Colored School No. 4 in Chelsea up for landmark designation

Crystal Cranmore Image
Monday, April 17, 2023
Colored School No. 4 in Chelsea up for landmark designation
The former Colored School No. 4 is the last known colored school in Manhattan. It could be given landmark status in New York City. Crystal Cranmore has the story.

CHELSEA, Manhattan (WABC) -- A lasting reminder of discrimination against Black New Yorkers is represented by a building that has been empty for years and fallen into disrepair -- but that could soon change for the better.

The shattered glass and rough facade of the building on 17th Street in Chelsea make it easy to ignore, but not for long.

"I had been by it 1,000 times," said Erik K. Washington, an author, and historian. "It'd be such a missed opportunity not to preserve this."

The city's Landmark Preservation Commission pushed the vacant building, last used by the Department of Sanitation, one step closer to landmark status.

The former Colored School No. 4 is the last known colored school in Manhattan.

It was born out of the city's segregated school system in the 19th century.

"There were a lot of sort of heavyweights of the time, who either attended this school or taught at the school," Washington said.

That includes people like Sarah Garnet.

"She was an active suffragist. She married one of the most famous African American ministers orators, statesmen, Henry Highland Garnett," he said.

Or, Susan Frazier.

"She became the first Black teacher to be assigned to an integrated school in the public school system," Washington said.

Independent historian Washington has been pushing for landmark status for years, only stumbling upon the building's significance while doing research on another graduate, James H. Williams.

He was the first Black red cap at Grand Central Terminal. The red caps were porters, an essential part of the railroad experience.

"As you're digging deeper and deeper and deeper, this turned out to be a goldmine," Washington said.

"This is really the tip of the iceberg. There's a lot more that the city should be doing in terms of representing and preserving African American history and all of the diverse histories of New York City," said Andrew Berman, of Village Preservation.

A spokesperson for the Landmarks Preservation Commission said in part:

"The Commission has been designating places related to the city's African American heritage and continues to advance designations related to New York City's long and varied African American history in every borough."

A public hearing on the school's landmark designation is scheduled for April 25.

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