The tour focuses on the city's history of racial violence as well as "the power of Black resilience

By Andrea Romano
February 15, 2021
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Kamau Ware leading group tour for Fighting Dark
| Credit: Elliott Ashby

A new walking tour of New York City is shedding light on an important moment in history that isn't taught very much in schools.

In honor of Black History Month, The Shed art center is offering a self-guided online audio tour and accompanying short film called Fighting Dark, which features narration by artist Kamau Ware and tells the story of New York City's 1863 race riots. The tour focuses on the city's history of racial violence as well as "the power of Black resilience.

The tour itself showcases 11 sites in both Manhattan and Brooklyn that were significant to the riots. People who are in the New York City area can take themselves on a walking tour of the sites, or anyone can enjoy the tour from home. The tour covers the 100 years between the riots of 1863 and the May 1963 Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama. Events and sites covered in the tour provide some extra context to The Shed's current exhibition, Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water.

Fighting Dark tour stop: Thurgood Marshall Courthouse in Manhattan
| Credit: Kamau Ware

"We commissioned this piece from Kamau because we wanted to ensure that we could contextualize Howardena Pindell's work, particularly the central video work Rope/Fire/Water, within the streets and the history (and present) of racial violence (and resilience) in our own city," said Solana Chetman, Director of Civic Programs, in a statement.

The 1863 riots are often known as the New York City draft riots, though some historians have found this term to largely be a misnomer. While the riots were once considered a reaction to the draft, a deeper look into the events tell a story about a violent clash instigated by white New Yorkers and directed at the free Black New Yorkers against the backdrop of the American Civil War.

"Collectively our country has focused on the racial violence inflicted on free Black communities in the South after the Civil War, specifically during the Reconstruction Era," said Kamau Ware in a statement. "The insurrection that took place in the streets of New York City the week of July 13th, 1863, less than two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, was a blueprint for disenfranchising Black people before the Reconstruction Amendments were drafted. This racial violence has been hiding in plain sight with the incorrect label of 'draft riots' for over a century and a half."

By unpacking the dark history of race in America, and particularly in New York City, The Shed hopes that "people will take the time to walk, listen, learn, reflect, gain awareness, get inspired, and continue (or start) taking action in t heir own ways," said Chetman.

For more information or to take the tour, visit the Fighting Dark page on The Shed website.

Andrea Romano is a freelance writer in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @theandrearomano.