Orphans are often the forgotten minority. They were characterized in novels. Their lives were used for labor that no one else wanted to do. Either they were imprisoned or enslaved, orphans were parentless children that really didn’t matter. There were many orphan asylums for white children. What about Black orphans? New York City had an orphanage for Black orphans for over 100 years, proving that Black lives mattered.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, slaves were liberated. After the war there were many casualties. One was parentless children or orphans. Fine if you were white. What if you weren’t? There was an orphan asylum in New York City. For those unlucky orphans, they were modified slave replacements working the fields, the mines, and other things. But they had food, clothing, shelter, and medical care. No salaries. For whatever orphan asylums were bad, they were the better places for orphans. The Colored Orphans Asylum was one of the best places for Black orphans to grow and feel safe.
Orphans had many orphan asylums and orphanages for escape and care. The black community only had one in New York City. When it came to housing and caring for Black orphans, this was one orphanage for them in the USA from 1836 to 1946.
Slavery was abolished in New York in 1827. THE COLORED ORPHANS ASYLUM OF NEW YORK was a four-story home on 43rd Street and 5th Avenue, and was founded by 3 Quakers.. In 1836, when opened, most of New York City lived below 14th Street. New York had a segregationist policy that placed orphan, reform, and insane asylums in the farthest perimeter. At the time, the NYC reservoir shed hadn’t been constructed yet. It seemed rural.
It wasn’t until 1866 that a colored orphanage opened in Brooklyn. The Home for Freed Children and Others was founded in 1866 by black Presbyterian minister Henry M. Wilson, black widow Sarah A. Tillman, and white general Oliver Otis Howard. At the time, Brooklyn was not part of New York City. It was financially mismanaged. It opened in a Black area near Crown Heights called Weeksville.
The peak importance in New York was after the Emancipation Proclamation but orphans were still segregated. In 1866, just three years after the Emancipation Proclamation, freed Black women were travelling North with their children, many finding their way to New York City. Upon arriving they were hit with the reality that the families who would hire them for domestic work, often the only work available to them, would not allow them to keep their children. This provided a painful dilemma for these newly freed African American women who had come North seeking an improved life.
They had no choice but to work, often caring for the children of White families, but who would care for their children? Orphanages were one of the few available options at the time. However, orphanages, whether government or privately funded, refused to accept Black children. Black orphans often ended up in different forms of servitude—not far removed from slavery, living on the streets, or sometimes even housed in jails. However, one African American woman, recently widowed, decided to take matters into her own hands, and by 1866 Sarah Tillman was taking care of twenty Black children in her lower Manhattan home.
Homes for Freed orphans provided education and care. Yet these were small, financially starved, and poorly staffed.
The Colored Orphan Asylum, caring for hundreds of black children whose parents died or couldn’t raise them existed in North Bronx from 1903 to the 1950’s.It is the Hebrew Home for the Aged.
The first orphanage was established in the United States in 1729 to care for White children, orphaned by a conflict between Indians and Whites at Natchez, Mississippi. Some churches took care of orphans in the USA but only white orphans were accepted. Humane orphanages to house and feed orphans of color wasn’t even considered. The Mississippi legislature on November 22, 1865, passed “An Act to regulate the relation of master and apprentice, as relates to freedmen, free negroes, and mulattoes.”
After the Emancipation, though, the south found a way to use black orphans. Though not required to pay a wage to the children they “hired,” the law did require white “employers” to pay a fee to the county for the apprentice arrangement. The law claimed to require white “masters” to provide their apprentices with education, medical care, food, and clothing, but it also reinstituted many of the more notorious features of slavery.
The Colored Orphan Asylum was burned down by Irish mobs on July 13, 1863, during the first day of the New York Draft Riots. A policeman was killed while leading the children out the back door to escape. Was it racism? The underlying cause was poverty…Irish poverty. The New York Irish were more easily drafted into the army. The wealthier and earlier USA immigrants were able to buy themselves out of army service. The Colored Orphans Asylum became the target of poor Irish living south of 14th Street, especially from the infamous area known as the Five Points.
The Asylum was rebuilt in 1867 at 143rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and in 1907 was relocated again to the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The former property. on a river front street was contributed by President Theodore Roosvelt. In 1944, the Association’s name was changed to the Riverdale Children’s Association. It is now the Hebrew Home for the Aged. A remnant of the building remains intact.
According to UNICEF (2015), there were 140 million orphans. Much gratitude should be given to those who have fostered and worked hard for orphans of all races and ethnicity. The history of the Colored People Orphan Asylum, over 100 years. should remain one of many examples how we can dissolve the boundary lines of racial altruism. This was a really good institution that parented thousands of Black and other children over a century.
Financial support for orphan asylums and Freed-Man groups came from local and private endowment sources. Charities to poor varied from State to State in USA, New York being very responsive from 1600 to 1900. When it came to orphans, many were subjected to child labor, outside of orphan asylums, such as Orphan Trains. Federal legislation, as recent as 2007, have worked to controlling child labor in the USA. Yet…orphans are often overlooked regardless of race. Jewish Philanthropies has been a leading organization funding orphans regardless of race and religion since early 1900’s AND was a sponsor of the Colored Orphan Asylum at the Bronx location.
U.S. orphanages have been replaced with an improved foster care system and private adoption agencies like American Adoptions. Not all orphan asylums were perfect but they saved children from the perils of living in the streets and seeking food. All lives matter. Black lives have been recognized.
When the Colored Orphan Asylum moved to the mansion-lined, most northwestern border of Bronx and Yonkers, it was renamed Riverdale Children’s Association. It remained an orphanage till 1946. It was converted to the Hebrew Home for the Aged.
The Colored Orphan Asylum was one of many such orphan asylums in mid-nineteenth-century New York City, one which served African American children who had lost at least one parent. Other orphanages had quota systems and could reject colored orphans. The Colored Orphan Asylum and Riverdale Children’s Association had no quotas. For over a century, Black orphans thrived from an idea of a group of Quaker women in New York City decided that Black orphans deserved golden glove treatment because they mattered. They created the first colored people orphan asylum that thrived and helped thousands of minority orphans for 120 years.