What was once a single walking tour exploring the hidden history of African Americans living in New York during the colonial era has since expanded to an organization that uses art, storytelling and a roster of walking tours to educate the public about moments in New York's Black history that rarely talked about. 

The origin story of artist and educator Kamau Ware’s organization, Black Gotham Experience, which offers a series of walking tours and talks that explore little-known moments and contributions of Black New Yorkers since the colonial era, started with a simple question.

He was working as an educator and tour guide at the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan, regaling visitors with the history and struggles of German Jewish and Italian immigrants in lower Manhattan when an African American student on his tour asked “Where were the black people?” 

African Americans are often left out of conversations about American history in instances other than slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. This is especially true in Northern cities in the US like New York.

Street sign reading African Burial Ground Way
Black Gotham Experience tours will take you through lower Manhattan an area of the city where Black history is rarely spoken about. © Michael M. Santiago /Getty Images

Walking through history

To combat this gap in historical knowledge, Ware created a series of tours and talks that delve into the history of African Americans in New York. The four walks cover the history of Black New York starting in 1623 and moving forward through three centuries.

The organization has two more walks in the works and Ware himself often leads talks on the subject of black history, art and the essential but often overlooked contributions that people seen as “other” have made to the city of New York and America as a whole. 

Black Gotham Experience tours

Black Gotham Experience, or BGX for short, offers four distinct tours to visitors all of which last around 90 minutes:

Other Side of Wall Street covers the area in Manhattan that in 1643 was called the “Land of the Blacks” by the Dutch who settled in the area. The tour, which starts in Washington Square Park near the southern end of the Arch, delves into the history and fate of this community, which was the first free Black community in NewYork.

Sarah’s Fire follows the life of an enslaved woman named Sarah who lived in New York in 1712. Sarah was one of 29 people who took place in a black rebellion at that time and the tour, which starts at the BGX main office at 192 Front Street, uses her story as a vehicle for talking about slavery in the city during this time period. 

Caesar’s Rebellion tells the story of the 1741 rebellion known as “the Great Negro Plot.” It elaborates on how an enslaved Black man named Caesar helped to organize the underclass of enslaved Africans and indentured Europeans in order to push back against injustice. This tour begins in front of the Museum of the American Indian at 1 Bowling Green.

Fighting Dark was a tour originally commissioned by The Shed, a New York city cultural center located in Hudson Yards. The tour covers the 1863 riots and the treatment of the “Colored Troops 20th Infantry,” black New Yorkers who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. This tour starts at the Tweed Courthouse at 52 Chambers Street. 

How to book a Black Gotham Tour

All tours are led by trained guides and occasionally by Ware himself. They are currently only available via private group bookings of five or more and prices vary by sector. Contact the organization directly at blackgotham@kamaustudios.com to set up tours or talks.

This article was first published Feb 5, 2021 and updated Feb 7, 2022.

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