New York City needs to “do better” in preventing black residents from being driven out of their neighborhoods, Mayor Eric Adams said on Sunday, during an address marking the Juneteenth holiday.
Speaking in Central Park, Adams compared the modern-day uprooting of people of color from neighborhoods across the US — including the five boroughs — to slavery.
“When I was in Ghana last year, [I] saw how families were displaced, torn apart and brought over to America through slavery in the hulls of the ships, living in dungeons, spending months and months living in their human waste, having their babies taken from them, and saw them dispersed and displaced,” he said.
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“That’s no different here,” Adams told the crowd at the Central Park Conservancy’s Juneteenth Celebration.
“We cannot look in the rear view mirror and say we should have done better when we are here right now,” he said. “Let’s do better right now. Let’s acknowledge the presence of people to be part of the community that they built.”
The mayor pointed to Seneca Village, which was established in 1825 in the western portions of what is now Central Park, and became home to more than 200 free black people — who were evicted about 30 years later to make way for the iconic Manhattan green space.
“Imagine being displaced over and over and over again,” Adams said. “When this village was torn apart to build this park, we displaced the energy of Seneca Village. It never came back.
“Let’s not commemorate Seneca Village when we’re creating another destruction of a Seneca Village,” he said.
“We should think about that as we jog through here as we watch this beautiful space that [Frederick] Olmsted built, as we look at how great this Central Park is in the center of Manhattan, we displaced some families here. We destroyed lives,” the mayor said. “There were families here long before Starbucks. They were here, and they provided a foundation.”
Black communities in the area were forced to move and rebuild in other neighborhoods, such as Harlem, downtown Brooklyn and Bedford Stuyvesant, Adams said, adding, “And now what’s happening now? We’re displacing them again.”
“No one wanted this land. This land was not attractive. No one wanted Manhattan,” Adams added, referencing less prosperous decades in New York City’s history. “These churches left here to have to go and build in other locations like Harlem, downtown Brooklyn.
Adams, New York City’s second black mayor, noted that black Americans have in recent decades been forced out of neighborhoods in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Chicago, Los Angeles and Atlanta — communities he lamented had been met with “destruction.”
“Starting anew over and over again, and we wonder why we see some of the crises that we’re facing in black in brown communities,” he said. “Every time they were able to have a foothold, they were displaced again. As soon as you started to build something, it was torn apart.”
Adams — who in April announced Juneteenth would be a paid holiday for municipal workers — encouraged the roughly 40 attendees to not just reflect on the past but to also make sure it does not repeat itself.
“Let’s educate our children so that they know that there were folks who were here that built this city that we call New York,” he said.
Juneteenth, one off America’s oldest holidays, marks the official end of slavery in the US on the date in 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform the last remaining Confederate sympathizers that they lost the Civil War, so all slaves needed be freed. In June 2021, Juneteenth became the 12th federal holiday.
Adams on Saturday started the weekend with a visit to a synagogue in the Hamptons.
Earlier Sunday, the mayor’s office announced that City Hall and several other buildings will on Sunday and Monday evenings be lit red, black, and green — the color of the Pan-African flag — to pay tribute to the holiday.
“On this Juneteenth, we proudly say Black history is American history,” Adams said in a press release. “Today is a moment to remember and celebrate the countless contributions of Black Americans to our country, while simultaneously recognizing the many sacrifices and hardships our community has faced.
“I hope all New Yorkers will join with me in acknowledging the freedom Black Americans were denied for far too long.”
The municipal buildings set to be lit red, black and green are Bronx Borough Hall, The David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building, Queens Borough Hall, Staten Island Borough Hall and the DSNY Salt Shed Complex.
In addition, the colors will be displayed on a slew of Big Apple landmarks, including Madison Square Garden; 30 Rockefeller Plaza; The Empire State Building; the Javits Center; One World Observatory and the National September 11 Memorial Museum.