The layers of history run deep through Lower Manhattan. This Black History Month we will be looking at those places in our neighborhood that illuminate the stories of the African diaspora in New York. Kamau Ware, founder of the Black Gotham Experience, is authoring a series to help show us exactly what ground we stand upon.
At the southern tip of an American Indigenous trail we call Broadway is Bowling Green, the oldest public park in New York City and, consequently, an axis of epochs. A little scratch on the surface reveals the story of a New Yorker named Kwaku who often walked by this park.
Upon first glance you might think of Bowling Green as the park in front of the Charging Bull or the park in front of the Museum of the American Indian, but there is much more to the site than that. For one, in the middle of the park is the missing equestrian statue of King George III, toppled in 1776 under the direction of General Washington, as a poignant ceremonial beginning to the American Revolution. Directly adjacent to Bowling Green is the site of Fort Amsterdam, built in part by enslaved labor around 1626. This is the same structure that was renamed Fort George in the time of English New York in the 1700s. During the rebellion known as the Great Negro Plot, the fort was set ablaze by the enslaved African named Kwaku on March 18, 1741. This fire troubled the grandfather of King George III and is part of our lineage of rebellious New Yorkers seeking freedom.
Although Kwaku’s action has been largely erased from the public square, as well as those of other Black rebels whose thirst for freedom found little space in the retellings of the American Revolution, the knowledge of these acts broadens our understanding of the revolutionary spirit that fueled our independence and illuminates our path forward.
Previously: The New Conspiracy