exception of Charleston, SC.

“New York City’s addiction to the immediate fruits of slave labor—and to the profits that it reaped from servicing the business needs of the South—made for a slow and tortured path to emancipation there. … New York [was] one of the last Northern states to abolish slavery.

“By this time [1817], white New York had taken steps to cripple African-Americans politically and economically. Black men had largely been banished from lucrative skill trades and relegated to subsistence jobs. To short-circuit black political empowerment, the State Legislature made voting rights for black men contingent upon ownership of property valued at $250 or more — even as it rolled back the property ownership requirement for white men. As a result, only 16 black men in Manhattan had the right to vote.”


Elijah Cummings’ “A Letter to My Father” - (January 2020)

Early in Elijah Cummings’ congressional service, he wrote a letter to his father, Robert Cummings, thanking him for all that he had done for him. In 1996 or 1997, he asked for and received his father’s permission to publish that letter in the Baltimore AFRO American newspaper. It was reprinted in the Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2019, issue; this is an excerpt.

“You created over and over again positive visions for us. You refused to allow us to be limited to a few square blocks of Baltimore….

“I also thank you for your consistent efforts to protect us from a cruel world. Every time you would come home after working very long hours as a laborer at Davison Chemical, you would sit in the car in front of the house for at least an hour. Whether it was 20 degrees or 95 degrees, you sat there in the car quietly. We all knew not to disturb you.

“When you got out of the car you displayed a calm and gentle smile. Some years later I asked you why was it that you always sat in the car before coming into the house. You responded by telling me that at work you were often treated badly, discriminated against, and called everything but a child of God. You said that your anger would be so great that you felt a need to calm down so that your family would not become victimized by your anger.

“I thank you for teaching us to give of our time and resources to make the world a better place to live. As children we watched as you constantly helped people in our neighborhood.”

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