History of the St. Augustine's Slave Galleries
New York for much of its early history had a huge enslaved population. People of African descent in the city, during the colonial era and for much of the 19th Century, lived under a harsh form of Jim Crow-like segregation. Racist regulations extended even into their houses of worship. Most churches had an area, either in the back, the balcony or separate rooms where Black New Yorkers were housed and located during the religious service. As slavery waned, the City’s newly freed Blacks chafed under New York’s long standing segregationist policies. In spite of this oppression and despite several deadly and destructive race riots, New York’s African American community remained vibrant, dynamic and because of their efforts, the City continued also to be a center of abolitionist, anti-slavery activity.
St. Augustine’s Church at 290 Henry Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which opened in 1828, has as part of its original architecture two rooms, up a small twisting flight of stairs that were and still are called Slave Galleries. These rooms, just above the balcony and mainly out of sight, were intended for African American congregants, servants and perhaps even visitors, and may have been so used for years after slavery ended.