By Sabriana Raco
The unconventional Alan Singer lends a voice to New York’s often forgotten past in his African American Slave Trail Tour.
Alan Singer, graduate director for social studies in the School of Education and Allied Human Services Department sees Manhattan through the lens of history. While some view Wall Street as the troubled center of the global financial industry, Singer sees it as a former slave market, where enslaved Africans and Indians were bought and sold.
To Singer, Central Park is Seneca Village, Manhattan’s first prominent community of African American property owners from 1825 to 1857. At South Street Sea Port, Fulton Street and Foley Square, Singerpoints out spots that were once prime locations for slave trade and sugar exports.
“You can’t change the world unless you understand the world,” -Singer.
He introduced the African American Slave Trail Tour on Memorial Day weekend in 2006, as a way to educate students and teachers about the history of slavery in Manhattan. Using high school students as guides, he has seen how much of a difference it can make in their perspective.
“Students are able to comprehend the magnitude of slavery in New York . . . to walk along the roads and streets where slaves once walked was mind blowing and to stand at the burial grounds with my students was an unspeakable moment for me as an educator,” says Adeola A. Tella, a global history teacher at Uniondale High School.
While there are many reasons for offering the tour each May, some of the major goals are to discover what truly happened in history, inspire a campaign to restore history, promote student activism and help students to become educated on what many feel has been erased from the past. Singer notes that “people are still amazed at how much slavery history is within New York City and it is something that many no longer discuss mainly because they do not know about it.”
April Francis, a 7th grade Social Studies Teacher at Lawrence Road Middle School, describes the impact of Singer’s tour on her students, “My students thought Dr. Alan Singer’s Slavery Walking Tour was great, they were able to learn about historical downtown New York City, learn about slavery, and observe high school students publicly speak. It is educational experiences like these that leave a lifelong memory on students.”
Students learn the truth about the city’s past and also about their own which they have been denied access to. Singer says“New York City’s role in the African American Slave Trade has been erased from history, this tour gives us a chance to write it back in,” says Singer.
Singer enjoys getting some of his old students involved. Prior to teaching at the University, Singer taught at IS 292 at the Margaret S. Douglas Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York. “Being a middle school teacher and urban educator since 1971, I had been teaching history a long time,” says Singer. “To see some of my old students get involved with the tour brings a strong sense of pride and unity for me as a teacher and as a person.”
Singer’s interest in reshaping history dates further back, to the 1960s.“My desire to learn and teach came from my activism in the 1960s,” he says. “It was an exciting time and it made people believe that we could reshape the world and that all things were possible.”
His energy is evident in the classroom, where he has been known to spit out rap verses he wrote himself.
N’ York da- City ain’t so free
Banker Merchant Wanted Slavery,
Tear me a- way Africa Shore
Stole-a- my- name Can-stand- a no more,
Free or a- slave Can not hide
His-tory says Its-a-gen 0-cide.
“After completing the song, which is called, New York City Slavery Rap, I had an opportunity in October 2008 to rap on Hot 97, which is a popular hip hop radio station. It was fun and it was done right before the Obama Campaign,” says Singer.
He’s now in the midst of preparing for the next “African American Slavery Trail Tour,” scheduled to take place Friday, May 22, 2009. “No matter how time periods change, it is always important to know and appreciate the people who fought for justice in history,” he says.
Read Alan Singer’s personal profile piece
Watch Singer lead slavery tour below:
For the full story, check out the Spring issue of Pulse, available now.