The history in this town can be overwhelming. We chase it down every chance we get. That is how we met Kamau Ware, Director of the Black Gotham Experience. Kamau is the go-to guy for African American history from early day New Amsterdam and British New York. We met him at his project headquarters in the South Seaport area, across from Browne Printing. He is very enthusiastic in discussing the history of Blacks in Manhattan.
Kamau took us back to 1643 when many of the early Black Americans were able to gain their freedom from slavery and were awarded plots of land north of New Amsterdam, in what is now Washington Square, near 4th Street and 5th Avenue. This was the beginning of the establishment of the Land of the Blacks.
Canal Street had not yet been built, and the area was swampy but capable of supporting a garden and livestock. Life was difficult, with freezing winters and the stifling humidity of summers. As difficult as the conditions were, the residents of the Land of the Blacks hammered out a life for themselves and their families.
Kamau had a unique way of bringing the tour to life. Each of the members of the walking tour drew a card Kamau had prepared. Each card had the name of a resident of the Land of the Blacks. I drew Van Salee. JAM drew Griet Jen Reyniers. Van and Griet were married to each other. Through the course of the tour, Kamau told the story of each of the people on the cards.
Kamau knows his stuff and presents it well.
His studio in South Seaport where he also has a nice collection of books, maps and photos on the subject. It’s interesting, it’s educational, it’s enlightening, and we think it’s important.
If this is of interest to you, we highly recommend the walk. Check out Black Gotham books, art, tours.