Category Archives: African American History

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

The Birth of ‘The Nation’: A New York Story


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Nation Founding ProspectusJust across Union Square from The Nation’s headquarters on Irving Place there stands a hole-in-the-wall falafel joint that some of the magazine’s employees— including, rumor has it, the author of this blog post — are known to frequent. Habitually. Like, every day. Sometimes twice. Like salmon swimming home.

Until recently, this behavior had long puzzled scholars — defying, it seems, all we think we know about the instinct to self-preservation. But actually it makes eminent good sense: the falafel joint’s address — 26 East 17th Street — once belonged to the first headquarters of the Union League Club, and it was there, one fateful night in the early summer of 1863, just days before the Battle of Gettysburg, at a clap of divine lightning, at the end of an eternal drum-roll, for good or for ill, depending on whom you ask, the magazine now known the world over as America’s oldest weekly was summoned from the ether and was born. Continue reading

Voodoo Opera from Harlem Renaissance


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Barry Robinson as Fojo, the voodoo priest and Janinah Burnett as Lolo, a thwarted lover who resorts to voodoo rites.Magic rites in the jungle seal the fate of a love triangle in the long-forgotten opera of H. Lawrence Freeman restaged on Friday and Saturday at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre. Voodoo was composed in 1914 and had its last performance in 1928. The music and libretto come from a composer who was a friend of Scott Joplin. author of more than 20 operas, and founder of the Harlem Renaissance’s Negro Grand Opera Company. The revival features Gregory Hopkins of Harlem Opera Theatre conducting in a production that drew on collaboration with the Harlem Chamber Players and the Morningside Opera. Continue reading

Spectacle: The Life of Ota Benga


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Ota BengaIn Pamela Newkirk’s Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga (Amistad / Harper Collins, 2015) the award-winning journalist reveals a little-known and shameful episode in American history, when an African man was used as a zoo exhibit — a shocking story of racial prejudice, science, and tragedy in the early years of the twentieth century.

Ota Benga, a young Congolese man, was featured as an exhibit at the St. Louis World’s Fair. Two years later, in 1906, the Bronx Zoo displayed him in its Monkey House, caging the slight 103-pound, four-foot eleven-inch man with an orangutan. The attraction became an international sensation, drawing thousands of New Yorkers and commanding headlines from across the nation and Europe. Continue reading

New Basquiat Exhibit In Brooklyn


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HollywoodAfricans.Basquiat.1983.WhitneyThe tragically short career of Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) has created a penumbra of martyred glory around his work. This must give him a chuckle wherever his spirit looks down on the shuffling hordes trekking to view his work reverently installed at the Brooklyn Museum.

Basquiat was born as a spray-can wielding street artist who liked mess, disorder and chaos. How different was he, when beatified by art gallery recognition and patron purchases? In his art world heyday he got his fine new designer clothes just as stained as his thrift shop threads from his early days. Continue reading

Freedom Journey: Westchester Co Black Civil War Soldiers


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Freedoms Journey Black Civil War SoldiersAlmost 200,000 black men served in the Army during the Civil War, but only 34,000 were from the North. An underrepresented segment in Civil War studies, the stories of some of these Northern soldiers are told in Edythe Ann Quinn’s Freedom Journey: Black Civil War Soldiers and the Hills Community, Westchester County, New York (SUNY Press, 2015).

Freedom Journey presents in-depth, personal histories of thirty-six free black men from New York State who fought in the war. The book is both an African-American community history and a Civil War history of three regiments of the United States Colored Troops (USCT). Continue reading

Black Civil War Veteran James Lucas of Albany


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coloredtroops recruitment“Albany’s Only Negro Civil War Veteran” was the title of an article in The New York Age in May, 1933. The paper reported an interview with the city’s last surviving black veteran from the War Between the States, Sergeant James N. Lucas.

After serving with Company E of the 38th U.S. Colored Volunteers from early 1865 until 1867, he lived in Troy before moving to Albany in 1869. Continue reading

Exhibit: 1800s Photos of Troy, Whitehall African-Americans


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IMG_0363The Rensselaer County Historical Society (RCHS) has opened a new exhibit titled “John Henry & the Baltimores of Troy.” The exhibit is  free and open to the public.

“John Henry & the Baltimores of Troy” features over a dozen 19th century photographs of the Henry family who lived in Whitehall, New York. The photographs were re-discovered a few years ago at the Whitehall Library when Clifford Oliver, a photographer who lives in Greenwich, NY, was alerted to their existence. The photos tell the story of the Henry family who were related by marriage to the prominent abolitionist Baltimore family of Troy, NY. Some of the individuals are identified and others are awaiting further research to connect names to their faces. Continue reading