According to James Weldon Johnson’s book Black Manhattan, and Gerald MacFarland’s Inside Greenwich Village, Greenwich Village was the home of “Little Africa” during most of the 19th century and in to the early 1900’s. Little Africa was the largest community of free black residents in New York at the time. The community was centered southwest of Washington Square in the “Minettas” area (currently the area around Minetta Ln. and Minetta St.). The area around the Minettas was described rather hyperbolically as a center for vice and crime both by Jacob Riis and Stephen Crane.
Johnson contends that at midcentury many free blacks in Greenwich Village worked as domestic servants for those living at the more posh residences around the park. Black residents of the Village were also involved in a variety of skilled trades, most notably chimney sweeping, over which they had a monopoly in the city for a period. MacFarland describes the area as a diverse and constantly changing community, that included stable families involved with established local churches, and workers and families who were moving North away from the area and making room for freed slaves moving to the North following emancipation in the South.