Skip to main content
Skip to main content

Book Sheds Light On Black Elite In 19Th Century New York

February 25, 2011 American Studies | Consortium on Race, Gender and Ethnicity | English | History | Jimenez-Porter Writers' House

English default inset image

UMD Professor of English Carla Peterson book 'Black Gotham' looks at 19th century African-Americans who lived free in the north.

By Adam Phillips, Voice of America

While many Americans are familiar with black slavery in the South during the 19th Century and its role in igniting the nation’s great Civil War, less attention has been paid to the black experience in northern cities such as New York, where so-called "freedmen" lived. 

Now, a new book, "Black Gotham," by University of Maryland Professor Carla Peterson, shines a light on their remarkable stories. 

Much of the history of black 19th-Century New York has been lost, in part because it was eclipsed in the popular imagination by the saga of southern slavery. Additionally, mostly-white academic historians minimized the contributions of African-Americans. And no comprehensive archive of black life existed until the 20th Century, when the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture was established. 

Peterson's ancestors were distinguished members of the city’s black elite and she felt theirs was a powerful story that needed to be told. She spent 11 years researching and writing her book.

Listen to the broadcast and