Category Archives: African American History

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

Chaos On An Adirondack Train: The Case Against Pullman Porter Smith


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Pullman Porter Helping Woman circa 1880sWhen the night train to Montreal set out from Utica on April 29, 1931, James E. Smith had already been toiling over the needs and wants of his passengers for many hours.  At 29 years old, Smith had been a Pullman porter for about three years.  He had done a stint in Pennsylvania and now was employed on the New York Central line of the Pullman Company.

The experience of the Pullman porter was both uncommon yet ordinary.  The Pullman Palace Car company hired black men almost exclusively as porters. This practice began under the direction of the founder of the company, George Pullman, after the Civil War. On board a luxurious and comfortable Pullman Car, Pullman porters were expected to be the ideal servants to their well off white passengers.   Continue reading

US Colored Troops Institute Conference Oct 10-11


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usctlogonew300x300Hartwick College will host a two-day student mini conference of the United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research (USCTI) on Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11.

The conference theme is “From the USCT to the Korean War: Embracing Hispanic and Caribbean Soldiers in the Freedom Journey.” The Conference will feature a variety of lectures, presentations, discussions, a film screening, and the presentation of the Institute’s first American Society of Freedmen Descendants (ASFD) Gold Medal. Continue reading

Africa Center Event, Chelsea Clinton Elected Co-Chair


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9-9-meet-the-africa-centerThe Africa Center, Africa’s Embassy to the World, will open its doors to the public for the first time on Saturday, September 20th, with an all-day “Meet The Africa Center” festival from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm. A private concert performance will follow from 8:00 pm until midnight.

Once known as The Museum for African Art, The Africa Center, is located less than 20 minutes from the United Nations, at One Museum Mile, and plans to permanently open in late 2016. The Africa Center has also announced that Chelsea Clinton, Vice Chair of the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, has been elected as the new co-chair of the Board of Trustees for The Africa Center. Continue reading

North Country Teacher Taught Southern Freedmen


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coitphoto2Back-to-school time perhaps brings back, for adults, the memory of a favorite teacher. But of those who are so warmly remembered, how many can elicit this wish by a former student of a 19th century teacher?

“If I could be permitted, how gladly would I again fill up the wood-box in your room and kindle the fire on your hearth…”

Those words came from the prestigious African American preacher, Rev. Daniel Webster Shaw (who, interestingly, was the son of a former slave, Harriet Shaw, with whom Solomon Northup was acquainted in Louisiana). “If I have done anything, or come to anything worth while, it is all mainly due to your timely helpfulness and godly admonition,” Shaw wrote. “I think of the school days on the Tache [Teche, a bayou in Louisiana], and all the kind ways in which you helped me to start out in life.” Continue reading

A Nyack Sketch: The Historic Towt House


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NSL154_Towt_Featured-imageImagine the stories that would be told if houses wrote autobiographies.

This stately structure on South Highland Avenue in Nyack could tell us if slaves were hidden here during the abolition movement. We would know about the political maneuverings and legal strategies of the successive generations of lawyers who called this place home. Or learn the downside of having a neighbor who owns a private zoo. The garden could share the secrets of what makes her bloom. But alas, buildings and garden beds don’t write books.

Fortunately for us, this house has a biographer, and her name is Judy Martin. Continue reading

Underground Railroad History: Vigilance Committees


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The Vigilance Committee Flyer courtesy of American Antiquarian SocietyAs the 1830’s drew to a close and the 1840’s began, committees were formed in some cities in the north to protect freedom seekers from re-enslavement, and to assist them in their flight to freedom in the north or in Canada. As slave catchers sought freedom seekers, these “vigilance” committees provided legal assistance, food, clothing, money, employment, and temporary shelter.

Such a committee formed in Albany in the early 1840’s, and one continued to exist up to the time of the Civil War. Albany’s anti-slavery newspaper, Tocsin of Liberty, identifies ten people, Blacks and whites, as members of the executive body of the local Vigilance Committee in 1842. Some are familiar names from the city’s history, such as Thomas Paul and Revolutionary War veteran Benjamin Lattimore. Continue reading

Stokely Carmichael: The Bronx to Freedom Summer


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Stokely CarmichaelFifty years ago, civil rights activists from across the country came together in Mississippi to fight entrenched racism and voter repression. To mark the anniversary of 1964’s Freedom Summer, the Museum of the City of New York will examine one of its key players at a talk titled Stokely Carmichael’s Journey: From the Bronx to Freedom Summer on Thursday, August 12 at 6:30 p at the museum, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, NYC. Continue reading

Inside Ocean Hill–Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education


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Inside Ocean Hill BrownsvilleIn 1968 the conflict that erupted over community control of the New York City public schools was centered in the black and Puerto Rican community of Ocean Hill–Brownsville. It triggered what remains the longest teachers’ strike in US history.

That clash, between the city’s communities of color and the white, predominantly Jewish teachers’ union, paralyzed the nation’s largest school system, undermined the city’s economy, and heightened racial tensions, ultimately transforming the national conversation about race relations. A new memoir, Inside Ocean Hill–Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education, 1968-69 (SUNY Press, 2014) has been written by Charles S. Isaacs, a teacher who crossed the picket lines. Continue reading

The Negro National And Eastern Colored Leagues


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Negro National and Eastern Colored LeaguesAs the companion volume to Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1860–1901: Operating by Any Means Necessary, Michael E. Lomax’s new book, Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2014), continues to chronicle the history of black baseball in the United States.

The first volume traced the development of baseball from an exercise in community building among African Americans in the pre–Civil War era into a commercialized amusement and a rare and lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurship within the black community. In this book, the author takes a closer look at the marketing and promotion of the Negro Leagues by black baseball magnates. Continue reading

Emancipation Days Features Solomon Northup Family


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Scripter Gala 12YAS Poster brIn November 2013 when Melissa Howell, descendent of Solomon Northup was asked to speak at the 2014 Peterboro Emancipation Days, little did anyone suspect that her great, great, great grandfather’s 160 year old biographical book Twelve Years a Slave would win the 2014 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture of the Year.

With five producers, including Steve McQueen and Brad Pitt (who also acted in the film) the film, and people associated with it, won many other awards, scooping up members of the current Northup family in the momentum. At 2 p.m. Saturday, August 2 at the Smithfield Community Center (5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY) Howell, her mother Shirley Howell, and her aunt Irene Northup-Zahos will discuss the film, the effects it had on the Northup family, and other experiences and opportunities that have come forth from the film. Howell will proudly display the University of Southern California Scripter Award conferred on Northup as the author of the written work upon which the Academy Award winning screenplay was based. Howell is also the founder of The Solomon Northup Legacy 1808. Continue reading

Manlius, Madison County, and Abolitionists Talk Planned


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Seceder Cover JPEGAfter six years of research Alethea “Lee” Connolly has published her book on “forgotten trailblazers” in early 19th Century Central New York. Connolly will present her research on her book The Seceders: Religious Conviction & the Abolitionist Movement in the Town of Manlius, 1834-1844 at 2 p.m. Saturday, July 26, 2014 at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum at 5255 Pleasant Valley Road, Peterboro NY 13134.

As Barbara S. Rivette, Manlius Town Historian, states “The network of families and church affiliations involved in The Seceders spread through Canastota, Clockville, and Peterboro.” Seceders, like early Manlius settler Elijah Bailey, “believed the church had veered off the simple path of Bible religion into pride and folly.” Continue reading

Remembering America’s Fallen In Every Community


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800px-American_military_cemetery_2003There is a special group of people who are remembered by a society. These are the fallen, those who die in battle on behalf of something larger than themselves. In the Bible there is an infrequently used term “nephilim” from the verb “to fall.”

Based on the archaeological evidence, the Nephilim appear to have been part of group who were remembered in Canaanite societies in the Middle and Late Bronze Age (second millennium BCE). These fallen warriors were remembered in feasts and stories just as warriors who have fallen in battle are still remembered today. It’s part of the human experience. Continue reading

Solomon Northup Day Planned For Saturday, July 19th


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Solomon Northup in a Sketch from Twelve Years a SlaveThe 16th annual Solomon Northup Day, an afternoon of activities inspired by a powerful memoir of enslavement and eventual freedom, will take place on Saturday, July 19, from 12:30 to 6 pm in Filene Recital Hall at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY.

The story of Solomon Northup, an African-American man abducted into slavery in 1841 and transported to Louisiana, is now known internationally thanks to the acclaimed 2013 film based on Northup’s autobiography, Twelve Years a Slave. But a grassroots effort to raise awareness of this compelling story has been going on for the past 15 years, in particular through Solomon Northup Day, an annual event launched in 1999 by Saratoga Springs resident and Skidmore College alumna Renee Moore. Continue reading

1920s: The North Country Rises Against the KKK


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KKK hdline1924NYHLast week in this space, I addressed the subject of cross-burnings in the North Country, which became common in the 1920s during a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Throughout the region, meetings were conducted by Klan leaders, and thousands of followers were added to their ranks. For many of us, it’s an uncomfortable part of Adirondack history, but there is another side to the story. Despite widespread intimidation spawned by secret meetings, robed figures, and fiery crosses, New York’s citizenry rose in opposition to the Klan policies of bigotry and exclusion.

Speaking out against the KKK carried inherent risks for average folks, and for politicians as well. Between 1915 and 1922, more than a dozen senators and government officials in Washington were acknowledged members of the Klan, and the organization played a role in the national elections of 1924 and 1928. But in spite of their rise to power behind claims of patriotism and “Americanism,” the KKK was judged by many as a blight on society and distinctly un-American. Continue reading

1920s KKK Recruiting Efforts in Northern New York


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BrthNation posterWhile we often look back fondly on the Roaring 20s for a number of reasons, it was a very dark period in the North Country in at least one regard: bigotry. For several years, the region was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity during a high-profile recruiting effort. The assumption today might be that the effort failed miserably among the good people of the north. But the truth is, the Klan did quite well, signing thousands of new members to their ranks.

The original KKK died out in the 1870s after focusing on racial issues in the post-Civil War period, but the KKK of the 1900s was a different animal. Its resurgence in 1915 was linked to a movie released that same year, Birth of a Nation, based on a book titled The Clansman. While the movie was lauded for groundbreaking filming techniques, it was also highly offensive, featuring blatant racism and the rewriting of history. Continue reading