Black History Month: Focusing on Wall Street's ties to slavery

Wall Street is synonymous with the New York Stock Exchange, but its roots delve deeper into a history intertwined with slavery. Dating back to 1711, the site was once home to the city's first official slave market, shaping the economic landscape of New York City.

Edric Robinson

Feb 28, 2024, 11:32 PM

Updated 82 days ago

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Wall Street is synonymous with the New York Stock Exchange, but its roots delve deeper into a history intertwined with slavery. Dating back to 1711, the site was once home to the city's first official slave market, shaping the economic landscape of New York City.
"Slavery was integral to the society and economy of New York City," says Graham Hodges, professor of history at Colgate University. He emphasizes the pivotal role enslaved Blacks played in the city's development, from its inception in 1626 to the abolition of slavery and beyond. "New York City was as important a slave depot and residence as Charleston, South Carolina - which is well-known.”
“Slave trading was legal. It was standard business practice from the Dutch period right through the American Revolution,” says Hodges
The Wall Street Slave Market operated from 1711 to 1762. It served as the first official depot, but Hodges explains it wasn’t the only slave market in the city.
"Roughly about 7,000 enslaved Africans were sold directly into New York City. What’s interesting about this area is that it's very close to the first and second wards, where much of the wealthy New Yorkers lived," said Hodges.
Today, a plaque at the corner of Wall Street and Water Street serves as a poignant reminder of the slave market's presence. It was installed in 2015 through advocacy from Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who was a City Council member then.
"The first commodity of Wall Street was human beings," said Williams. "When I look at these communities that are dealing with the most violence, lack of affordable housing, hit the hardest during the pandemic, they’re the same communities that were being sold right here."
History reveals that slaves constructed the very wall that Wall Street was named for, with Black labor permeating nearly all white New Yorkers' households. According to Hodges, the majority of the enslaved at that time were Black women.
"Black women were the primary domestics; they did much of the household labor for New Yorkers," Hodges explains.
While Wall Street today boasts the largest financial institutions with global reach, Hodges notes that during the 18th century, these financial institutions were also heavily tied to slave labor, persisting long after its abolition.
"Even though slavery was illegal in New York City after 1827, there was nothing that kept these financial companies from owning people because after all that's how business worked," says Hodges.
From the shadows of slavery to documented resistance and cultural prominence, the Black impact remains deeply ingrained in the fabric of New York City. Advocates stress that Wall Street's complex history underscores the ongoing struggle for acknowledgment and justice.
"We have to make sure the remedy of this acknowledges what happened in our history," Williams urges.


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