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Tenement Museum's new "A Union of Hope" exhibit tells story of Black family's history from New Jersey to New York

NYC Tenement Museum now features Black family's apartment
NYC Tenement Museum now features Black family's apartment 03:24

NEW YORK -- CBS New York is celebrating the first day of Black History Month with a glimpse back at Black life here in the city in the 1870s.

The Tenement Museum now permanently features an apartment of a Black family, a request a long time in the making.

Reporter Dave Carlin toured the exhibit, called "A Union of Hope."

The Tenement Museum was approached in 1989 about an exhibit focusing on Black New Yorkers in a meaningful and permanent way. The woman who wrote the museum with her suggestions is no longer alive, so actress Tamara Tunie read aloud Thursday from the letter.

"So when you're planning your museum, I beg of you, please, please don't forget them," Tunie said.

Thirty-four year later, the museum has the permanent exhibit, telling the story of a Black family living at 17 Laurens St., in what is now SoHo, back in 1870.

"These are stories that need to be told," said Laura Lee, the director of training and resources at the Tenement Museum.

Lee served as Carlin's guide.

"We're heading to the fourth floor. We will start in one of our preserved apartments," she said. "It's a time capsule. It really is. We absolutely have gone back in time to 1870 to Joseph and Rachel Moore's two-room tenement home. The street that they lived on doesn't exist anymore."

Lee explained how Black families from rural parts of the country came to Lower Manhattan, and joined newly arrived European immigrants.

"Rachel was born in 1828 and Joseph was born in 1837, and slavery was still legal in New Jersey when Joseph is born. And New York just experienced emancipation in 1827," Lee said. "And maybe you felt safety in numbers in the city like this."

"There are five folks living here," she added. "We also have a woman named Jane Kennedy, who was a 23-year-old dressmaker. Rose Brown and Louis Munday. Rose Brown is a white Irish immigrant woman who is working as a washerwoman. Louis Munday is 14 years old."

Of the five, Joseph Moore was the only one allowed to vote at the time. He worked as a waiter and had a second job.

"He's driving a horse and carriage. This is a coachman's coat," Lee said, showing CBS New York.

Lee proceeded to show the second room of the apartment.

"There's this portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the wall there," she said. "His presence looms very large, very this time period."

During the Moore's time in the two-room apartment, monthly rent would've been about $7 per month. By the 1880s, he had moved from Jersey City.

"We believe Rachel has passed by that time," Lee said. "We haven't connected to living descendants of Joseph and Rachel yet."

"We always hope to find descendants. Part of the magic of having this on our tours is that maybe one of our visitors will be a descendent," said Kat Lloyd, director of programs for the Tenement Museum.

The story continues to evolve. Adding to an exhibit that puts hope on display, there are abundant oysters that brought joy, books that brought inspiration, and inevitable bonding with other New Yorkers in tight quarters during turbulent times.

For more information about visiting the Tenement Museum, please click here.

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