The East Village is probably not the first neighborhood that comes to mind when most New Yorkers think about African American history. But this incredibly rich, multi-layered neighborhood was home to some remarkably consequential events, places, and figures in African-American history.
Here are just a few of the highlights:
This landmarked 19th century house was home to “The Bird” during some of his most productive, and tumultuous, years.
Beginning in 1962, this former rooming house was the home to Leroi and Hettie Jones, and became a center for what came to be known as the Black Arts Movement, attracting artists, writers, and musicians of all races.
This is the church that Elizabeth Jennings Graham belonged to and was traveling to by streetcar in 1854 when she was forcibly removed because she was African American and refused to give up a seat for a white passenger. The protests that followed changed the way streetcars were run in New York City, making her the Rosa Parks of the 19th century.
In the 1940s this tenement was the home of Blues and Folk legend Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter.
In its three short years of existence, the legendary performance venue hosted concerts and in some cases live album recordings by John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, the Chambers Brothers, and Miles Davis, among many others. In 1968 it was also host to a fundraiser emceed by Leroi Jones for the Black Panthers and its leader Eldridge Cleaver, who had recently been jailed and was running for President.
There are many more sites on the East Village Building Blocks African American History Guided Tour, included those connected to Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, John Brown, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Spike Lee, Charles Mingus, Ellen Stewart, and RuPaul here.
Want more East Village African American History? Check out our Civil Rights & Social Justice Map, for sites connected to the Draft Riots, the police slaying of Michael Stewart, and the first settlement of Free Blacks in North America here. (If you’re wondering why these don’t appear on the Building Blocks tour, it’s because these sites are not building-specific.)
Want even more East Village African American history? According to Sekou Odinga, founder of the New York Chapter of the Black Panthers, the chapter was founded in the East Village, at a meeting in the apartment of a female member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Our research has not been able to establish the location; any idea where that apartment might have been? If so, let us know, and we’ll add it to Building Blocks (where we do already have several sites connected to the Black Panthers).