Monument to Commemorate Destroyed African American Land in Central Park Funded by Ford Foundation, JPB Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
In Central Park, about a mile from land that was once home to Seneca Village, a mostly black community forced out by the park’s creation in the 1850s, the city is planning a privately funded monument to a revered black family from that time.
The new addition to New York’s landscape, honoring the Lyons family, is part of the de Blasio administration’s push to diversify the city’s public art and recognize overlooked figures from its history. The Lyonses were Seneca Village property owners, educators and dedicated abolitionists, running a boardinghouse for black sailors that doubled as a stop on the Underground Railroad. The monument will include the figures of Albro Lyons, Mary Joseph Lyons and their daughter Maritcha Lyons, who was significant in her own right as a teacher, suffragist and racial justice activist.
“We traverse towns and cities across this country, and we’re often unaware of the history and the artifacts literally beneath our feet,” said Michelle Commander, an associate director and curator at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. The city brought the idea for the monument to the center earlier this year and gained its support.
“This is a positive step in recognizing the history and cultures that have been covered up in the service of having Central Park,” she said...
Seneca Village began in 1825 as one of New York’s first communities of black property owners. By the time the city targeted the community for destruction in the mid-1850s, about a third of its population was white — mostly Irish immigrants who had escaped the potato famine. The neighborhood, which stretched from around 82nd to 89th Streets between what at the time were Seventh and Eighth Avenues, was at one point home to more than 250 people, three churches, a school and several cemeteries.
Starting over two decades ago, a group of academics, calling themselves the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History, began preparing to explore the largely forgotten site using ground penetrating radar. Following six years of negotiations, they got permission from the city in 2011 to excavate an area of Central Park, uncovering artifacts like a toothbrush handle and a small leather-soled shoe. The site is currently marked with a plaque to commemorate its history...