Category Archives: African American History

Underground RR Historian Don Papson On ‘The Historians’


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The Historians LogoThis week “The Historians” podcast features Don Papson of Plattsburgh, one of the founders of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum. Papson and Tom Colarco are co-authors of Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City: Sydney Howard Gay, Louis Napoleon and the Record of Fugitives(McFarland, 2015). Listen at “The Historians” online archive at http://www.bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/
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John C. Fremont: Rockland County’s Forgotten Hero


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John_Charles_FrémontIn a cemetery overlooking the Hudson River just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, lies John C. Fremont, who’s contribution to the end of slavery and the Union victory in the Civil War was tremendous, though he is little-remembered today.

Most generally associate Fremont with the State of California. He is the namesake of Fremont, California, and in 1846 was court-martialed for leading a revolt of American settlers there against the Mexican government. He lived most of the latter part of his life in New York State however, in New York City, and Westchester and Rockland counties. He also played a critical role in shifting the focus of Abraham Lincoln’s efforts in the Civil War from a sectional constitutional conflict to a crusade to abolish slavery. Continue reading

Annual Underground Railroad Conference Set


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bellThe 14th Annual Underground Railroad Public History Conference, “Breaking Free: Civil War, Emancipation, and Beyond,” will take place April 17-19, 2015 at Russell Sage College in Troy, NY.

“The Civil Rights Movement: Teaching with Common Core and the NYS Social Studies Framework, in the Shadow of Ferguson, Missouri,” by Alan Singer of Hofstra University, starts off the conference weekend at The Educators’ Workshop, at which anyone interested in the topic is welcome. Continue reading

African-American History: Seeking Fortune In The North


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BrickmanAerial[1]When Harvey Griffin became a member of the Monticello Fire Department in 1875, he was the only African-American living in the village, and one of just a handful in all of Sullivan County.

In 1930, when the population of the county was just over 35,000, and the area stood poised on the brink of its Golden Age, census figures reveal there were 91 African-Americans living here. That’s just over one-quarter of one percent of the population. Continue reading

NYC Hip-Hop History Photograph Exhibit Planned


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Hip-Hop - 1The Museum of the City of New York is presenting HIP-HOP REVOLUTION: Photographs by Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, and Martha Cooper, an exhibition that shows the historic early days of hip-hop culture and music, with its roots firmly in New York, and how it evolved towards the worldwide phenomenon it is today.

Bringing together for the first time the work of three renowned photographers of the hip-hop scene, the exhibition shows the birth of a new cultural movement – with its accompanying music, dance, fashion and style – as it quickly and dramatically swept from its grassroots origins into an expansive commercial industry. Continue reading

Lincoln Featured in 2015 Peterboro Programs


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Lincoln Rhodes 1-6-14 2crpThe National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro, NY has suspended its two year cycle of inductions and commemorations in 2015 in order to address President Abraham Lincoln as The Great Emancipator.

During this Sesquicentennial year of Lincoln’s death, the end of the Civil War, and the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, NAHOF and its Peterboro heritage partners will provide public programs on Lincoln from March to October 2015. Continue reading

Sullivan County’s First African American Firefighter


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MontMansionHouse2During the night of April 26, 1874, fire broke out in the livery stables of LeGrand Morris’ Exchange Hotel in Monticello, NY. Village residents were roused from their beds to form a bucket brigade to battle the blaze, but were unable to keep it from spreading to, and destroying, the hotel itself. A number of other businesses, including George Hindley’s saloon, Kent’s Barber Shop, Billing’s Flour and Feed Store, and the printing plant of the George M. Beebe’s Republican Watchman newspaper, were also consumed.

Largely because of that fire, the third major blaze in three years to rock the small village of about 900 residents, Monticello organized its first fire department less than a year later. Continue reading

The Albany African American Home Social Club


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johnson_portraitIn a book titled Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1902, author Willard B. Gatewood includes a few sentences about Albany, NY’s Home Social Club. According to Gatewood, it “represented the pinnacle of the city’s black social structure.”

Portraying the club as an aristocratic, elitist organization seems unfair, based on my research. Yes, the club’s membership included some black professionals over the years, but among its long-term adherents were waiters, barbers, and railroad porters. Continue reading

Black History Talk Begins Huguenot Street Series


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Augustus Freer in his WWII uniform c 1942Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz is introducing a new “Fourth Saturday” event series. The first event in the series, on Saturday, February 28, with feature a lecture by Dr. A.J. Williams-Myers, Professor of Black Studies at SUNY New Paltz.

Dr. Williams-Myers will be presenting a lecture entitled “There is a River: Social and Economic Contributions of Africans Along the Hudson, From the Dutch Period to the American Revolution.” In honor of Black History Month, this lecture will focus on the influence of enslaved labor on the economic development of the Hudson River colonies, and the societal impact of African participation in both the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Continue reading

National Underground Railroad Conference Set


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Michelville  South CarolinaThe National Park Service, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program and friends, will host the 2015 National Underground Railroad Conference in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, June 17-20, 2015.

The theme for this year’s conference is “Into the Light: Striving for Freedom and ‘an equal chance in the battle of life’”. The conference hopes to explore the transition from enslavement to freedom before, during, and after the Civil War, commemorate the sesquicentennial of the end of the Civil War, and the adoption of the 13th Amendment. Continue reading

Slavery and the War of 1812


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ben_franklins_worldThe United States claimed victory in the War of 1812, but did you know that the British nearly won the war by promising freedom to escaped slaves in Virginia and Maryland?

In this episode of the “Ben Franklin’s World” podcast, Alan Taylor, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize in United States history and author of The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (W.W. Norton, 2014), will reveal how Virginia’s “internal enemy” almost cost the United States the War of 1812. You can listen to this podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/016

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New Underground RR Book Offers 1st Person Accounts


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Secret Lives of the Underground RailroadThe new book, Secret Lives of the Underground Railroad in New York City (McFarland, 2015), offers first person accounts of the clandestine efforts to help escaping slaves. Drawing on never-before-published Record of Fugitives kept by newspaper editor and abolitionist Sydney Howard Gay, the book provides vivid detail of the lives of Underground Railroad agents, and the harrowing journey that African-Americans undertook to free themselves from slavery.

The co-authors are steeped in this history. Don Papson was founding president of the North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, responsible for much of the research that brought the Champlain Line of the freedom trail to light. Tom Calarco is author of three other books on the topic, including The Underground Railroad in the Adirondack Region. Continue reading

Early Black Landowners In Sullivan County


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Custom_House,_New_York,_1799-1815(2)Nearly 400 years ago, in 1626, a ship carrying eleven slaves was unloaded in New Amsterdam by the Dutch West Indies Company. Those eleven men are believed to be among the first African-Americans brought to what is today New York State.

Attempting to pinpoint when the first African-Americans arrived in Sullivan County, NY is considerably more difficult. There are a number of plausible scenarios, and the evidence supporting any one of them is sketchy at best. A stronger case can be made for the first man of African-American descent to own property there.  It was almost certainly Phineas Booth of the town of Neversink. Continue reading

Historic Huguenot Street Lecture Series Set


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HHSHistoric Huguenot Street has announced its first events of the new year: a three-part lecture series with Ulster County Historian Anne Gordon. The lecture series will kick off on Saturday, February 7, at 4 pm.

In honor of Black History Month, this first lecture – entitled “From Isabella to Sojourner: A Slave in Ulster County” – will focus on the life of local abolitionist hero Sojourner Truth, from a childhood in slavery to her bold step into freedom. Continue reading

Martin Luther King In The Catskills, 1968


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king-concordOn March 25, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King delivered the keynote address at the annual Rabbinical Assembly Convention at the renowned Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake in the Sullivan County Catskills.  Ten days later he was dead.

King had come to the Concord to address the gathering of conservative rabbis to honor his long-time friend, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who had accompanied King and others in the historic 1961 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and who was being feted that might by his colleagues as a belated 60th birthday celebration. As he took the podium following his introduction, King was greeted warmly by those in attendance, who sang the civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome” in Hebrew. Continue reading

Historical Dictionary of Slavery and Abolition


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Dictionary of Slavery and AbolitionSlavery’s origins lie far back in the mists of prehistoric times and have spanned the globe, two facts that most history texts fail to address.

A comprehensive 2nd Edition of Martin A. Klein’s Historical Dictionary of Slavery and Abolition (Rowman & Littlefield, 2014) provides a historical overview of slavery through the ages, from prehistoric times to the modern day, while detailing the different forms, the various sources, and the circumstances existing in different countries and regions. Continue reading

Emancipation Watch Night Event in Peterboro


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the_hourThrough the night of December 31, 1862, people of the North and South waited through the night to see if President Abraham Lincoln would issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves in the states of rebellion.

On Wednesday, December 31, 2014, Retired Navy Commander Owen Corpin, a member of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum and a descendant of 19th Century freedom seekers who came to Peterboro, will prepare the watch fire and provide the program for the Watch Night commemoration. Continue reading

Lecture: Slavery At Albany Ten Broeck Mansion


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Ten Broeck MansionRecent excavations and research on the grounds of Ten Broeck Mansion in Albany have revealed outbuildings likely used as summer kitchens and/or slave quarters.

On Sunday, December 7 at 2 pm, the Albany Institute of History & Art will host Matthew J. Kirk, Principal Investigator and Cultural Resource Specialist at Hartgen Archeological Associates, for a special lecture focused on these findings and the insight they provide into slave/master relationships shortly before abolition. They suggest we reconsider our modern concepts of slavery in the north at the end of the eighteenth century. Continue reading

Statewide Underground Railroad Group Forming


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NY-UNderground-Railroad-RoutesMeeting in the same Central New York church that hosted the state’s first Anti-Slavery convention in 1835, a group of Underground Railroad-related organizations (museums, churches, and associations) assembled on November 13th to formalize a statewide network to better promote this key part of New York’s heritage.

Twenty different vetted organizations were represented, from Long Island to Jamestown, and Elmira to the northern shores of Lake Champlain.  Hosted by Dot Willsey, president of the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, located in the Peterboro church were the NYS Anti-Slavery Society met 179 years ago, this month’s conference resolved on the need for a statewide consortium to share programs and projects, enhance efforts to publicize resources available around the state, and communicate with educators, public officials and the traveling public. Continue reading