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New York Was the Land of Slavery

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"Time to tell the truth, our local history, New York was the land of Slavery!" On Friday, May 28, 2010, over 100 middle school and high school students and their teachers on the New York and Slavery Walking Tour chanted as they marched through the streets of lower Manhattan. It was a diverse group of students from Halsey Middle School and Law Government High School in Queens, Foundations Academy High School in Brooklyn, and University Heights High School in the Bronx. What these students shared was a desire to learn the real history of New York City and to share what they learned with everybody they met on the walk.

Stops on the walking tour included Foley Square, where in 1741 thirty-five enslaved Africans and four White supporters were executed for the crime of conspiring to end slavery. Historians continue to doubt whether a slave conspiracy ever existed. At the African Burial Ground on Duane Street, a plot outside the city limits that served as a cemetery between the late 1600s and 1796, students sang Amazing Grace, a song written in the 18th century as part of the campaign to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The corner of Wall and Water Streets was the 18th century Slave Market established in 1711 by the New York Common Council. Nearby was the headquarters of the Amistad Defense Committee (122 Pearl Street near Hanover Street) at the offices of silk merchants Lewis and Arthur Tappan, abolitionists who organized the defense committee and were among the founders of the American Anti-Slavery Society in December 1833. In 1834, their office was attacked by a pro-slavery mob.

At 111 Wall Street, a major office of Citibank, students chanted, "Time to tell the truth, our local history, Citibank financed Slavery!" The bank was founded by Moses Taylor, a sugar merchant and banker whose office was around the corner at 55 South Street. Slave traders met at Sweet's Tavern at Fulton and South Streets. The men who smuggled enslaved Africans referred to themselves as "blackbirders" and their illegal human cargo as "black ivory." The building still stands but there is not historical marker there or in the entire South Street Seaport complex.

The goals of the New York and slavery walking tour include securing historical markers at "slavery" sites in Manhattan and other parts of New York City and having the award winning New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance curriculum guide written by me and officially adopted by New York State. It is available online at

The 2011 New York and Slavery walking Tour is scheduled for Friday May 27, 2011 at 10 AM. The tour starts at 1 Police Plaza in Manhattan.

At the start of the tour, Brooklyn-based rapper Reeces Pieces (aka Professor Alan Singer) performed the New York and Slavery rap.

New York City Slavery Rap

N'York da-City
Ain't so free
Banker Merchant
Wanted slavery.

Mo-ses Tay-lor
Cu-ban trade
Ci-ti bank-ers
Slave pro-fits were made.

Tear me a-way
Afri-ca shore
Stole-a my-name
Can-stand-a no more.

Chain and da-whip
Cross my back
Pain run a deep
I-wann-a attack.

Eight-teen Sixt-y
Time for War
N'York da-City
Bring-da-slaves a-shore

Wood Da Mayor
Backs da South
Grab the mon-ey
He has-a no doubts.

Da Rev Gar-nett
HarrBeech-a Stowe
Shout out a-loud
Slav-e-ry must go!

Sol-mon North-up
Bound in jail
Sold down a-south
Gonna-pick a bale.

So-journ a-Truth
Chil-ren sold
Wants-a Free-dom
Come-out-of da cold.

N'York da-City
Is it free?

Ci-ti bank-ers
Con Ed Gas work
Built on Sla-v-ery.

Free or a-Slave
Can not hide
His-tor-y says
Its-a-gen o-cide.