Jay Heritage Center Celebrates Black History Month


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freedoms gardener 001The Jay Heritage Center invites you to celebrate Black History Month with two exceptional speakers who will talk about the free African American experience in antebellum New York on Saturday, February 8, 2014 10:00am – 12:30pm.

Author, Dr. Myra Young Armstead, Professor of History, Director of Africana Studies at Bard will talk about her book Freedom’s Gardener: James F. Brown, Horticulture and the Hudson Valley in Antebellum America. She will share insights from her research about the free black experience in 19th century New York as revealed in a handwritten diary kept for almost four decades by James F. Brown.

Brown, a fugitive slave eventually purchased his own freedom with the help of the Verplanck family and found himself associated with one of America’s earliest landscape designers, AJ Downing. Not only did Brown achieve financial independence as a master gardener and purchase the freedom of his wife, he became a landowner as well. On November 8, 1837 he recorded in his diary that he had voted for the first time.

Of great interest to historians studying the Jay family and their properties, Brown wrote in his diary in March 1832, one year after having been manumitted, that he had gone “to live with Peter A. Jay…” It is highly likely that he spent time at the Jay Estate in Rye, then called “The Locusts” and perhaps left an imprint of his own horticultural knowledge on its landscape.

Professor Armstead is a graduate of Cornell University and received her Masters and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. She specializes in U.S. social and cultural history, with an emphasis on urban and African American history. She was awarded the Frederick Douglass Award by the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. She is also the author of Mighty Change, Tall Within: Black Identity in the Hudson Valley and Lord, Please Don’t Take Me in August: African Americans in Newport and Saratoga Springs. Dr. Armstead is a frequent speaker for the New York Council for the Humanities.

4196c2b5-e999-4210-9dd4-1398cdbd5b73_thumbDocumentary Filmmaker, David Pultz, has worked in the motion picture industry for over 35 years and will preview “The Bones Speak: The Spring Street Story.” His presentation focuses on an integrated antislavery church in lower Manhattan nearly destroyed in the infamous anti-abolitionist riots of 1834. Limning portraits of important historical figures of the period with ties to this church, including William Lloyd Garrison and the Tappan brothers, the talk will also detail modern day efforts of archaeologists to preserve a “time capsule” of the free African American experience. Remains found at the church site have undergone DNA and isotope testing under the direction of the Syracuse University Anthropology lab. Pultz will tell us what science can reveal about the living and working conditions of members of the Spring Street congregation.

This is Mr. Pultz’s 2nd human-rights oriented documentary. An earlier award- winning film, “Eternal Memory: Voices from the Great Terror” narrated by Meryl Streep, examined the Stalinist purges and terror in the former Soviet Union during the 1930s and ’40s. An estimated 20 million people lost their lives; some in labor camps, others starved in state-induced famine, and many others were executed. Pultz interviewed witnesses and survivors, public officials and historians, including former U.S. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Roman Szporluk of Harvard University, and Robert Conquest, author of “The Great Terror: A Reassessment.”

Co-sponsored by the Clunie Branch of ASALH, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and the African American Men of Westchester. The program is free and open to the public. Reservations requested. For more information, contact Barbara Specht at the Jay Heritage Center at BJSJHC@gmail.com or call (914) 698-9275.

John Jay’s childhood home at 210 Boston Post Road, in Rye, New York is one of 13 sites on Westchester County’s African American Heritage Trail. In 2013, this National Historic Landmark was also added to New York State’s Path Through History for its importance to understanding the history of Civil Rights.

More information about Jay Heritage Center can be found here.

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