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Central Park celebrates Black culture for Juneteenth in Seneca Village

Juneteenth celebration
The Central Park Conservancy hosted a commemorative event honoring the history of Juneteenth in Seneca Village on June 19.
Photo by Dean Moses

The Central Park Conservancy took New Yorkers on an artistic journey Sunday through history for Juneteenth.

In honor of Juneteenth — a federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans — Black history was proudly celebrated on June 19. The Central Park Conservancy crafted a series of stops around Seneca Village on West 85th Street where park goers could pause and learn about the culture.

According to the Conservancy, Seneca Village was a primarily black district from 1825 to 1857 prior to the construction of Central Park. Akin to so many other Black and Brown neighborhoods, the community was moved out and gentrified. However, thanks to Black performers their spirits were brought into the light.

Gha’il Rhodes Benjamin showcased a spoken-word performance for attendees.Photo by Dean Moses
Visitors learned the history behind Seneca Village.Photo by Dean Moses
Families were able to learn that Juneteenth marks the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.Photo by Dean Moses

The festivities consisted of seven different locations around Seneca Village underscoring the historical significance through a range of artistic expression with themes exploring education, community, enfranchisement, empowerment, reflection and commemoration.  

Since Seneca Village predates Central Park, members of the conversancy believe that those who originally inhabited the area were of African descent.

Performers such as Abdou M’ Boup brought traditional Senegalese sounds to the event, as well as versatile musicians like Ayodele Maakheru and dance performances from Kia Sillman. Each section celebrated Black culture, accomplishments and reflected on the past. 

Mayor Eric Adams attended the event.Photo by Dean Moses
There were live dances, musical performances, spoken word, and other activities at Central Park’s Juneteenth event. Photo by Dean Moses
Juneteenth in Seneca Village.Photo by Dean Moses
Mayor Eric Adams shared a special heartfelt message about Seneca Village. Photo by Dean Moses

Mayor Eric Adams also stopped by to join in on the festivities. Adams toured Seneca Village and met with parkgoers before giving a speech on the day’s proceedings. 

“Imagine being displaced over and over and over again. When this village was torn apart to build this park, we displaced the energy of Seneca Village – it never came back,” Adams said. “We wonder why we see some of the crises that we’re facing in Black and Brown communities, it’s because of the constant displacement. Every time they were able to have a foothold they would be displaced again.”

In addition to the music and other performances, New Yorkers marked the holiday by participating in a 5K Run/walk from 90th Street and 5th Avenue culminated at Seneca Village.

The Central Park Juneteenth 5K run/walk began on 90th Street and 5th Ave and ended at Seneca Village. Photo by Adrian Childress
Juneteenth 5K Run/Walk founders James Felton Keith and Carmen Neely. Photo by Adrian Childress
Crossing the finish line at Seneca Village. Photo by Adrian Childress

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