The Final-Recognized ‘Coloured’ College in Manhattan Turns into a Landmark
For years, New York Metropolis Division of Sanitation staff ate their lunch in a three-story yellow brick constructing on West seventeenth Road in Chelsea with out figuring out its historical past: It was as soon as a “coloured” college that served Black Individuals throughout racial segregation in New York Metropolis public faculties.
On Tuesday, town’s Landmarks Preservation Fee voted to designate the constructing, which had been referred to as Coloured College No. 4, a protected landmark, and metropolis officers mentioned they would offer $6 million to rehabilitate it.
“We stand on the shoulders of the younger women and men that attended this college, and whereas they could be gone, I’m honored to make sure they’ll by no means be forgotten,” Mayor Eric Adams mentioned in a press release.
The schoolhouse, at 128 West seventeenth Road, was constructed round 1849, and in 1860 it grew to become considered one of eight public major faculties for Black college students in Manhattan; the colleges served a complete of two,377 college students. The constructing additionally housed a night college for Black adults.
It was renamed Grammar College No. 81 in 1884, when town’s Board of Training stopped utilizing the time period “coloured” at school names, but it surely continued to serve Black kids completely till town closed segregated public faculties 10 years later.
The landmark designation comes as cities and states are grappling with the way to tackle unsavory elements of American historical past, significantly Black historical past, as modern-day inequities persist in training and elsewhere.
Whereas cities like New York look like shifting towards talking overtly in regards to the previous, different locations are shifting in the other way, preventing in opposition to the surfacing of such historical past by limiting how slavery and race are taught in American school rooms. Florida’s training division, for instance, rejected dozens of social research textbooks this month in an effort to take away materials on contested subjects surrounding race and social justice.
Sarah Carroll, the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Fee, mentioned in a press release that the previous Coloured College No. 4 represented “a troublesome, and sometimes neglected, interval in our metropolis’s historical past.” The choice to landmark it, she mentioned, demonstrated “the significance of preserving the websites that inform the entire, typically difficult, story of our metropolis.”
After the college closed in 1894, the constructing remained metropolis property. It has since been used for a wide range of functions, together with as a clubhouse for Civil Battle veterans of the 73rd Regiment. From 1936 via 2015, it was used as a satellite tv for pc workplace and locker facility for the Sanitation Division.
Metropolis officers estimate that repairs to the constructing, which has water harm, will likely be full in 2027. Officers mentioned they might work with metropolis businesses and native stakeholders to determine how it will be used.
The landmark designation and funding for the constructing’s rehabilitation comes years after Eric Ok. Washington, a historian, started urging town to maneuver to guard it. Greater than 2,800 individuals signed a petition in favor.
Mr. Washington mentioned that he realized in regards to the college whereas researching James H. Williams, the chief porter of Grand Central Terminal’s Pink Caps, a gaggle of Black males who labored on the railroad station.
Mr. Williams attended the previous Coloured College No. 4 and would have been considered one of its final college students earlier than it closed, Mr. Washington mentioned.
“I really feel delightfully exhausted,” Mr. Washington mentioned Tuesday. He mentioned he had filed two requests with the landmarks fee to judge the positioning since 2018 and had heard little or no since. “My fingers are sore from being crossed all of this time.”
Mr. Washington mentioned that he was glad that town was defending the constructing at a time when others have been making “actually concerted, imply efforts” to erase and ban the educating of Black historical past, which he mentioned was a necessary a part of American historical past.
“I believe that the truth that this college and what it represents is being landmarked on this main metropolis will serve for instance to locales throughout the nation, so I’m thrilled in that regard,” Mr. Washington mentioned.
Whereas the Sanitation Division had expressed help for rehabilitating the college, a spokesman mentioned final yr that there have been no funds to take action.
Jessica Tisch, the sanitation commissioner, mentioned that Mr. Adams had “made a important funding in preserving an essential piece of Black historical past,” and that officers would work to ensure “future generations know each in regards to the hurt brought about at this web site and in regards to the resilience of the New Yorkers who resisted it.”
A mob of working-class white individuals who have been upset by the primary federal draft, and the truth that wealthier individuals have been being allowed to evade the service, attacked the schoolhouse throughout the Draft Riots of July 1863, in keeping with The New-York Tribune. Lecturers barricaded doorways, and the rioters finally gave up.
Sarah J.S. Tompkins Garnet, the college’s principal, was instrumental in preventing again in opposition to that mob. She was one of many first Black feminine principals within the New York Metropolis public college system.
The varsity had a number of notable graduates, together with Susan Elizabeth Frazier, who grew to become the primary Black instructor working in an built-in public college, and Walter F. Craig, a classical violinist.
“At a time when states are attempting to erase Black historical past, we’re celebrating it,” Councilman Erik Bottcher, who represents a Manhattan district that features Chelsea, mentioned, including that saving the constructing had been one of many neighborhood’s “high priorities.”
One other former “coloured” college, No. 3 in Brooklyn, was designated a landmark within the late Nineteen Nineties.