School that taught black students during segregation era becomes historic NYC landmark

The former Colored School Number 4 is now on the list with New York City staples like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and the Apollo Theatre after the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the school as an individual landmark Tuesday.

"It’s an important site which is why I stuck with it," said Eric Washington. 

It’s been a years-long process finally paying off for the historian and author who spearheaded the effort.

"Nobody has the right to just mow it down or alter it in a way that has not been approved," he explained.

The school has been standing on 17th Street in Lower Manhattan for more than 170 years as the last known school to serve black students during the segregation era. 

The timing, if you ask Washington, couldn’t be better.

The grammar school closed in 1894 after serving black students ages 5 to 14 during the day and adults in the evenings for more than 3 decades producing notable figures who rose to prominence making their mark in music education and public service.

James Williams, the first African-American Red Cap of Grand Central Station and New York’s first Black teacher assigned to an integrated public school was all students at the school.

Mayor Adams said in a statement regarding the historic designation:

Tuesday he announced his plans to allocate $6 million to rehabilitate the landmark owned by the city's sanitation department which ended its operations there about 6 years ago.

"I’m hoping that this example of this school being landmark protected now in the biggest city in the country will serve to inspire other municipalities and districts across the country that these kinds of places are worth fighting for," said Washington. 

The hardest hurdle to clear has been cleared, and now the next phase begins rehabbing the inside of the building so that it can live up to its purpose sharing more of New York's black history and black experience.