Category Archives: African American History

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

HS Student Basketball History Scholarship Contest


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The "New York Girls," 1910In anticipation of The Black Fives, an exhibition opening in March that explores the history of African American basketball teams that existed from the early 1900s through 1950, the New-York Historical Society is initiating a scholarship contest inviting New York City metropolitan area high school students to submit original essays, videos or photographs on the theme of breaking barriers in basketball and making history. A panel of judges will review applications and announce winners in each category.

The scholarship contest seeks entries that answer the question: How has basketball profoundly changed New York history, United States history, or your own personal history? Continue reading

Civil Rights Film and Discussion Series in Schenectady


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Civil RightsIn celebration of African American History Month, and to introduce four documentaries with riveting new footage illustrating the history of civil rights in America, the Schenectady County Historical Society will offer a series of discussion forums centered around four documentary films during the month of February.

Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as part of its Bridging Cultures initiative, in partnership with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Created Equal uses the power of documentary films to encourage community discussion of America’s civil rights history. NEH has partnered with the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to develop programmatic and support materials. Continue reading

The Plantation in Brooklyn:
Nate Salsbury’s Black America Show


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Black America from Illustrated American 1895Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.

Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading

Harlem Soundscape: The Bells of St. Martins


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bigbellBells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”

In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading

Spring Exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society


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The "New York Girls," 1910In Spring 2014, the New-York Historical Society will present a range of exhibitions that will examine New York City architecture, fashion and photography through the lens of the legendary Bill Cunningham; the early history of African American basketball before the dawn of the National Basketball Association; the second installment of Audubon’s Aviary, showcasing New-York Historical’s collection of Audubon watercolors; and an exhibition of quilts and textiles created during the Civil War. Continue reading

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