Category Archives: African American History

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

Paul Stewart: Albany’s Underground Railroad History


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NY UNderground Railroad RoutesAlbany was a busy port city throughout the nineteenth century. During its most active Underground Railroad days, the city was occupied by lumber and other businesses at the riverfront and numerous retail establishments along Market Street (our current Broadway), Pearl Street, and corresponding cross streets. Although it was the state capital (since 1797) Albany truly began to expand only after the completion in 1825 of the Erie Canal, which enhanced the city as a destination for riverboat shipping and traffic.

Commerce along the Hudson and Erie Canal system, and new forms of transportation such as the steamboat and the railroad, greatly increased the opportunities for people, including fugitives from slavery, to travel from port to port, and city to city. The new transportation systems, as well as burgeoning social movements of the antebellum period, such as Sunday School, temperance and women’s rights movements, provided abundant opportunities for the sort of networking that facilitated Underground Railroad efforts. Continue reading

Slavery And The New York State History Community


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DSCN5667Slavery and New York State have a long history together. Indeed, the history of slavery in New York predates the birth of New York as an English and originates in the days of New Netherland, part of the extensive international slave trade.

As we are regularly reminded by events today, slavery has not disappeared. The current issue of Time includes an article on the worldwide continuance of slavery today, especially targeting young women and girls.

What does this have to do with New York history today? Continue reading

Rockland County:
Thurgood Marshall’s 1940s Desegregation Case


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Brook students being turned away from the Hillburn SchoolDr. Travis Jackson often quotes this African proverb: “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

As one of the 49 children at the center of a successful desegregation case in Rockland County in 1943, Dr. Jackson will be a special guest at a ceremony in Hillburn, New York on Saturday, May 17. The event commemorates the 60th anniversary of a subsequent legal decision, the landmark Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The program will also remember the lawyer who was on the winning side in both cases, Thurgood Marshall. As an eyewitness to this epic hunt for equality, Jackson has become the historian for the lions. Continue reading

Gerrit Smith Estate, Abolition Hall of Fame 2014 Events


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GSENHLThe Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro, Madison County, N.Y. will open for the 2014 season on Saturday, May 17 and will be open from 1 – 5 pm seven days per week until Sunday, August 17.  The sites will then be open on weekends until September 21 from 1 – 5 pm.

The Gerrit Smith Estate has interior and exterior exhibits on freedom seekers, Gerrit Smith, Smith’s wealth, philanthropy and family, and the Underground Railroad. This site is on the national, state, and county Underground Railroad Trail.   NAHOF has the Abolition Hall of Fame exhibit and the chronology of American Abolition from the Colonial Period to Reconstruction. An exhibit on women in the anti-slavery movement was added to the NAHOF museum in 2013.  Continue reading

The Law That Saved Solomon Northup, And Others


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12 years a slaveThe amazing, and fortuitous, rescue of Solomon Northup was made possible by a New York statute that was signed into law, and became effective, on May 14, 1840.

Following the 1808 ban on importation of slaves into the U.S., enacted by Congress, the kidnapping of free blacks for sale as slaves became a larger problem. The ban reduced the “supply” of slaves, and with “demand” unchanged, prices rose, along with the potential profit for kidnappers. In 1817, in a description of a kidnapping case, the City Hall Recorder noted that, after 1808: “the practice of kidnapping was commenced, and has been carried to an alarming height.” Continue reading