This nation has never respected the rights of African Americans to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. When that curious phrase (delineating so-called “unalienable rights”) appeared in the Declaration of Independence in 1776, more than 90% of the Africans in the British colonies were enslaved. After the establishment of the United States, “black inferiority” and the denial of basic human rights to so-called non-whites was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution without ever mentioning the word “slavery.” Various states followed suit with the passage of laws designed to institutionalize slavery permanently and restrict “free blacks” from realizing any of the rights and benefits that citizenship conferred and guaranteed.
The denial of basic human rights for peoples of African descent in the U.S. was sanctioned again at the federal level in 1857 with the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the famous case of Dred Scott v. Sandford. The Court determined that African descendants whether enslaved or free were not protected by the Constitution and could never be U.S. citizens. Roger B. Taney, the fifth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in his support of the decision that some claim led directly to the Civil War, issued the following statement:
“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.“
Some of the most egregious examples of the refusal to respect the rights of “black” people can be found in major cities across the U.S. where the systematic destruction of black neighborhoods and communities has wreaked havoc on African American families. These various types of “urban removal” projects began in this country as soon as “free blacks” established their own enclaves in cities like New York, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Atlanta, Cincinnati, etc. Whether it was mostly a matter of removing “blacks” who were perceived as a nuisance given their proximity to “whites,” or due to the recognition that “blacks” in many cases resided in locations that had become over time highly desirable for public or private development, government and private interests devised various strategies and tactics or simply used violence to eliminate “black” communities.
In small towns in the U.S., the process of removing “blacks” was carried out with a vengeance. In his powerful exposé “Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism,” author James Loewen reveals a hidden aspect of American Apartheid and how thousands of “white only” towns were created across the nation. This particular variation of U.S.-style “ethnic cleansing” began in the 1890s and continued well into the 1970s. Loewen also documents how Chinese Americans, Jews, and Amerindians were expelled or prevented from residing in towns and suburbs using the same tactics employed against African Americans.
All of the above leads us to a recent article about Seneca Village, a black community that was “displaced” by the establishment of Central Park in New York City in 1857. Kristen Brent Zook, in The Root, provides a poignant glimpse into the lives of the free “blacks” and others who built a thriving community in an area that encompassed 82nd to 89th streets, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, during the period from 1825 -1857. Click the following link to read: Seneca Village: Unearthing Black History in Central Park.