The Mayor Who Was Concerned About the Growing Influence of African Americans: Fernando Wood

Mayor Wood claimed that African Americans needed special property-owning qualifications in order to vote, indicating his strong desire to hamper the growing political power of African Americans. Therefore, he must have been threatened and concerned about the growing influence that most Seneca Villagers would gain by owning land. Furthermore, Wood endorsed the "Dred Scott" decision, which promulgated concepts of black inferiority and maintained that African Americans could never be full citizens. Furthermore, not only did Wood end the antislavery campaigns in Kansas but he also advocated the extension of the slave trade. When Wood became a member of the House of Representatives in 1863, he opposed and criticized all laws that were enacted to protect the rights of black citizens. For example, he voted against the Thirteenth Amendment which prohibited slavery.

Why did Wood  oppose and criticize all laws that were enacted to protect the rights of black citizens?

"The Almighty has fixed the distinction of the races; the Almighty has made the black man inferior, and, sir, by no legislation, by no partisan success, by no military power, can you wipe out this distinction.”

 Fernando Wood (1812-1881)

He also voted against many other bills, such as equal pay and treatment for African Americans who were in the army. Moreover, Wood detested people in the Republican Party who insisted that African Americans deserve voting rights. For instance, he criticized these people for supporting “lazy, unfit blacks’ immediate suffrage, high pay and social superiority."

 It is necessary to “extinguish the followers of the anti-slavery fiend stalking the country.”

 It is necessary to “extinguish the followers of the anti-slavery fiend stalking the country.” 

-Fernando Wood (1812-1881)-

The racist beliefs behind Wood’s support for the destruction of Seneca Village spurred the gradual destruction of African American political power in Seneca Village, one of the biggest African American communities in New York.

One of the reasons why Wood discriminated against African Americans

Many politicians in the 19th century were racist and did not want African Americans to participate in politics for numerous reasons. One factor that caused Wood to become a racist politician was perhaps his background. According to a scholar named Ernest McKay, Wood’s concepts and perspectives about race were influenced by the times he stayed in Virginia. McKay stated that Wood “saw nothing wrong with slavery. Neither the cruelty nor the immorality of the system troubled him." Because many white people in Virginia in the 19th century believed that the system of slavery was not immoral and African Americans were inferior to whites, Wood began to agree with this idea of blacks being inferior to whites. This belief influenced his views of African Americans and ultimately led him to destroy Seneca Village.

The challenges that Wood and the council faced in the process of creating the Central Park

1) The land between Fifth and Eighth Avenues, and between Fifty-Ninth and One Hundred and Sixth Street, was not an appealing place for a park because these lands were “rocky” and “swampy.” Furthermore, the Central Park Board of Commissioners noted that this was "a pestilential spot, where rank vegetation and miasmatic odors taint every breath of air."

 

2) Jones’s Wood, which was also known as Jones' Park, was a farmland that extended from 66th Street to 75th street, Third Avenue. The farm was 132 acres (53 ha). Because Jones’s Wood was less “rocky” and “swampy” than the region between Fifth and Eighth Avenue, and Fifty-Ninth and Once Hundred Sixth Street, some New York City residents claimed that Jones’s Wood was a better place for creating a park than the land that encompassed Seneca Village. Consequently, many New Yorkers signed a petition to ask the Common Council to create a park in Jones’s Wood immediately. The petitioners stated as follows: "the time to consummate this desirable object should be no longer delayed."

Wood’s effort to remove Seneca Village (which became the property of the city)

Wood’s racist perspective and his attempt to earn money through lands located near Seneca Village ultimately resulted in the removal of Seneca Village. In order to destroy Seneca Village, Wood endeavored to seize the land that Seneca Villagers owned. In July 1855, the government officially claimed that this region was property of the government. Therefore, due to the rule of eminent domain, Wood and the government claimed the right to take away citizens’ land if it were to be used for the benefit of the public.