Category Archives: African American History

Sumner Lark’s Putnam County African-American Projects


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sumner h larkAlthough his father was said to have been born as a slave, and was later a junk dealer in the Augusta, Georgia area,  Sumner H. Lark came to be a trend-breaking black leader in New York State who worked to establish an African-American community in Putnam County.

Sumner Lark was born in in 1874 to a father later described as “a pioneer race business man in his home town and accumulated a considerable fortune at one time.” He grew up in the Augusta area, and attended the Haines Institute before attending Howard University, graduating in 1897. He then returned to Georgia, taught Chemistry and Physics at Haines and ran a local newspaper for about a year, having edited a student-run newspaper in college.  After marrying he relocated to Brooklyn, New York just after the start of the 20th century. There, he ran his own printing business, and started The Eye, a newspaper which reported information of interest to African Americans. Continue reading

Race and Real Estate: Conflict and Coperation in Harlem, 1890-1920


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race and real estate conflict and cooperation in harlemThrough the lens of real estate transactions from 1890 to 1920, Kevin McGruder’s book Race and Real Estate: Conflict and Cooperation in Harlem 1890-1920 (Columbia Univ. Press, 2015) offers unique perspectives on Harlem’s history and reveals the complex interactions between whites and African Americans at a critical time of migration and development.

During these decades Harlem saw a dramatic increase in its African American population, and although most histories speak only of the white residents who met these newcomers with hostility, this book uncovers a range of reactions. Continue reading

Sculptor Edmonia Lewis: From Albany to Rome, Italy


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sculptor edmonia lewis from albany to romeWhen American writer Henry James labeled the group of American women sculpting in Rome the “white marmorean flock,” he also made another note. “One of the sisterhood was a negress, whose color, picturesquely contrasting with that of her plastic material [white marble], was the pleading agent of her fame.” Like many of his contemporaries, James attributed the success of Edmonia Lewis to her skin color while also disregarding her mixed-race heritage.

In the early nineteenth century, it was difficult to be an American sculptor. There were no professional art schools, no specialized carvers, few quality materials, and only a few practicing sculptors in America. The pilgrimage to Rome was a necessity for those who aspired to be sculptors. If a woman wished to pursue sculpting, she confronted additional obstacles. Continue reading

African American Stage Performer Ella Madison


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African American Actress and Singer, Ella Madison Ella Madison was born in 1854 in Saratoga Springs, New York. Her parents were John and Caroline Robinson. Her sister, Caroline Victoria (usually called Victoria) was married to Solomon Northup‘s son, Alonzo. (Alonzo and his family later moved to Weedsport in Cayuga County). It was reported that Ella, while a teenager, had relocated to New York City, and marched in a parade in 1869 that commemorated the passage of the 14th Amendment, which guaranteed citizenship rights to former slaves. Her mother died that year, while visiting her daughter, Caroline, in Washington County, New York. Continue reading

NY Black History Fail: The Amistad Commission


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Black History FailureIn 2005, during Governor George Pataki’s administration, the New York State Legislature created the Amistad Commission to review the state’s curriculum about the slave trade.

“All people should know of and remember the human carnage and dehumanizing atrocities committed during the period of the African slave trade and slavery in America and consider the vestiges of slavery in this country,” the Amistad Commission website says. “It is vital to educate our citizens on these events, the legacy of slavery, the sad history of racism in this country, and on the principles of human rights and dignity in a civilized society.”

Unfortunately, the Amistad Commission’s effort to update the state’s slavery curriculum has been a failure. Continue reading

Harlem: Life in Pictures


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Malcolm X- Rally for Birmingham, 1963. by Larry Fink. All images courtesy of Ilon Art Gallery

Malcolm X- Rally for Birmingham, 1963. by Larry Fink. Images Courtesy of Ilon Art Gallery

“If new thought can enter the mind, even for a moment, then change has a chance,” writes JT Liss. His photographs search for those figures and visions that allow us to see new ways and think new thoughts.

Ilon Gallery’s show Harlem: Life in Pictures on view in a classic 1890s brownstone, demonstrates how historic images of figures that have become iconic can acquire new resonance when displayed along fresh takes on a neighborhood that has been a cradle of creativity for well over 100 years. Continue reading

Lincoln Weekend Celebrates Great Emancipator


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Abe-Lincoln WeekendIn commemoration of the end of the Civil War, the death of Lincoln, and the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery, the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) has suspended its 2015 induction ceremonies to address the matter of President Lincoln as “The Great Emancipator.” Several programs will provide opportunity for the public to study Lincoln as an abolitionist.

The Thirteenth Amendment (“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude,… shall exist with within the United States..”) was proposed by the U.S. Senate on April 8, 1864. The movie Lincoln features the historical drama of securing the votes needed in the House of Representative to pass the resolution. The Thirteenth Amendment was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865 and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865. Continue reading

Chenango County African American Civil War Veterans


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Hannibal Molson“Thursday was a gala day for the colored people of [Norwich] and surrounding towns,” the Chenango Semi-Weekly Telegram reported on September 27, 1879. “The occasion being the reunion of the colored soldiers of the late war, under the auspices of the Rescue Hook and Ladder Company of this village.”

The African American fire company had been organized earlier that year and elected Civil War veteran Hannibal C. Molson its Foreman. The day’s program called for a dinner, a parade, and speeches in recognition of their honoree’s service followed in the evening by a meal at the Spaulding House, musical selections, and a ball at Concert Hall. Continue reading