May 23, 2023
Site is Only Known Surviving Example of Racially Segregated School in Manhattan
Repairs Will Help Preserve New York’s Black History
Landmarks Preservation Commission Voted to Designate as Individual Landmark Earlier Today
NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Eric Adams, New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY) Commissioner Jessica Tisch, and New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) Chair Sarah Carroll today announced $6 million in funding for the rehabilitation of ‘(Former) Colored School No. 4’ in Manhattan, which LPC voted to designate as an individual landmark earlier today. (Former) Colored School No. 4 is the only known surviving building in Manhattan that exclusively served Black Americans during the troubled period of mandated racial segregation in New York City public schools. Spanning the period between the Civil War through the post-Reconstruction era, the site is an important reminder of racially segregated education in New York City and illustrates how education afforded crucial opportunities and skills to Black students as they struggled against the discrimination and inequities that were part of their daily life. The Adams administration’s decision to invest in the building’s rehabilitation will ensure that this history is never forgotten.
“As the second Black mayor in New York City history, the significance of this landmark designation is not lost on me, and I am proud we are investing $6 million to rehabilitate (Former) Colored School No. 4 so that this painful, yet important, piece of history is preserved,” said Mayor Adams. “Historic sites like this are crucial reminders of those who came before us, whose courage and ambition helped shape our city and chart the course to becoming the incredible city we are today. We stand on the shoulders of the young men and women that attended this school, and while they may be gone, I am honored to ensure they will never be forgotten.”
Former Colored School No. 4 is a three-story mid-block brick school building on West 17th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood. Courtesy: LPC
"We do justice to the future only when every generation is aware of our painful segregated past,” said Deputy Mayor for Operations Meera Joshi. "Today's actions ensure that (Former) Colored School No. 4 stands as an enduring reminder of what was New York City's discriminatory history, while at the same time opening up the possibility of a just and equitable use in the years to come."
"Despite New York City's rich history of diversity and tolerance, (Former) Colored School No. 4 is an important marker of our city's struggle and evolution to become as tolerant as it is today," said Deputy Mayor for Economic and Workforce Development Maria Torres-Springer. "This additional funding for the building's rehabilitation and designation as a historic site displays the Adams administration’s commitment to keeping this painful part of our history in the public discourse so we do not go backwards in our values or commitment to equality and justice."
"The Department of Sanitation is proud of our role protecting New York City's neighborhoods, and in this case, that also means protecting a neighborhood's history," said DSNY Commissioner Tisch. "Mayor Adams has made a critical investment in preserving an important piece of Black history in New York City, and ‘New York's Strongest’ will do our part to make sure that future generations know both about the harm caused at this site and about the resilience of the New Yorkers who resisted it."
“(Former) Colored School No. 4 represents a difficult, and often overlooked, period in our city’s history, and in the ongoing pursuit of equity and social justice here in New York City,” said LPC Chair Carroll. “With today’s vote, LPC reaffirms its commitment to ensuring diversity in its designations as part of our equity framework, and to the importance of preserving the sites that tell the complete, and sometimes challenging, story of our city. I’d like to thank Mayor Adams and DSNY Commissioner Jessica Tisch for their support in ensuring that (Former) Colored School No. 4 will be preserved and protected for future generations.”
The (Former) Colored School No. 4 closed in 1894 but remained New York City property and was used for a variety of purposes, including by DSNY as a satellite office and locker facility, from 1936 through 2015. LPC and DSNY have collaborated throughout the designation and budgetary process, and the funding announced today by Mayor Adams will enable DSNY to stabilize and rehabilitate the building, which has been affected by water infiltration and general age-related deterioration. Engineering investigation and design work is currently underway, and the full rehabilitation is expected to be completed in 2027. DSNY will work with city agencies and local stakeholders to identify an appropriate long-term use for the facility, following the renovation.
(Former) Colored School No. 4 was constructed between 1849 and 1850 on West 17th Street in Manhattan and became one of New York City’s racially segregated public “colored schools” in 1860. The school served the Black community that lived in Manhattan’s West Side until it closed in 1894.
The site remains an important reminder of the Black community’s commitment to education as they struggled with rampant discrimination in all aspects of their lives. During the post-Civil War era, New York City schools were an important avenue for social justice and civil liberties for the Black community, and laid the groundwork for future opportunities, as illustrated by the accomplishments of so many associated with (Former) Colored School No. 4.
Many of the school’s Black leaders, teachers, and students rose to prominence both during and following their time at (Former) Colored School No. 4, making their mark in education, music, transportation, public service, and social justice. Notable examples include the school’s principal, Sarah J.S. (Tompkins) Garnet, an ardent suffragist and champion of social justice who was one of the first Black female principals in the New York City public school system, and Susan Elizabeth Frazier, a graduate of the school who challenged New York City’s rules restricting African American teachers in segregated schools and who went on to become the first Black teacher assigned to an integrated public school.
(Former) Colored School No. 4 joins a group of important landmarks associated with Black history from the period surrounding the Civil War, including the Houses on Hunterfly Road, the First Free Congregational Church, Lamartine Place Historic District, and other homes of abolitionists in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens, and the (Former) Colored School No. 3 in Brooklyn.
“At a time when states are trying to erase Black history, we’re celebrating it,” said New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher. “Saving this building has been one of the Chelsea community’s top priorities, and I want to thank Mayor Adams for hearing us out and coming through with this critical investment. This $6 million capital infusion will repair the roof and protect the building from the water infiltration that has been causing deterioration. Landmark designation will ensure that the building will be protected from demolition or significant alterations, preserving its architectural features and historic character for future generations. The rehabilitation of Former Colored School No. 4 is a testament to our commitment to remembering and celebrating the Black students and educators who struggled for their right to an education in Manhattan. Today we’re ensuring that their stories are never forgotten. I want to thank Mayor Adams, Commissioner Tisch and Chair Carroll for their leadership in making this momentous achievement possible.”
Mayor Adams and New York City Councilmember Erik Bottcher tour Former Colored School No.4
Mayor Adams tours Former Colored School No.4