Category Archives: African American History

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Civil Rights Act of 1964


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Civil Rights Act of 1964 AnniversaryIn this 50th anniversary year of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new book by Vanity Fair editor and Politico senior writer Todd Purdum, An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Henry Holt & Co., 2014) recounts the dramatic political battle to pass this important law that in many ways helped create modern America.

Pardum’s book revisits a turbulent time in America, a time of sit-ins, freedom rides, and the March on Washington. During this time, John F. Kennedy sent Congress a bill to bar racial discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations. Continue reading

Basketball History Scholarship Contest Winners


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Winning original photo entry by Douglas KossanThe New-York Historical Society has announced the winners of its recent scholarship contest, which invited high school students to submit original essays, videos or photographs on the theme of breaking barriers in sports and making history.

The contest was held in conjunction with New-York Historical’s exhibition on pioneering African American basketball players—The Black Fives—on view now through July 20, 2014. Continue reading

The Life of Anne Northup, Wife of Solomon Northup


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anne northupSolomon Northup of Saratoga was lured into slavery in 1841, and was a slave in Louisiana for 12 years before being rescued. What impact did Northup’s kidnapping have on his wife and family? In Solomon’s absence, the Northup family became a one-income household.

At 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, May 10, 2014, David Fiske will offer a presentation that describes how his wife Anne carried on and saw to the needs of their children. Information on her later life will also be provided. Continue reading

Black Americans in the Revolutionary War


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Portrait of a black American Revolutaionary War salior by unknown artist, c 1780 (Original in the Newport Historical Society)Black Americans have a long and distinguished history of military service. They participated in every colonial war from 1690 through the French and Indian War (1754-1763) as soldiers, sailors, laborers, scouts, and spies. Blacks generally served in integrated units and earned the same pay as whites. Even slaves served in the army and were paid although their enlistment compelled them to surrender some portion of this money to their owners.

In the early Revolutionary War battles of Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill, free and enslaved Blacks fought shoulder to shoulder with white patriots. However, by the summer of 1775, under pressure from Southern plantation owners, General George Washington and the Continental Congress opposed the further enlistment of free blacks and slaves. Historians James and Lois Horton state that southern planters were “well aware of African-Americans desire for freedom, and most feared insurrection should slaves gain access to guns.” Continue reading

Gospel Jubilee Concert To Celebrate Artis Kitchen


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ak1studio-600On April 11 at 7 p.m., Gospel Jubilee is coming to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY. Gospel Jubilee is third annual celebration of soulful music, and features national recording artist and BET Sunday Best winner Crystal Aikin, along with a diverse line-up of gospel luminaries. The event will have a special tribute to Artis Kitchen. Kitchen was a gospel promoter and producer in the Capital District who passed away in 1986 and who played a prominent role in Albany for the gospel community.

Kitchen first brought his gospel ministry to a large regional audience with the airing of his “Spiritual Time” radio show on WABY. He later became famous for his television show “Spiritual Time with Bro. Artis Kitchen” on WTEN. Continue reading

45 Years a Slave:
Westchester Case Confirmed Story of Enslaved Man


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Westchester Slave Case 1857 (New York Times)On the 12th day of August in 1857, a young girl was brought before Judge William H. Robertson in his chambers at Katonah in Westchester County, New York. Over 30 years after slavery had been legally banned in the state, the matter before the judge was whether she should be set at liberty.

Local constable Zeno Hoyt had found the 5-year-old girl, named Ellen, at the home of David A. Griffin in Ossining, where she was in the charge of two ladies. One of them, Louisa Kerr, was present at the hearing, which came about because Ellen’s grandfather, with the assistance of attorney John Jay, had instituted proceedings to have her placed in his custody. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: Resurrecting the NY Freedom Trail


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freedur1The wheel is about to be reinvented. In response to an earlier post on the State Tourism Advisory Council, Rosemary Vietor wrote the following comment:

Peter – Perhaps you saw the article in yesterday’s WSJ NY section on the underground railroad (not precise title) tourism sites proposed for Manhattan. It is an effort to link those sites (most of which no longer exist) into a walking tour. There has been for a number of years a similar effort in Flushing, the Flushing Freedom Mile. It links sites such as the Quaker Meeting House, Bowne House and others. There are markers so one can do this tour. Here is a great example of what might be done to increase history tourism – link both sites and others around the city. Why is this not done? It’s so obvious. As for Mystic Seaport, I can tell you from involvement there that CT has long recognized the importance of history and tourism and has devoted substantial funds to those efforts. New York seems indifferent at best. NY Culture. Continue reading

Abolitionist Gerrit Smith’s Birthday Party Planned


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Smith, G Sebring 1-2014Stewards for the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark (the Gerrit Smith Estate) invite the public to the annual Gerrit Smith birthday party at 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, 2014 to learn about Peterboro in 1864.

Born in Utica March 6, 1797, Smith came to Peterboro when nine years old and, with the exception of his years at college and in Congress, spent his life in Peterboro managing his land business in order to support his reform initiatives. Smith’s influence connected Peterboro to national issues. Continue reading

Harboring Runaway Slaves in Antebellum New York


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Runaway_slaveResidents of antebellum New York State assumed a large responsibility for sheltering slaves fleeing to Canada. It’s rare that we hear how families dealt with the challenge of concealing a fugitive, a crime for which they could pay high fines or even jail terms. The following account of Martha and David Wright’s experience reveals some of the complications involved when a family with young children offered lodging to runaways.

Martha and David Wright offered their Auburn, New York home as a station on the Underground Railroad from its early years. In letters to her sister, Lucretia Mott, Martha described the stories and challenges that boarding fugitive slaves presented to her and her family. One of those stories happened in January, 1843. Continue reading

Slave to Fiddler: Utica’s Joseph Pell


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pelldeathI wrote an article about early black musicians in New York State back in December, but I decided to omit Joe Pell from that piece for two reasons. He seemed never to have been a full-time musician (as were the other performers in the article), and, in December, nearly all the information I had on Pell came from his obituary, and obituaries are not always the best place to locate objective, unbiased information about a person.

I have since been able to confirm much of what was written upon his passing, and I present here an annotated obituary of this talented and beloved black performer. My annotations appear within square brackets. Continue reading

Enslaved in Rensselaer County: Slavery at Crailo


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SK-A-285On Saturday, February 22nd from 11:00am-4:00pm Crailo in Rensselaer, NY will explore the lesser-known world of those who were enslaved by the Van Rensselaers and the history of slavery in New Netherland and New York.

Crailo will be open for special open-house style tours, featuring new interpretation of the cellar kitchen focusing on the role that enslaved people played at Crailo.  Continue reading

New Book Challanges Vermont’s Abolitionist Reputation


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Vermont slaveryVermonters have always been proud that their state was the first to outlaw slavery in its constitution—but is that what really happened?

In a new book, The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 (Vermont Historical Society, 2014), historian Harvey Amani Whitfield challenges this myth by showing that the enslavement of African Americans continued in Vermont for another 30 years, even as anti-slavery sentiment continued to swell.

The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 will be enlightening to Vermont teachers and students, scholars of the early national and antebellum periods of U.S. history, and anyone interested in the history of Vermont.  The book can be purchased at the website of the Vermont Historical Society. Continue reading

Saratoga County:
A Future Black Congressman Faces Discrimination


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langstonportraitJohn W. Fowler’s law school, called the State and National Law School, was ahead of its time in the field of legal education in the 19th Century. He founded the school in Cherry Valley, New York, in 1847, and moved it to Ballston Spa a few years later, where it was housed in the former Sans Souci Hotel.

Contrary to the normal practice, at that time, of lawyers being trained by “reading law,” Fowler’s school offered courses in extemporaneous speaking and debating, and utilized mock trials to allow students to hone their courtroom skills. The school received much positive attention from the legal community, including South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. Continue reading

Susan B. Anthony in Rochester


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1-HorseChestnut-HistoricalRochester is the epicenter of a great deal that’s related to Susan B. Anthony in New York State. When you enter the city, it’s an exhilarating experience to drive over the Frederick Douglass-Susan B. Anthony Memorial Bridge to reach downtown.

Rochester residents are well aware of where Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) once lived. Get lost on any city street and say you’re trying to find the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House at 17 Madison Street in the section of the city known as the Susan B. Anthony Preservation District. Many local residents are even willing to escort you there personally. Continue reading

Solomon Northup: Not The Only New Yorker Kidnapped


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NotUncommonThe film “12 Years a Slave” is raising global awareness of Solomon Northup’s story of being kidnapped and sold into slavery before the Civil War. Northup’s victimization was not unique, however, and there were numerous cases–in New York State alone–of free blacks being kidnapped for the purpose of being sold as slaves.

Some of these crimes were committed prior to Northup’s kidnapping in 1841, and others after his rescue and the publication of his narrative in 1853. Apparently public awareness of the existence  of kidnapping did not diminish its occurrence. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Understanding Slavery in Colonial New York


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ceasarThe Irvington HIstorical Society will present a lecture by 2012 New Netherland Institute Senior Scholar Dr. Dennis Maika on understanding slavery in colonial New York on Sunday, February 9 at 3:00 pm at the Irvington Public Library.

When most Americans imagine their country’s experience with slavery, their perceptions are typically influenced by an understanding of the 19th century American South in the decades before the Civil War. Less well known is the long history of slavery in Colonial New York which began in the early days of seventeenth century New Netherland and ended officially in the decades after the Revolution. Continue reading

Celebrate Black History Month in New York State


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museum_03_lgNew York State offers a special window into African American history and American culture. It was a center for 19th century anti-slavery organizations, and home to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and many other Abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders.

Nevertheless, anti-black discrimination remained an issue well into the 20th century, and the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) actually has its roots in the Niagara Movement, whose first meeting in 1905 took place on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls because members were turned away from hotels on the U.S. side. Continue reading

New Book Features Early Onondaga Co. Abolitionism


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SecedersAfter six years research, retired genealogist, one-time teacher, and journalist Alethea “Lee” Connolly has published The Seceders: Religious Conviction & the Abolitionist Movement in the Town of Manlius, 1834-1844 (2013). The book makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the very early abolitionist movement in Onondaga County, and its interactions with similar movements in Madison, Cayuga, and Oneida counties.

Motivated by deep religious values of justice and human dignity, the men and women covered in this book defied local resistance and social pressures. They refused to be silenced in their anti-slavery beliefs. Town of Manlius Historian, Barbara S. Rivette, has called the book “an amazing feat of research.” Continue reading