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Manhattan's former Colored School No. 4 achieves landmark status

Manhattan's last standing segregated school building becomes a landmark
Manhattan's last standing segregated school building becomes a landmark 02:06

NEW YORK - Manhattan's last standing segregated school building became a landmark Tuesday. Landmarks Preservation Commissioners unanimously agreed to approve the former Colored School No. 4.

"For a building built in 1849 with such an extraordinary history and social history, the building is remarkably intact!" exclaimed LPC vice chair Frederick Bland during the meeting.

The school served Black children and their families during the time between the Civil War and the Post-Reconstruction Era.

"With people today who want to erase history, it is that much more important for us to acknowledge history, even when it's uncomfortable," commissioner Mark Ginsberg commented to his colleagues.

The commission credited local historian Eric K. Washington for identifying the building's significance. His research revealed the school's role as a cultural hub for the community, and the strength of its leaders, who once protected pupils from a racist mob during draft riots.

"I feel rather lucky that I came upon it," Washington said, "because it's been there all this time for people to take notice of. And it's it's like a lot of things in New York that are hidden in plain sight."

Commissioners determined there were two prevailing features that reflect the so-called "period of significance," the separate entrances for boys and girls and the iconic rows of bay windows, many of which maintain their original functionality.

NYC Sanitation owns the building, which has been vacant for decades and now suffers from a significantly leaky roof. After the vote, Mayor Eric Adams, who visited the site with Washington and council member Erik Bottcher, pledged $6 million for the needed repairs.

"The conversation is started," Washington said. "Now it just has to be amplified."

Washington hopes the focus can shift to the future of the historic site, re-creating a cultural hub for today's community.

The city is considering whether the sanitation department will retain control over the school building, or if it will be transferred to another department more aligned with these new goals.

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