After I moved back to New York last winter, I went for a walk in Lower Manhattan, and found this sign posted on the corner of Wall and Water Streets. Two short paragraphs of text and a small sepia image refer to the site where eighteenth-century New Yorkers bought and sold enslaved people of African and Native American descent. The Municipal Slave Market.
I started learning more about it because, even though I grew up here, I didn’t know that there had been a slave market on Wall Street. I didn’t know that enslaved people actually built that wall. Like a lot of people, I was surprised to learn the deep reaches of slavery in this island colony. (—SM)
Even though so much of daily life in New York gestures to histories of violence and injustice, those histories remain invisible and largely unknown. Wall and Water is an audio essay about how historical narratives are written and rewritten continually, about the work of remembering. Through conversations with artists, historians, educators, and city officials, we connect the history of this site and the sign that’s been standing there for the past year, to ongoing experiences of systemic racism and resistance. Through conversation, Wall and Water became a meditation on freedom and rebellion in New York.
Wall and Water was produced by Sarah Mendelsohn and Fred Schmidt-Arenales. It was released on 9.29.2016.
Thanks to everyone who gave their time to be interviewed for this project:
Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History at Howard University, Author of, among other works, Shadows of the Slave Past: Memory, Heritage, and Slavery (2014) and Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space (2012), as well as the site A Historian’s Views: Digital arts and humanities in the age of presentism. Interviewed by SM over the phone.
Chris Cobb, Artist and writer based in Brooklyn. Interviewed by SM and FSA at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Leslie M. Harris, Professor of History at Northwestern University, Author of, among other works, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863. Interviewed by SM over the phone.
Prithi Kanakamedala, Public historian and Assistant Professor of History and Bronx Community College, Historian and Curator for Brooklyn Abolitionists, part of In Pursuit of Freedom at the Brooklyn Historical Society, and Researcher and Writer for Place Matters. Interviewed by SM in Manhatta Park, at Wall and Water Streets.
Christopher Moore, Historian, retired Curator at the New York Public Library Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, former Commissioner for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. Interviewed by SM and FSA at the Brooklyn Public Library.
Amaka Okechukwu, Oral Historian and Associate Archivist at the Weeksville Heritage Center. Interviewed by SM at Weeksville.
Kamau Ware, Artist and visual storyteller based in Brooklyn, Lead Creative of Black Gotham Experience. You can sign up for upcoming BGX walking tours by joining their mailing list. SM and FSA attended and recorded part of a tour focused on Caesar’s Rebellion in July 2016, and interviewed Kamau in his studio in Red Hook.
Jumaane Williams, New York City Councilman representing the 45th District. Interviewed by FSA over the phone.
Wall and Water also features:
No Police State Song by No Police State Girl (Carla Cubit)
And excerpts from the Black Lives Matter meeting moderated by Carlene Pinto, which FSA recorded at Union Square, NYC, July 7, 2016. You can listen to the full recording of the meeting here.