Tag Archives: African American History

Crossing Broadway, Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City

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Crossing BroadwayIn Crossing Broadway Washington: Heights and the Promise of New York City (Cornell University Press, 2014), Robert W. Snyder explores New York City in the 1970s.

When the South Bronx burned and the promise of New Deal New York and postwar America gave way to despair, the people of Washington Heights at the northern tip of Manhattan were increasingly vulnerable.

The Heights had long been a neighborhood where generations of newcomers — Irish, Jewish, Greek, African American, Cuban, and Puerto Rican — carved out better lives in their adopted city. But as New York City shifted from an industrial base to a service economy, new immigrants from the Dominican Republic struggled to gain a foothold. This was followed by the crack epidemic of the 1980s,  and the drug wars. Continue reading

Events Will Mark 1964 Civil Rights Act 50th Anniversary

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800px-Lyndon_Johnson_signing_Civil_Rights_Act,_July_2,_1964Women’s Rights National Historical Park will offer a special program and kick-off event “1964 Civil Rights Act Revisited” with park ranger Jamie Wolfe and volunteer Harlene Gilbert on June 22 at 11:00 AM in the Wesleyan Chapel.

In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Women’s Rights National Historical Park will sponsor a year-long series of programs titled “Keep the Dream Alive” Events. The kick-off program will correspond with the introduction of the most prominent civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Continue reading

Westchester: The Prophet Matthias and Elijah the Tishbite

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MatthiasLong before the fictional and shocking “Peyton Place” of TV and film fame came along in the late 1950s, and early 1960s there was an actual suburban community where its residents were roiled by rampant scandal, moral and religious hypocrisy and a sensational a murder in their midst.

The year was 1834 and the place was the normally tranquil and bucolic Village of Sing Sing, now called Ossining. Actually, the extremely bad behavior took place just outside of the Village, on nearby farmland where a high-end condominium called “Beechwood” now stands in the Village of Briarcliff Manor, on the southwest intersection of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road. Nonetheless, due to its proximity, it was the Village of Sing Sing that got the headlines in the “penny press,” and crowds of curious and outraged Villagers flocked to the “New York Road” in front of the farm hoping for a glimpse of the sequestered souls residing in the house. Continue reading

New Yorkers Rejected Black Voting Rights

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 by Alfred R. WaudIn 1846, New York voters rejected equal voting rights for black males by a wide margin — 71% to 29%.

This rejection helped persuade Gerrit Smith to start his Timbuctoo colony in the Adirondacks.  His idea was to get free blacks land enough to meet the $250 property requirement.   (All property requirements were abolished for white males.)

Meanwhile, voters in some parts of New York did support equal voting rights, and voted to end the property requirement that kept more than 90% of free black men from voting.

The North Country showed the strongest support. Continue reading

UGRR Conference: Milestones on the Road to Freedom

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Israel-AME-Church-AlbanyThe 2013 Underground Railroad Public History Conference in the Capital District this year is marking three major milestones: the Emancipation Proclamation 150 years ago, the death of Harriet Tubman 100 years ago, and the civil rights March on Washington 50 years ago.

The annual conference is the major Underground Railroad gathering each year in New York State.   It will hold sessions in Albany and Troy, starting Friday, April 12, and finishing on Sunday, April 14. Continue reading

Harlem Blues: Last Party At The Lenox Lounge

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On New Year’s Eve the cigar smoke was thick on the sidewalk in front of the famed jazz club, the Lenox Lounge. Men in tuxes and women in clingy gowns stepped out of white stretch limos, three deep on Malcolm X Avenue, a.k.a Lenox Avenue in Harlem, as blue notes popped from the chromed doorway.

A huge bejeweled crowd could be glimpsed dancing and drinking through the wide octogon window. Continue reading

Emancipation Anniversary: A Grassroots Victory

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Almost lost in the depressing “Fiscal Cliff” spectacle was the anniversary marking one of the major positive milestones of our history — President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

On January 1, 1863, some 3 million people held as slaves in the Confederate states were declared to be “forever free.” Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Most of those 3 million people were still subjugated until the Union Army swept away the final Confederate opposition more than two years later. And slavery was not abolished in the entire United States until after the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1865. Continue reading

Documentary Shooting At Saranac Laboratory Museum

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While George Washington Carver would become known as “the peanut man,” because of his extensive research into the practical uses and agricultural advantages of peanuts, Carver’s life work and legacy went far beyond the peanut in his search for ways to “help the man farthest down,” as he put it.

His early years were fraught with struggle and rejection, beginning with his birth to a slave mother near the end of the Civil War. He witnessed mob lynchings, was denied admission at a white college, and yet became a well-educated scientist and teacher of national and worldwide influence and renown.

Signature Communications of Huntingtown, MD, has been engaged by the National Park Service to produce a centerpiece video for visitors to the George Washington Carver National Memorial, located at Carver’s birthplace in Diamond, MO. Titled “Struggle and Triumph: The Legacy of George Washington Carver,” this 25 minute film will be accompanied by an educational video and supplemental educational package tied to national Common Core curriculum standards.

As part of the filming process, and to augment the archival images and film available, Signature is bringing Carver’s experience and legacy to life through re-enactments of seminal experiences in his life, filmed in authentic period settings. Childhood scenes have already been filmed with actors at historic villages and farms in Missouri, as well as at Carver’s birthplace in Diamond, MO. Because the lion’s share of Carver’s lifetime of achievement occurred at Tuskegee University, the filmmakers want to reinforce the significance of his laboratory research and teaching there. Unfortunately, none of the interior settings where Carver worked at Tuskegee have been retained in their historical condition. After a wide search, Signature decided on the Saranac Laboratory Museum at Historic Saranac Lake, and will be undertaking location filming there on November 14.

Dating from 1894 – near the time when George Washington Carver was preparing to move from the Midwest to Tuskegee – the Saranac Laboratory’s white glazed brick walls, wooden cabinetry and period-accurate hood cabinet are very much of the same historical style as those of Carver’s later labs at Tuskegee. Period photographs reinforce that similarity. To round out the illusion, the filmmakers will be outfitting a professional actor with period attire to represent Carver, and are also seeking several young college age men and women to appear as supporting actors representing Carver’s African American students at Tuskegee. Acting experience is not required for these non-speaking roles, and Signature Communications will supply appropriate wardrobe as well as $100 stipend and a credit in the film. Contact: John Allen, 410-535-3477, FlickKid@Signacom.tv.

Photo Caption: George Washington Carver teaching in his Tuskegee University Laboratory, c.1905. Library of Congress photo archive.

Manumission Document Tells Story Emancipation in NY

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The Jay Heritage Center (JHC) has announce the gift of an original manumission document for its African American History collection. The word “manumission” means to emancipate or free from bondage.

Manumission documents like this one issued by a New York slaveholder are rare. In this instance, the signatory freeing a slave known only by the name of “Lewis,” is identified as Richard Hatfield, Jr. Hatfield was the son of a leading lawyer, Richard Hatfield, Sr. (1750 -1813) a delegate to the NY State Convention that ratified the constitution. It is recorded that he inherited land (and presumably slaves) that stretched “from the Scarsdale or “Indian Line of Marked Trees” to, or almost to, the then Road to Rye Neck, (now Old Mamaroneck Road, Gedney Way and Mamaroneck Avenue). His property would have passed to his son, Richard Hatfield, Jr. who was an attorney as well.

Instruments like this one were often recorded in the Libers of Conveyances in the Recorder’s Office of the City of New York, usually at the request of the freed slave as an added protection. Another signature on the paper that merits interest is that of Richard Riker (1773-1842) who served as NY Recorder, prior to and after John Jay’s eldest son, Peter Augustus Jay.

But unlike Jay and Jay’s fellow members of the NY Manumission Society who actively fought to end slave trafficking, Riker is rumored to have been complicit in the kidnapping of freed blacks for purposes of selling them back into slavery. This document helps vividly narrate a chapter in African American history when freedom was not only hard won but also uncertain to last; even elected officials could not be trusted to abide by legal writs.

The document was donated by Carol Ubosi nee Smith of the Purdy, Bell and Potter families who have resided in Westchester County since the 1700s. It was found in the 1980s by Ms. Ubosi’s mother, May Potter Smith, amongst several nineteenth century items in the attic of their family home in Harrison. Although this important story was carefully preserved in a family bible, it is still not known how “Lewis” was connected to the Purdy/Bell family of Harrison. A search for further information and context is ongoing.

Last fall, after contacting JHC president Suzanne Clary for research help about the historic African Cemetery in Rye where her ancestors are buried, Ubosi expressed her interest in making the gift to JHC where it could be made available to area schools and scholars. Ubosi grew up in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle and lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. She attended Central State University in Ohio and has taught in White Plains and Silver Spring. She is presently working on a book about the genealogy of her family with Alesia McFadden, a historian of African American History. As an educator, Ubosi hopes this manumission document will shed some light on the rich history of African-Americans living in Westchester and inspire others to explore and share their own family heritage

The Jay Heritage Center is equally delighted that this primary source will be shared with the many middle school history classes who regularly come through its doors to learn about African American History in New York and Westchester. “When students ask us, ‘What does manumission mean?’ says Clary, “this remarkable document will tangibly show them one man’s transition from servitude to freedom almost 200 years ago. The mere fact of its existence demonstrates how precious this paper was to its owner and his descendants. For those families who will see it firsthand at our site it will prompt the necessary questions that are central to an ongoing discussion about the evolution of social justice in our country.” The Jay Heritage Center has been a member site of the African American Heritage Trail since 2004; John Jay and his family played active roles in abolishing slavery in New York.