The little-known story of the settlement that preceded Central Park.
Newbery and multi–Coretta Scott King honoree Nelson here re-creates Seneca Village, a path-breaking 19th-century Manhattan community that included the first significant assemblage of African-American property owners living alongside Irish and German immigrants. In a series of poems, Nelson constructs the lives of more than 30 characters based on names found in census records. Their story is at once celebratory and tragic, highlighting the struggles and triumphs of this transformative moment as dirt-poor Irish immigrants escape the potato famine of 1845, German immigrants struggle to make it in the New World, and African-Americans negotiate the transition from slavery to freedom and property ownership: “Freed by a miraculous codicil, / I find myself the owner of one me, / two slightly swampy lots, one deeeep well, / one one-room palace, and opportunity.” This incredibly integrated society comes to an end when the city executes powers of eminent domain to create Central Park. Nelson chooses prose narrative to connect these 40-some lyric fictional portraits that include schoolchildren, a mariner, a bootblack, a hairdresser, a musician, bar owners, lovers, and a fortuneteller, among others, along with poignant snapshots of famous historical figures Frederick Douglass and Maria Stewart, the first African-American woman to lecture on politics and religion.
Artfully crafted, an engrossing and important collection of memories and moments from a pivotal time in American history. (foreword, notes on poetic forms) (Historical fiction/poetry. 10 & up)