Category Archives: African American History

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

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