Black History Month: Untold history of Black families in New York City

A new permanent exhibit at the Tenement Museum showcases a peek into the living conditions and daily realities faced by residents of that era.

Edric Robinson

Feb 8, 2024, 1:37 PM

Updated 166 days ago


A new permanent exhibit at the Tenement Museum gives a look into the life of a Black family in post-civil war New York City. Through artifacts and narratives, the museum helps shape an understanding of Black migration to the Big Apple.
"We're in the recreated tenement apartment of Joseph and Rachel Moore and their household," says Kat Lloyd, VP of programs and interpretations at the Tenement Museum.
Lloyd says the new exhibit showcases a peek into the living conditions and daily realities faced by residents of that era.
"New York City by the 1860s was the largest free Black community in the nation," Lloyd explains. "Joseph and Rachel Moore coming here are making this decision that a lot of other people made in this time period."
Lloyd said this marks the first time they've featured the story of a Black family in its permanent exhibits. Visitors are transported to a two-room space on the 5th floor, reminiscent of the Moore’s' home.
"There's a bed with a quilt, so this is a space for sleeping but also for work," Lloyd describes. "There's also a small closet and washstand; there's not running water in tenements at this period."
Utilizing articles from Black writers and journalists of the time, the museum reconstructed the home, shedding light on not just livelihoods but community dynamics.
“So, we were able to learn for example there was a group of waiters Joseph Moore he worked as a waiter. We know that from a city directory and then we found a newspaper article describing a mutual aid society coming together because so many had been fired due to increases in Irish migration. We also look at census records that tells us that Joseph and Rachel Moore have roommates, an Irish immigrant and her multiracial son”
Lloyd revealed that the neighborhood was made up of mostly Black and Irish New Yorkers. The tenement building the Moores lived in doesn't exist today. In its place is the SoHo Grand Hotel. The area was called the 8th Ward back then and was the largest Black neighborhood in the city. Today, the 8th Ward is known as SoHo.
Another historic Black neighborhood was today's Chinatown which was known as 5 points. The neighborhood’s Black population started building after the abolition of slavery.
This tenement exhibit highlights that there was diversity and deep-rooted community which shaped the landscape of the city now.
If you’re interested in a tour or virtual programming you can visit the museums website at

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