5 Historical Black Figures from New York

Image Courtesy of Preserving Black History.

Black history has been whitewashed and portions selectively removed from New York’s history.  Like, black slaves building Wall Street and the destruction of Seneca Village to create Central Park. For Black History Month, we decided to highlight 5 notable African-Americans that changed New York.

1.  Gladys Bentley

Image Courtesy of Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture.

Gladys Bentley, Harlem’s most infamous lesbian performer in the 1930s.  “Bentley sang her bawdy, bossy songs in a thunderous voice, dipping down into a frog-like growl or curling upward into a wail,”

2. Elizabeth Jennings.

Elizabeth Jennings. Image Courtesy of Kansas State Historical Society.

Elizabeth Jennings was an educator who in 1855 won a discrimination lawsuit against a Manhattan trolley company that would not let her ride in a whites-only car.  This historic civil rights case was a full 100 years before Rosa Parks.  Elizabeth died in 1901.

3. Phillip A. Payton Jr.

Phillip A. Payton Jr. Image Courtesy of Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library.

Philip A. Payton Jr., a real estate mogul who helped transform Harlem into a black mecca.  With the opening of a new subway line on 145th Street in 1904, which made uptown more accessible, Mr. Payton got right to work.  He created the Afro-American Realty Company to help remake Harlem as a home for black citizens who faced discrimination in housing in other parts of the city.

4. Jeremiah G. Hamilton

Image Courtesy of Preserving Black History.

Known as the first black millionaire in America, Jeremiah G. Hamilton was worth an estimated $2 million (over $50 million today).   Hamilton was a fiscally conservative financial agent who worked on wall street and was well-known by the local newspapers.

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After the infamous Great Fire of 1835 in lower Manhattan, Hamilton came into a large sum of money by taking advantage of some of the fire victims.  He was also unique because he sold directly to white people instead of the traditional segregated system of the day.  His wife, Eliza Hamilton, was white and let’s just say that white people weren’t feeling that.  During the 1863 NYC draft riots, white men broke into his home to lynch him but instead they were bought off with liquor and cigars. He died in 1875 and is buried at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

5.  Shirley Anita Chisholm

Image courtesy of Thomas J. O’Halloran, U.S. News & World Reports.

Shirley Anita Chisholm (Shirly Anita St. Hill) was born in Brooklyn in 1924.  She rose quickly in education and American politics.  She represented New York’s 12th congressional district for a whopping 7 terms, from ‘69 to ’83.  In 1968, she became the first black candidate for a major party’s nomination for President of the United States, and the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination,[2] Chisholm was also the first woman to appear in a United States presidential debate.

She was a Brooklyn girl through and through.  Attending grade school in Bedford–Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) and graduating local Brooklyn College.  Shirley passed away in 2005.

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