5 once-thriving Black communities and what they are now

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe October 06, 2022
Seneca Village. Public domain image

Black communities have always had a story to tell. Usually, it is about the people, a specific person or two, or just an event. Whichever one it is, without a shadow of a doubt, Black communities have always represented beautiful stories and sad ones especially when it’s a before and after.

Everything was something before it became what everyone sees now. Sometimes the before is more beautiful than the after and vice versa. Either way, these stories about these communities show the grit and grace with which the Black community has persevered. 

Seneca Village 

To create Central Park, a Black-owned Manhattan town as a whole was leveled. The neighborhood was known as Seneca Village. It covered the area between 82nd and 89th streets. Seneca Village, a primarily African-American neighborhood where many residents owned property, was located in the area that is now Central Park’s perimeter from West 82nd to West 89th Street before the park was established. About 225 people called the settlement home by 1855, mostly African Americans (about two-thirds), Irish immigrants (about one-third), and a few people of German ancestry.

Seneca Village, one of the few African-American neighborhoods at the time, gave inhabitants a place to live away from downtown Manhattan’s more populated areas and away from the unsanitary conditions and racial hostility they encountered there. Seneca Village is regarded as a close-knit community that acted as a calming and empowering influence during uncertain times despite having a brief existence of only 32 years. What is seen by all now, Central Park, continues to live the legacy of a beautiful community and conservancy. 

Blackdom, New Mexico

It was the first black town in New Mexico, and it was established by Frank Boyer and Ella Louise McGruder. It served as a refuge for the people. Three hundred people called it home as of 1908. 1919 saw the town make oil and after that, the locals founded the Blackdom Oil Company, setting themselves up for years of fortune, but tragedy also befell them. Due to the drought, the village was made uninhabitable.

By the end of World War I, it was a ghost town because families had fled. Blackdom Oil Company and National Exploration Company signed a contract in March 1920 for 4,200 acres with a potential value of $70,000. Oil production in the Roswell Basin was unfortunately halted since the fields were not economically viable. The Great Depression hurt the Blackdom neighborhood. 

Freedman’s Village, Virginia 

It was a location for children, women, and free people. The Freedman’s Village was founded in May 1863 by the American government. It was established in response to the increase in Black Americans who fled slavery in the South during the Civil War. These towns were essentially refugee camps for men, women, and children. They were short-term communities built by the federal government for persons who had previously been in slavery.

The Arlington property’s Freedman’s Village developed into a distinctive and vibrant neighborhood with schools, hospitals, churches, and social services. Although only meant to survive a short while, the community remained there from 1863 until 1900 and left behind a lasting impact. The Freedman’s Village aimed to provide housing, training, and education for freedmen, women, and their children as well as food, church services, and medical attention. To establish Arlington National Cemetery, Freedman’s Village was destroyed. 

Glenarden, Maryland 

In 1919, W. R. Smith built a residential neighborhood in Glenarden, marking the beginning of European settlement in the area. On March 30, 1939, it was founded as a town, and W. H. Swann was appointed as its first mayor. In 1994, it was reincorporated as a city. In 1910, a Black man by the name of W.R. Smith started a residential development that would eventually grow into a middle-class suburban neighborhood about 10 miles from Washington, D.C. It was Maryland’s third established municipality with a significant African-American population. Over time, the town and its businesses expanded. In 1994, the Town of Glenarden’s name was changed to the City of Glenarden. 

Mound Bayou, Mississippi 

The Mississippi Delta community of Mound Bayou was established in 1887 by freed slaves with a vision that was ground-breaking at the time. It was intended to be a self-sufficient, independent, all-Black town from the beginning. Mound Bayou thrived and developed for many years, earning recognition for the empowerment of its Black residents. Mound Bayou was founded in 1887 by Isaiah Montgomery and his relative Benjamin T. Green. They purchased 840 acres of property for $7 per acre, turning it into the largest all-Black community in the country, with a hospital, 3 schools, 6 churches, and 40 businesses. They turned a wetland into a prosperous neighborhood.

Tragedy, however, struck the town in the 1940s when a fire destroyed a huge part of the business district of Mound Bayou. Despite this, the town continued to flourish.

Today, Mound Bayou, which is known as the “jewel of the Delta”, still exists as a predominantly Black town in Mississippi in spite of the sharp population decline throughout the years.

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