Category Archives: African American History

New Book: Frederick Douglass’ Family Life in Rochester


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f&acoverMany books have been written about Frederick Douglass’ early life and later accomplishments as a famous abolitionist and orator, but Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester New York: Their Home Was Open To All (History Press, 2013), by local historian Rose O’Keefe, is the first book to bring Frederick and Anna’s family side to life. O’Keefe traces the Douglass family’s journey to the rural homestead in what is now the edge of Highland Park in the City of Rochester.

Frederick Douglass – author, orator and former slave – spent twenty-five years with his family in Rochester beginning in 1848. Despite living through some of our nation’s most bitter and terrifying times, Frederick and his wife, Anna, raised five children in a loving home with flower, fruit and vegetable gardens. Continue reading

Emancipation Watch Night Commemoration in Peterboro


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WN 12-31-12 Bowen Deli SW crRetired Navy Commander Owen Corpin of Peterboro will lead the Peterboro commemoration of Watch Night for Emancipation at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, December 31, 2013. During the night of December 31, 1862, African Americans congregated in homes, meeting halls, and churches in the North and in secret locations in the Confederacy to “watch” for the coming of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 which would deliver them from slavery.

On that first day of 1863 President Abraham Lincoln did present the Emancipation Proclamation. The preliminary draft of that document in Lincoln’s handwriting was briefly owned by Gerrit Smith of Peterboro and is now a treasured document in the New York State Museum in Albany. Continue reading

William Lloyd Garrison: Radical Friend to New York Women


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William Lloyd GarrisonThese days, no one likes a radical, especially one who makes unpopular statements or questions the government. The same can be said for our 19th-century counterparts. They, too, did not like a trouble-maker, particularly William Lloyd Garrison, who was born 208 years ago today, on December 12, 1805. A familiar figure to the women’s rights leaders and daughters I have studied, this Newburyport, Massachusetts native became the most outspoken abolitionist in America. At a time when North and South alike still tolerated the great evil of slavery, he called for immediate and complete abolition.

What is less known about Garrison is his staunch defense of women’s rights. He became the inspiration that led many New Yorkers to insist on women’s as well as slaves’ rights. We could view four periods of Garrison’s life through four New York women, each of whom saw him from a different vantage point. Continue reading

Early Black Musicians in New York State


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Early African American FiddlerThe film 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was lured away from Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841, and sold into slavery. Though he played the fiddle (and the men who tricked him into leaving Saratoga told him they wanted him to fiddle for a circus), the film overstates Northup’s status as a musician. Primarily, he earned his money from other work.

In his 1853 autobiography however, Northup wrote that prior to moving to Saratoga he had performed: “Wherever the young people assembled to dance, I was almost invariably there.” He attained some renown in Washington County, since: “Throughout the surrounding villages my fiddle was notorious.” Continue reading

Dutchess County:
Digging For An Underground Railroad Station


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3(2)No one knows when African Americans first settled at Baxtertown, but in 1848 the Zion Pilgrim Methodist Episcopal Church was built. The church burned and its roof collapsed in 1930; all that remains visible is a grove of trees on the property of Ron Greene.

Greene, a retired social worker, began researching the history of his land in 2010. “I’ve been hearing about a church here for years.” he said. What he discovered inspired him to lead the effort to get the site recognized as historically important. Continue reading

Call for Papers: Human Trafficking in Early America


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US_Slave_Free_1789-1861An interdisciplinary conference, Human Trafficking in Early America, will be held April 23-25, 2015 at the University of Pennsylvania. The Keynote Speaker will be Edward E. Baptist of Cornell University.

The United Nations defines “human trafficking” as the act of “recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” In early America, human trafficking took many forms, engaging and displacing native, African and European populations in every decade and in every colony and state. Continue reading

Authenticity and Authorship:
Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave


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Solomon Northup in a Sketch from Twelve Years a SlaveQuestions about the authenticity and authorship of Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave have been raised in the past, and have resurfaced following the release of the recent film version of his book.

Though an expert on Solomon Northup, his book, the contemporary reactions to his book in the 1850s, and his later life (which included several years spent traveling to talk about his experiences), I am not a scholar of slave narratives. I have consulted some of them in connection with my work on Northup, as necessary. I leave it for others to draw detailed comparisons between Northup’s narrative and the others. Continue reading

Patriot Fires: Nationalism in the Civil War North


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9780700614189_p0_v1_s260x420Union College professor Melinda Lawson will discusses how the Civil War brought about changes in American national identity, redefining the relationship between the individual and the government, and trace how the North came together as a nation and mobilized its populace for war.

Through efforts such as sanitary fairs to promote the welfare of soldiers, the war bond drives of Jay Cooke, and the establishment of Union Leagues, Northerners cultivated a new sense of patriotism rooted not just in the subjective American idea, but in existing religious, political, and cultural values. Continue reading

Harriet Tubman and the Projected National Park


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Tubman HospitalEach week day there’s a consistent flow of visitors at the Harriet Tubman Home, with people anxious to find out more about Tubman, her life story, and see for themselves where Tubman lived and operated a haven for the aged at 180 South Street in Auburn.

Visitors pull into the parking lot to visit the property, museum exhibit, and take advantage of guided tours from the moment the doors open in the morning until closing at the end of the day. License plates on the travelers’ vehicles are from New York State and beyond. Continue reading

The Politics of Harriet Tubman and Barack Obama


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Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, NYIt’s the centennial year of abolitionist and suffragist Harriet Tubman’s death in 1913. Her Auburn, NY house, the home for the aged she founded on the property, and the museum attract considerable attention in upstate New York. We visited the Tubman historic site on the fifth day of our fall 2013 blogging tour of the “Cradle of the women’s rights movement in the US.” Continue reading

19th Century Antislavery Dinner to be Presented


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1835 Anti-Slavery SocietyA 19th Century Antislavery Dinner will be held at site of Inaugural meeting of the 1835 NYS Antislavery Society Meeting Saturday, October 19, 2013, at 5 pm. The 19th Century Buffet Dinner begins with Mock Turtle Soup, followed by four entrees of Breaded Pork Cutlets with Fried Apples, Boiled Corned Beef and Cabbage, Ragout of Mutton and Vegetables, and Roasted Capon with Dried Fruit Stuffing served with sides of Baked Macaroni au gratin, Greens and Mashed Turnips, Succotash, and Crackling Bread. The Maple Apple Pan Dowdy dessert demonstrates the abolitionists’ desire to avoid using slave sugar. Continue reading

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum Inductions


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Abolition Hall of Fame 2The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro NY is finalizing its 2013 programs for the induction of four 19th Century abolitionists.

A program on each nominee will be presented for the Colgate University Upstate Institute Abolition Symposia on Saturday afternoon, October 19th at the Peterboro United Methodist Church, across the road from NAHOF at 5255 Pleasant Valley Road: Continue reading

Montgomery Co. Hosting ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ Discussion


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Solomon Northup in a Sketch from Twelve Years a SlaveThe Montgomery County Department of History & Archives will host a book discussion on Solomon Northrup‘s Twelve Years a Slave.

Northup was born a free man in what is now Minerva, Essex County, NY, in 1808. While working as a cabbie and violinist in Saratoga Springs in 1841, he was abducted, held in a slave pen in Washington, DC, and sold into slavery in Louisiana for 12 years before regaining his freedom. Continue reading

New Map, App Feature NY Underground Railroad Sites


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NYSUGRR_Map_600Federal and state partners have recently released a new online map and mobile app to help people explore New York State’s connection to abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. The map includes sites, programs and tours that have been approved by the National Park Service Network to Freedom Program or the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail.

New York State was a gateway for many African Americans seeking to escape slavery in the 1800s. Its prime location, with access to Canada and major water routes, made it the destination of choice for many Africans fleeing slavery along the eastern seaboard. The interactive map was created to tie New York State’s individual sites together, but also connect them to the longer string of sites that comprise the entire Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. Continue reading

Events Highlight Role of Pot In Rockefeller’s Drug War


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smoke signals sml[1]Cannabis and its defining role in the culture wars and the ‘war on drugs’ declared by former New York State Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller forty years ago will be fully explored by award-winning investigative journalist Martin A. Lee in two separate events in the North Country on September 26-27. Lee will also be speaking in Albany on September 28.

All three events are sponsored by the freedom education and human rights project, John Brown Lives!, as part of “The Correction,” the organization’s latest initiative that uses history as a tool to engage communities in examining the past and addressing critical issues of our time. The focus of The Correction is the impacts of the 40-year era of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. Continue reading

A Report From The Sojourner Truth Statue Unveiling


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HandonStatue5The unveiling of the Sojourner Truth statue in the town of Esopus, NY where the abolitionist  preacher was held a slave as a child, was a remarkable experience. I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley County of Ulster all my life and have never witnessed the “owning” of the shameful past of slavery before.  Truth’s statue in the Esopus hamlet of Port Ewen represents the only statue in the world of a child slave at work, according to Ulster County Historian Anne Gordon. Continue reading

Harriet Tubman Symposium Planned in Auburn


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Harriet Tubman SymposiumOn November 8 and 9, 2013, Cayuga Community College in Auburn, NY will host “Harriet Tubman: No Longer Underground,” a two-day symposium marking the centennial of the death of Harriet Tubman in 1913.

Co-Sponsored by the Harriet Tubman Boosters Club, the Seward House Museum, and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, the symposium will celebrate the life and work of the heroic African American woman who escaped slavery, conducted other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, served the Union Army during the Civil War, and worked as a humanitarian and advocate for women’s rights throughout the 50 years she lived in Auburn. Continue reading

Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties Exhibit Planned


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488Activism and artistic practice intersect in Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, a presentation of 103 works by 66 artists that is among the few exhibitions to explore how painting, sculpture, graphics, and photography not only responded to the political and social turmoil of the era but also helped to influence its direction.

Debuting at the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be on view from March 7 through July 6, 2014, the touring exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the events leading to this historic moment, and the aftermath of the legislation. Continue reading

Statue of Sojourner Truth Being Installed in Ulster County


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Sojourner_truth_c1870A newly minted bronze statue of celebrated abolitionist and human rights advocate Sojourner Truth as a child slave at work will be installed in Port Ewen, in the Town of Esopus, Ulster County on September 21.  The statue and an interpretive sign will be installed on a plaza on the corner of 9W and Salem Street.

Sojourner Truth was born in into slavery in Swartekill, just north of present-day Rifton in Esopus. Her parents had been enslaved in Africa and purchased by Col. Johannes Hardenbergh. She was born as Isabella Baumfree in about 1797, and lived the first 30 years of her life in Ulster County, taking the name Sojourner Truth in the 1840s. She is best known today for her speech “Ain’t I A Woman?’, which she delivered off-hand at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention. She died in Michigan in 1883. Continue reading