February is Black History Month, and it gives us an opportunity to look back at the history of African Americans in the Village. Greenwich Village has a deep African American history and at one time was home to the largest African American population in New York City.
This month we take a look at some of the historic places in the Village and numerous cultural events, you can be a part of, to honor Black History Month.
Earliest free Black settlement in America
The Village’s African-American roots stem to the Dutch colonial times, when Black people settled in the area. Along with Greenwich Village, parts of the Lower East Side and Lower Manhattan was the home to North America’s earliest free Black settlement in the 1640s.
Minetta was home to New York City’s largest African American community which centered around Minetta Lane, Minetta Street and Minetta Place popularly known as, “Little Africa” which also included the area of Bleecker Street, LaGuardia Place (then Laurens Street), MacDougal Street, Thompson Street, Sullivan Street, Gay Street and Waverly Place.
African Grove Theater
Located in the corner of Mercer and Bleecker Street, the African Grove Theater was founded and operated by William Alexander Brown, a free African American. At the Theater, along with a few originals, some popular Shakespearean plays like Richard III and Othello were performed. The company folded in 1823 only two years after play production began due to finances and city intervention.
175 MacDougal Street
The building, 175 MacDougal Street was once the former home of Sarah Smith Garnet. In the 1880s, Sarah Garnet was New York City's first female African American public school principal.
Mother A.M.E Zion Church
Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, “Mother Zion,” the founding congregation of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion church, was the first black church in New York City. The church was located at the corner of West 10th Street and Bleecker Street from 1864 to 1904 and has played a huge role in civil rights since the late 18th century. The church was replaced by tenement building and was moved uptown in the early 20th century.
The New School
In 1948, W.E.B. DuBois developed and taught the very first class on African American history at The New School on West 12th Street, the first at a historically white university. The course was titled “The Negro in American History” and “followed the development of American history with a special emphasis upon the influence which persons of Negro descent have had upon the thoughts and activities of this country.”
The African Free School
One of the seven school, African Free School No. 3 was located at 120 West 3rd Street. The school was dedicated to the education of the children of enslaved and free Blacks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Founder, John Jay started the school with a mission to abolish slavery and to empower young Black people which was a bold proposition for the time.
Cooper Union’s Great Hall
Located at The Foundation Building on 7 East 7th Street, The Great Hall of Cooper Union provided a platform for some of the country’s biggest political movements. In 1909 it was the site of the first public meeting of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama all spoke at the Great Hall before they were elected. In response to the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation, Frederick Douglass delivered, one of his first five speeches, "The Proclamation and a Negro Army,” on February 6, 1863. Peter Cooper himself had invited Douglass to speak just over a month after the Proclamation had taken effect. Visit The Cooper Union's website to learn more.
The first racially integrated night club in New York City, Cafe Society, was located at 1 Sheridan Square. The cafe served and welcomed some of the biggest talents in jazz history during its time in operation, including Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, and Billie Holiday.
For a complete guide to locations connected to African-American history around the village, peruse the interactive map created by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
Upcoming Black History Month Events
Wednesday, February 10, 2021; 6:00 pm
Join founder Alex Harsley and his daughter Kendra Krueger for a special photography talk exploring the Gallery’s work over the decades through art, conversations, cross-pollination, and collective power.
Tuesday, February 23, 6:00pm
Join Derrick Edwards and Eric Chase, long time tour guides on a rollicking, inspiring tour focused on the interconnectedness of Black arts and artists in the neighborhood and how they shaped and influenced much of what we know of the Village.
Saturday, February 27, 2021; 10AM - 4PM
As part of an ongoing effort at the Cooper Union’s school of architecture to decolonize the curriculum and advance anti-racist pedagogies, this workshop seeks to extend this work specifically to Thesis courses in architecture. This event gathers student organizers and educators from around the country and the world to share insight, strategy, and experiences. Learn more here.
SUPPORT LOCAL BLACK OWNED BUSINESSES IN LOWER MANHATTAN:
One of the most direct to show your support for the Black community is by shopping at Black-owned businesses as many of them have been disproportionally affected by the coronavirus pandemic. See below for a list of Black-owned businesses that are located throughout Lower Manhattan:
Art + Design
- Ayon Studio - Design firm integrating architecture, design, engineering, historic preservation, and materials conservation into our projects. Expertise encompasses Victorian buildings, as well as modern icons from the 20th century. Ayon Studios is MBE certified for work with both city and state agencies. Location: Union Square
- Meow Cleeva - Playful home decorations to personalized pet art, chic housewarming gifts and travel accessories for the design lover. Location: Union Square Market
- Tatiana Poblah - Artist whose goal is to bring more color and joy into the world by portraying that beauty, one drawing at a time. Location: Union Square Market
- SoHo Renaissance Factory - Black led artist collective who sprung up in the spring of 2020 when SoHo and NoHo were full of boards. Brought protest art to the neighborhood and is building out their long term presence in the community. Location: SoHo
- Peter Charles Savvy - Peter Charles Savvy designs, produces, and sells quality accessories for men and women including handmade scarves and shawls as well as capes, hats, and more. Location: Union Square Greenmarket
- T.A. - A concept store that caters to the women-identifying community in New York City. T.A. provides a product that presents a renewed outlook towards luxury living. The brands featured at T.A. have been personally sourced from Tbilisi, London, Paris, Peru, Milan, South Korea, LA, New York and other locations around the world. Location: Meatpacking District
- Madame Matovu Vintage - Tucked away on a quiet block, this is a true neighborhood gem featuring an eclectic mix of vintage clothing, accessories, and antiques. Location: Greenwich Village
Food + Beverage
- Body and Soul Bakeshop - Crafting uncommonly delicious vegan baked goods since 1993. Uses the best seasonal, locally sourced, non-GMO, organic ingredients whenever possible. Location: Union Square Greenmarket
- Extra Virgin - Intimate Italian eatery in the West Village, with outdoor dining options, serving up Italian-inspired, wholesome foods. Location: West Village
- Mikey Likes It - Pop-cultured inspired ice cream shop founded by New York native, Michael “Mikey” Cole. A master at flavor and texture, Mikey has created custom ice cream flavors for notables like Hillary Clinton and Jay-Z. Location: East Village
- Tings - Small home style Jamaican kitchen in Chelsea Market serving jerk chicken, oxtail, patties, fresh juice & tings. Location: Meatpacking District
- Union Square Wines & Spirits - Wine shop in Union Square since 1995. Offering exceptional customer service, warm design, and an environment that encourages customers to explore. Location: Union Square
- Zach & Zoe Honey - Located in Chelsea Market, Zach & Zoe provides raw honey infused with superfoods. Location: Meatpacking District
- Brooklyn Chophouse - Serving standard steakhouse fare such as steaks and burgers, plus the addition of Chinese dumplings and entrees. Location: FiDi
- Haile - A neighborhood restaurant that brings traditional Ethiopian home cooking to a warm and inviting environment. Location: East Village
- Las Lap - Crafting a rich combination of traditional rum culture mixed with the vibrance of L.E.S. and the sultry charm found in New York City. Location: Lower East Side
- Negril Village - Located in the heart of Greenwich Village, Negril Village promises to entertain your soul as well as your palette in a hip & classy environment. Location: Greenwich Village
- Rise Root & Farm - Food co-op run by an all-star team of four veteran urban farmers and community activists: Location: Union Square Greenmarket
- Whipped Urban Dessert Lab - Minority and women-owned award winning company that focuses on putting innovative spins on classic desserts free of artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Location: Lower East Side
- 142 Sullivan - A neighborhood wine and cocktail bar that has a warm, intimate vibe and friendly atmosphere. Also known for their great music selection. Location: SoHo
- New York Biltong - A new, specialty grocery store selling its namesake South African cured meat alongside meatpies, groceries, and other goodies. Location: Greenwich Village
- Meskerem - Old school eatery on a charming block of MacDougal Street. Located in a cozy subterranean space, they serve Ethiopian classics. Location: Greenwich Village
- Brooklyn Chophouse - Classic New York City style steakhouse located in an wood-filled, modern space a stone's throw from City Hall. Location: Financial District
Health + Wellness
- AARMY - A revolutionary coaching experience with a full line-up of the highest standard cycling and bootcamp practice sessions. Location: NoHo
- J Train - New York's premiere private, transformational precision studio featuring personal training, acupuncture, yoga, and more. Location: Tribeca
- Fitness By Q - A martial artist and private bodyguard turned health and fitness coach. Quintin helps clients become their best self. Location: Greenwich Village
- Kervin A. Simms, Attorney at Law - An experienced entertainment lawyer offering botique services for artists, producers, directors, and other entertainment creatives. Contact via phone at (212) 254-4430. Location: NoHo