New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War

November 17, 2006
September 03, 2007

New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War is the final exhibition in the New-York Historical Society's groundbreaking series on slavery and its impact on the people, landscape, institutions and economy of New York. New York Divided offers a bold look at one of the most challenging periods in New York City's history, when it was torn by the violence of the 1863 draft riots, produced some of the most significant figures in the abolitionist movement, and became the economic engine of the country. Featuring precious historical artifacts, many never displayed before, as well as an online exhibit, the exhibition examines New York's little-known history.

Few non-historians recall that during the "secession winter" of 1860-61, pro-Southern voices (including New York City's Mayor Fernando Wood) called for the City's declaration of independence from both the North and the South, aiming to preserve its role as a great port for both sections. New York was a virtual "Capital of the South," with major commercial and political ties to Southern slavery and, at the same time, a major center of the nation's abolitionist movement. The exhibition traces the evolution of New York's rise to national and global economic power and its relationship to the nation's confrontation with issues of slavery and racial inequality against the backdrop of the Civil War. New York Divided shows how the momentum of emancipation was interrupted by the emergence of the cotton revolution, and enhances the public understanding of the efforts of New Yorkers—black and white—in the struggle for freedom that presaged the civil rights movement of the 20th century.

The exhibition is a follow-up to last fall's groundbreaking, highly acclaimed exhibition, Slavery in New York. This is not the American history most of us grew up learning. Exciting new discoveries have upended our understanding of the national past, including that of New York City and State. New York Divided brings the exciting research recently unearthed by scholars to a broad audience. We hope that visitors to this exhibition will have learned something new from their visit, made important connections to the past and the present-day lives and be inspired to action.

Creative: Tronvig Group