T. Lax: Who were the Black sailors who were coming and finding refuge?
Tourmaline: We're right on the East River, so Black sailors were working on these boats. And there was very few places to stay, but some of the people who were sailors were just people on the run.
We’re at 330 Pearl Street in front of a 5-story building with a faded brick exterior and a grid of windows. This building was erected after there was a boarding house here for Black sailors. Here’s Cynthia R. Copeland.
Cynthia R. Copeland: Being a mariner is typical for African-American males. It's one of the jobs that is easy for them to have. And it set up all kinds of networks for messages to get to and from places, so that people would know what was happening in the world and how to move people through—freedom seekers trying to make their way north, as far north as they possibly could.
And so the Lyons family are there—Albro Lyons and Mary Lyons—taking over this space of the Colored Sailors Home from about 1851 until about 1862, just before the Civil War. They offer shelter, education, food to the Mariners who are there.
It's also one of these spaces that is kind of used as an Underground Railroad. You know, you get this connection of people through this that you are able to know, oh, this is the conductor in such and such a space, so you want to go that way. Or we're going to set sail from the pier on the West side and head in such and such a direction. And so there is a lot of effort to move people around, clandestinely, through this space.
The Lyons family--they are a prominent Abolitionist-reformist, African American family. They are trying to get suffrage for black males and so that is happening again through these networks on the sea. So I think that the colored Mariners space afforded them lots of ability to make a difference and to take care of Black folk in the city.
Tourmaline: Up until 1809, Black people couldn't inherit land in New York City. And in order to vote, having $250 worth of property and living here for three years was a requirement for Black people in New York City. So there were all of these ways that anti-Black racism was built into the architecture of the city that came down to land ownership.
Not only were the Lyons family creating a greater sense of safety here, and a place of refuge and sanctuary. But also they were architecting the blueprint for our expansion north in a moment of pronounced violence here in lower Manhattan.