Unsettling Wall Street

The Wall Street area is a microcosm of the history of colonialism, immigration, and people's movements as a whole. Together, let's unsettle its invisible borders....

Occupy Wall Street may have been the first social movement in half a century to focus on “economic inequality”, but it was far from the first uprising at the heart of the capital of capitalism. Join Rebecca Manski, a historian and member of the Occupy Wall Street Press Team, as we undo the mystique of this infamous marketplace. 

Depending on group needs, walks touch on the following themes, each with an emphasis on the resisters, rebels, and activists that sought to put this country on a better path:

Unsettling the 1%: People’s Movements in the Financial District

Still wondering how Wall Street became the world capital of capitalism? Or how New York City became the place in America where the most money and the most inequity converge to this day? A couple of answers can be found at the foot of the wall erected by the very first corporation in Manhattan, the Dutch West India Company. Still more answers can be found at the dockside where abducted Africans first touched foot on Wall Street. And others can be found on the steps of Federal Hall, our first center of government, ironically constructed right across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. But the best response of all can be found in the resistance movements that converged on Wall Street to fight back every step of the way.

Unsettling Nativism: Immigrant Waves 

Starting from Battery Park's ferry landings, visiting the Customs House, moving past the Statue of Liberty and World Trade Center towards Little Syria, we will connect the dots between the 1924 National Origins Act and current border control scenarios. Touching on the emergence of quarantine centers and settlement houses in response to the 19th century “epidemic” of mass migration, we will come to understand the panic around public health underpinning “Nativist” movements in the past. In particular we will take the time to trace the origins of our immigration system to the sinophobic and Orientalist perspectives of the time in which it was constructed.

Unsettling Progress: The Rise of Policing 

Walking south from Chinatown's Columbus Park, through the plazas of justice infrastructure centered around Centre Street and Foley Square, we will discuss the origins of policing in response to the urban unrest which was presumed to have been occasioned by crowds of immigrants. We will look at the intended and actual effects of the moral reform movement and "slum clearance", and consider the connections between “urban renewal”, park redesign in response to mobilizations, and changing laws regarding public assembly over time.

Unsettling Wall Street: The Lenape and the Dutch West India Company

Starting at the Museum of the American Indian at Bowling Green and ending at the Dutch fortress wall that preceded Wall Street, we will think through the process according to which Manahatta’s Commons were first carved up, such that land and living things on the island were captured, contained, and commodified. Referencing the frontier known as “The Land of the Blacks" beyond the wall, we will consider the first colonial borders of Manahatta from the perspective of the Lenape, free and enslaved Dutch West India Company workers.

Unsettling the Union: From Revolution to Civil War

Using the seaport, its buildings and its ships as a vivid backdrop, we will consider: What did the “united” in the nascent “United States” reflect, and for whom was the country fundamentally united or divided up to and after the Civil War? Focusing on the role of the port, its merchants and its laborers, we will explore the various interests which ignited slave, sailor, and merchant rebellions according to divergent conceptions of “liberty” and "freedom", and think through the ways these struggles laid the groundwork for Northern economic support for Southern plantations, positioned the "Black Atlantic" to play a role in the Underground Railroad, and set the stage for the Draft Riots.


Rebecca Manski teaches people of every age and background at the South Street Seaport Museum near Wall Street, and leads independent walks for adults, college and high school students in Lower Manhattan through Social Justice Tours.

To book a program, contact Rebecca Manski at peopleswalksnyc@gmail.com

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