Uppity in Central Park
There is currently unfolding, in the city of Riviera Beach, Florida, an effort to use the powers of eminent domain to take as many as 2,000 homes in order to allow for the private development of a billion-dollar yachting, high-income housing, and commercial facility. The rationale for this project is, of course, the same that has underlain previous efforts throughout America, namely, to “revitalize” or “renew” a community. The assumption – that ought to have been laid to rest by the failures of politically directed economies – is that government coercion and planning ought to be substituted for marketplace influences that are more responsive to latent economic preferences within a community.
Most of the affected residents of Riviera Beach are black, which brings to mind an interesting historical event of which I just recently became aware. Two weeks ago, Tom DiLorenzo, my daughter Bretigne, and I attended a very interesting exhibit at the New York Historical Society in New York City. Titled “Slavery in New York,” the exhibition helps to deflate the statist fantasy that the American Civil War was energized by northern hostility to the practice of slavery. As the exhibit book states:
For nearly three hundred years, slavery was an intimate part of the lives of all New Yorkers, black and white, insinuating itself into every nook and cranny of New York’s history. For portions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, New York City housed the largest urban slave population in mainland North America, with more slaves than any other city on the continent.
Over 25% of the New York City work force – and upwards of 50% of that in areas outside the city – consisted of slaves. Toward the mid-eighteenth century, some 40% of New York City households had at least one slave. While the State of New York passed antislavery legislation in 1827, the practice was not made illegal in New Jersey until 1865, with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.
While at this exhibit – which continues to March 26th – I learned of the experiences of some former slaves who had managed to become free in antebellum New York City. A number of them formed a community in an area extending from present-day 81st to 89th Streets, between 7th and 8th Avenues, known as “Seneca Village.” Churches and a school were established in this village which, in time, also welcomed Irish and German immigrants.
The exhibit book informs us that, by the early 1850s, many whites in New York City became concerned with how well Seneca Village was doing. “That the Village occupied land that was increasingly valuable as the settlement of Manhattan marched north was not lost on them.” The Democratic Mayor of New York City, Fernando Wood, employed the powers of eminent domain, in 1855, to remove these black property owners and create a city park.