Play about Central Park’s land 1825 Black Village showing at Kean U through 9/20.

Stephen Van Cleef, a fictional Seneca Village resident played by Billy Eugene Jones (left), meets a New York City police officer, played by Andy Truschinski, in The People Before the Park at Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union, NJ Foto: Mike Peters/Premiere Stages
Stephen Van Cleef, a fictional Seneca Village resident played by Billy Eugene Jones (left), meets a New York City police officer, played by Andy Truschinski, in The People Before the Park at Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union, NJ Foto: Mike Peters/Premiere Stages
In the middle of Central Park between 82nd and 89th Streets, heading east from its Western border on Central Park West, sat a village in 1825 with a population of about 300 mostly free Blacks. Cynthia Copeland of the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village History spoke to NPR about the smear campaign the press ran against the villagers in order to

…help justify destroying people’s homes and cemeteries, using eminent domain to make way for what would become the most visited city park in the country. The village was leveled in 1857, the same year construction began on Central Park.

Kean University’s Premiere Stages Theatre is showing a play based on this slice of history through 20 September 2015: The People Before the Park by Keith Josef Adkins, directed by John J. Wooten. Tickets from $15. Here’s their description:

1856. New York City. A hard-working man and his son live in a respectful African-American community called Seneca Village. However, their solitude and safe haven are threatened when the City decides to remove the community from their homes to create the world-renowned Central Park.

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