New walking tour and film explores NYC's 1863 race riots by Kamau Ware

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New walking tour and film explores NYC's 1863 race riots by Kamau Ware
Kamau Ware leading group tour for Fighting Dark. Photo: Elliott Ashby.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Shed presents Fighting Dark, a new audio tour and film by artist and storyteller Kamau Ware (Founder, Black Gotham Experience). This two-part project features an online audio tour and a short film that explores Manhattan and Brooklyn’s 19th-century history of racial violence and resilience. Fighting Dark is commissioned in conjunction with Howardena Pindell: Rope/Fire/Water, an exhibition currently on view at The Shed, and connects to Pindell’s investigation of the legacy of racial violence in the United States. Fighting Dark’s audio walking tour is streaming for free on The Shed’s website ( The film will debut on in the coming weeks.

“Collectively our country has focused on the racial violence inflicted on free Black communities in the South after the Civil War, specifically during the Reconstruction Era,” said Kamau Ware. “The insurrection that took place in the streets of New York City the week of July 13th, 1863, less than two weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, was a blueprint for disenfranchising Black people before the Reconstruction Amendments were drafted. This racial violence has been hiding in plain sight with the incorrect label of 'draft riots' for over a century and a half.”

The immersive, self-guided audio tour maps 11 sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn with narration by Ware that probes historic events that took place at each location. The audio tour can be experienced as a walking tour for site-specific engagements across the city or as an audio-only experience from home.

The tour traces back 100 years from the May 1963 Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama, explored by Pindell in the exhibition’s Shed-commissioned film. Ware’s project draws a line between that moment in the civil rights movement in the South and New York City’s 1863 race riots. According to the project, these riots have often been explained as a consequence of the Civil War draft, an alibi that obscures the racial violence that white New Yorkers directed at their Black neighbors at the time.

Within this historiography, both the film and audio tour in Fighting Dark speak to a dark side of American history, and particularly New York City history, as well as the people who have been impacted by it, especially the Black New Yorkers who fled in the dark of night during the 1863 riots and those who enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War in what was called the “Colored Troops 20th Infantry” from New York City. Fighting Dark ultimately provides a platform to draw out lessons on how Black people find resilience in the face of racial violence and shares the history of Weeksville in central Brooklyn, one of the largest free Black communities in pre-Civil War America, as an exceptional example of it.

The film takes on a poetic narrative exploring racial history throughout NYC and features music by Jason 'classicbeatz' Minnis and black resilience chorus with poetry by Cyrus Aaron.

“We commissioned this piece from Kamau because we wanted to ensure that we could contextualize Howardena Pindell’s work, particularly the central video work Rope/Fire/Water, within the streets and the history (and present) of racial violence (and resilience) in our own city,” said Solana Chetman, Director of Civic Programs. “We knew this was key as part of our civic mandate, but couldn’t have imagined just how unfortunately timely it was going to be. We hope people will take the time to walk, listen, learn, reflect, gain awareness, get inspired, and continue (or start) taking action in their own ways.”

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