Tag Archives: African American History

New Book: Black Women and Politics in NYC


By on

0 Comments

Julie A. Gallagher’s Black Women and Politics in New York City (2012, Univ. of Illinois Press) is a remarkable contribution to twentieth-century political history that documents six decades of politically active black women in New York City.  These are Black women as liberal reformers, from suffrage to civil rights, who waged struggles for justice, rights, and equality not through grassroots activism but through formal politics.

In tracing the paths of black women activists from women’s clubs and civic organizations to national politics–including appointments to presidential commissions, congressional offices, and even a presidential candidacy–Gallagher also articulates the vision of politics the women developed and its influence on the Democratic party and its policies. Deftly examining how race, gender, and the structure of the state itself shape outcomes, she exposes the layers of power and discrimination at work in all sectors of U.S. society. Continue reading

Event Commemorating Ithaca African American Families Set


By on

0 Comments

On the Fifth of July, there will be a ceremony in the Ithaca City Cemetery to remember and rededicate the grave sites of two African American families. The Tompkins County Civil War Commission and the Sons of Union Veterans collaborated to clean the grave of Daniel Jackson, who was called “Faithful.”

Jackson was slave in Maryland before fleeing to Ithaca, where he joined others he had known from the South. He was a reliable worker in E. S. Esty’s tannery and at the end of the Civil War he returned to his birthplace to bring his elderly mother North to live with him. The two died in 1889 five days apart: he was 75 and she was thought to be 103. A stone has been placed to mark her resting place and the plot has been landscaped. Continue reading

A Black American’s View on the Fourth of July


By on

1 Comment

160 years ago the former slave Frederick Douglass was asked to give a speech on the Fourth of July. Douglass refused to speak on July 4, but did deliver a powerfulspeech the day after Independence Day. He asked the audience “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” “What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?” “The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you. Not me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. The Fourth of July is yours, not mine.”

On July 1, 2012 at 2 p.m. at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) to which Frederick Douglass was the first inductee, David A. Anderson Ph.D. Visiting Scholar at Nazareth College of Rochester will present an oration of Douglass’ speech asking what Independence Day meant to the American slave. 

A founding member of Akwaaba: the Heritage Associates, Anderson is an interpreter of living history through reenactments that evoke Frederick Douglass, Austin Steward, unheralded escapees, et al. Often the theme addresses the essential role African American Union soldiers played in freeing a people and preserving the Union. He has presented such recreations at symposia in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and in other venues.

Anderson chairs Rochester-Monroe County Freedom Trail Commission, which in 2003, took the lead in staging, “Men of Color, to Arms!” a conference illuminating Frederick Douglass’ role in overturning policies barring African Americans from the Union Army. In 2007, with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center inCincinnati, the Commission co-sponsored the Frederick Douglass International Underground Railroad Conference. In June 2009, Anderson joined other honorees at the National Mall in Washington in “Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture,” an exploration of the expressive power of the creative African American oral traditions in the shaping of American culture.

Douglass spoke at anti-slavery conventions in Peterboro and in the Free Church of Peterboro which Gerrit Smith had established. Douglass worked with Smith in organizing the 1850 Anti-Fugitive Slave Law Convention in Cazenovia, New York. Smith made large and regular donations of money to Douglass in order to keep solvent Douglass’ anti-slavery efforts through his newspapers The North Star and Frederick Douglass’ paper. Douglass dedicated the second edition of his autobiography to Gerrit Smith whom he considered a great man because of his practical efforts to implement universal human rights. Douglass’ relationship with Smith was also on a very personal level. He visited Peterboro often, bringing with him colleagues and other members of his family for extended visits as early as 1835. Following the two o’clock program, Norman K. Dann PhD, a Gerrit Smith biographer, will conduct a tour of Douglass’ steps at the Gerrit Smith Estate describing the relationship between the two men.

This program is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities for the Abolition Agitation in New York Sparks War for Liberty and Justice for All2012 NAHOF project. Admission to the program and to the exhibits at the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, 5255 Pleasant Valley Road in Peterboro is three dollars and free to students. 

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum is included in the Madison County Cultural Heritage Passport with its companion heritage site the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark. Both sites are open Saturdays and Sundays form 1 – 5 from May 19 to September 23, by appointment,and for special events. For more information info@abolitionhof.org and 315-366-8101

Booker T. Washington’s Presidental Dinner with TR


By on

0 Comments

Prior to 1901, no black man, woman, or child had ever been invited to have dinner with the President at the White House.  In Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and the White House Dinner that Shocked a Nation (2012, Atria Books), historian Deborah Davis puts a spotlight a 1901 dinner invitation by President Theodore Roosevelt to African-American educator and activist Booker T. Washington. The event marked the first ever invitation of its kind of a Black American to the White House. Continue reading

Teaching the Hudson Valley from Civil War to Civil Rights


By on

0 Comments

Educators are invited to discover new ways to use the region’s special places to teach about controversy and decision making at In Conflict Crises: Teaching the Hudson Valley from Civil War to Civil Rights and Beyond. Registration is now open for THV’s annual institute, July 24-26, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park.

This year’s opening talk, Keep Your Eyes on the Prize: Controversy and  Connection in the Classroom of Life, will feature Kim and Reggie Harris, musicians, storytellers, educators, and interpreters of history. Accepting THV’s invitation they wrote, “Our nation’s history is filled with conflict, opposition, controversy, and crisis, but is also rich in perseverance, collaboration, determination, and compromise. We look forward to reflecting on ways to use these realities to prepare students to be thinkers and problem solvers.”

During the institute, more than 15 workshops will connect educators with historians, writers, and scientists, as well as their colleagues from schools, parks, and historic sites throughout the Valley. Topics include
Evaluating Scientific Claims (Cary Institute), Using ELA Common Core to Teach Controversy (Lewisboro Elementary School teachers), and Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State and the Civil War, (New York State Museum).

On day 2 of the institute participants will choose one of six in-depth field experiences at Columbia County History Museum (Kinderhook), Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site and FDR Presidential Library (Hyde Park), Fishkill Depot, Katherine W. Davis River Walk Center (Sleepy Hollow), Mount Gulian Historic Site (Beacon), or Palisaides Interstate Park.

You can find out more about the program online

Photo: Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site, courtesy Bill Urbin, Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites, National Park Service.

New York’s Jehudi Ashmun, Founder of Liberia


By on

0 Comments

Thursday, April 21, marked the birthday of one of the most famous men you never heard of, and surely the least known of all North Country figures who once graced the world stage. It is also appropriate to recall his story at this time for two other reasons. It has ties to slavery and the Civil War as we mark the 150th anniversary of America’s darkest period. And, in relation to recent world news, it involves fighting for change in Africa.

If you’re well familiar with the work of Jehudi Ashmun, you’re in a very small minority. Even in his hometown, little has been done to mark his achievements other than a single roadside historical marker. And yet, if you look, you’ll find him in dozens of encyclopedias and reference books as an important part of African and Liberian history.

Jehudi Ashmun was born in Champlain, a small village in the northeastern corner of New York State, just a mile from the Canadian border. Early on, he proved capable of advanced learning, and after schooling in Champlain, he attended Middlebury College in Vermont at the age of 16, preparing for life as a Christian minister.

Ill health, a problem throughout his life, found Jehudi back home in Champlain during the War of 1812. On healthier days, despite his young age, he preached in the local church and organized a military company to protect the village from British attackers threatening from Canada.

After returning to schooling at Middlebury, he entered the University of Vermont. Graduating from UVM in August, 1816, Ashmun gave the salutatory address and presented “An English Oration upon the Philosophy of the Mind.”

Jehudi soon found employment as school principal and Professor of Classical Literature at the Maine Charity School, one of the first educational societies in the country. Guided by a strong Christian belief, he published extensively, including sermons, lectures, and essays.

Ashmun’s opinionated persona was not always well received, and six months after marrying Catherine Gray in October 1818, he resigned from the school and moved to Washington, D.C. There, he linked with the Episcopal Church for three years, studying religion, continuing to publish, and becoming alarmingly aware of the plight of slaves in nearby Virginia.

Christian doctrine deplored slavery, and the more Ashmun (a white northerner) learned, the more he felt compelled to act. He became an active participant in the American Colonization Society (ACS), a group that many supported with the best of intentions, but an organization that attracted a pro-slavery element as well.

To understand that dichotomy, it is necessary to at least somewhat grasp the situation in America around 1820. As a young nation proudly touting “all men are created equal,” the US was embarrassed by other countries pointing out in newspaper editorials the great hypocrisy of allowing slavery to exist for any reason within America’s borders.

By 1808, the importation of slaves had been strictly forbidden by federal law, but some southern states claimed the feds had overstepped their bounds. Still, a very powerful anti-slavery movement existed in America. The problem was—what constituted a solution?

Groups like the American Colonization Society faced an unusual number of arguments for and against their efforts. Many leaders, both black and white, believed all citizens should remain in the US and battle for full equal rights for all. Others, including many black leaders, felt that blacks would never be treated justly or be free of discrimination in America, and thus favored the establishment of a colony where they could flourish.

Some said that promoting colonization was simply a cover for the goal of ridding America of blacks. Others saw great promise in black colonists succeeding, and helping to spread the Christian faith across Africa. Many slave owners supported the society because they feared that freed blacks would urge those in slavery to rise together in rebellion. By sending them to colonies, the owners were removing rabble-rousers from their midst.

At the time, the idea of going to Africa did seem sensible to some blacks since that was their place of origin. However, by that time, many had been in America long enough to have children born here and had established roots. A great number preferred to stay in the US and face the devil they knew, rather than the uncertainties of life (the devil they didn’t know) in Africa.

At various times, plans were made for colonies in Canada, Mexico, Africa, the Caribbean, and in several Central American countries. Finally, a real effort to settle on Africa’s west coast was tried, but it failed. Another similar attempt was made within two years.

The second opportunity arose when the Georgia state legislature authorized its governor to sell about 40 slaves who had been brought to the state illegally. Money from the sale was destined for state coffers, but by law, before selling the slaves, the state had to allow anyone the opportunity to purchase freedom for the slaves or assume the expense of taking them to a colony.

In stepped the ACS, and it was 18 of those slaves who formed the bulk of the colonization effort in Africa. The leader of the expedition was Jehudi Ashmun, who avoided many debts by leaving the country, but whose devotion to the cause was beyond reproach. He also saw the opportunity to establish trade and perhaps find a way to pay his own financial commitments.

Throughout his life, Ashmun had been a deep thinker and an activist, but was frequently beset with periods of strong self-doubt. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine his thoughts when, arriving on Africa’s west coast on August 9, 1822, he found wretched living conditions and violent conflicts involving several regional tribes.

Adjacent to the British colony of Sierra Leone, he gained permission to land and establish a community. He managed interactions and informal agreements with several local tribes, but it soon became clear that they intended to set upon Ashmun’s group and destroy them.

Jehudi’s settlers were suffering badly from illness, and were certainly in no condition to defend themselves. Their position on the peninsula of Cape Montserado provided at least some natural protection, but their sickness was disabling, and the meager rations they shared were barely enough to sustain life. The future looked bleak for this fledgling enterprise.

Ashmun himself seemed near death at times, but feared more for his wife, who was dreadfully ill. She finally succumbed on September 15, barely a month after their arrival from America. Jehudi was devastated. There was great doubt that he could survive and carry on the mission.

Next week―the conclusion: A battle for the ages … twice! and one of the greatest all-time underdog stories.

Photos―Top: Jehudi Ashmun, native of Champlain, New York. Bottom: Ashmun’s Liberian settlement at Cape Montserado.

The Jehudi Ashmun story is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Underground Railroad Conference This Weekend


By on

0 Comments

The 11th Anniversary Conference on the Underground Railroad Movement, sponsored by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region Conference, will be held at Russell Sage College in Troy, April 13-15th. This year’s conference, “The Underground Railroad Turned On Its Head – Old Themes, New Directions,” focuses on new research on the Underground Railroad, slavery, abolition and the 19th century. Old assumptions such as “There is little documentation of the Underground Railroad”, “The UGRR was a string of safe houses to Canada” and numerous other ideas are challenged by new research and interpretations.

The conference will feature:

Friday, April 13, 2012

An Educators’ Workshop

Opening Address – Manisha Sinha, PhD
“Fleeing for Freedom: Fugitive Slaves and the Making of American Abolitionism”

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Keynote Address – Barbara McCaskill, PhD
“A Thousand Miles for Freedom: A New Take on the Old Story of William and Ellen Craft, the Georgia Fugitives”

Artists in Residence – Miles Ahead Jazz Quartet

Spectres of Liberty
Experience history – step into the recreated Liberty Street Presbyterian Church of Henry Highland Garnet

Over 20 Workshops, plus Vendors & Displays

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A bus tour of UGR Sites in Rensselaer County by Kathryn Sheehan, Rensselaer County Historian.

The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region researches, preserves, and retells New York’s regional history of the Underground Railroad, highlighting the role of African-American freedom seekers and local abolitionists.

More information can be found online.

Lecture: Secret Journeys from Black to White


By on

0 Comments

In America, race is a riddle. With the widespread availability of DNA testing and the boom in genealogical research, it has become even harder to view race neatly in black or white. Daniel J. Sharfstein, in conversation with Brent Staples, unravels the stories of three families who represent the complexity of race in America and force us to rethink our basic assumptions about who we are at an event on Thursday, April 12, 6:30 PM [note, new date] at The Robert H. Smith Auditorium at the New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West, NYC. Continue reading

The Great Bare: The Celebrity of Adah Menken


By on

0 Comments

Adah Menken, dubbed “The Great Bare” by writer/admirer Mark Twain, was the first media celebrity, who was known around the world as “The Naked Lady” because her stage show featured her nude (in a sheer body stocking).

Her star power inspired poets like Walt Whitman and writers like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used Menken as the basis for the classic Sherlock Holmes supporting character of Irene Adler. Her popularity was fueled by a new advent of the period, mass circulation newspapers.

Their reporters couldn’t wait to write about her latest adventure, according to biographers Michael and Barbara Foster, who call her the originator of the modern celebrity femme fatale.

In a century remembered for Victorian restraint, Menken’s modern flair for action, scandal, and unpopular causes – especially that of the Jewish people – revolutionized show business. On stage, she was the first actress to bare all. Off stage, she originated the front-page scandal and became the world’s most highly paid actress—celebrated on Broadway, as well as in San Francisco, London, and Paris. At thirty-three, she mysteriously died.

“Menken was an original who pioneered in several areas we now take for granted,” said the Fosters, authors of the newly published A Dangerous Woman: The Life, Loves and Scandals of Adah Isaacs Menken, 1835 – 1868 (Lyons Press, 2012). “Adah invented ‘stardom’ in the modern, media-driven sense, making use of the newly invented newspaper, the telegraph, photography, railroads and steamships to become the first global superstar — number one on Broadway, the rage of gold rush San Francisco, the toast of Victorian London and Paris. Onstage, Adah risked her life every evening in the Civil War sensation Mazeppa, in which apparently stripped naked she rode up a four-story stage mountain tied to a stallion. The mix of sexuality and danger made her the Civil War siren, the highest paid actress in the world, and caused her death at 33.”

Moreover, it wasn’t that Adah did these things to garner attention or as cheap publicity stunts. The Fosters believe that “Swimming Against the Current”–an essay she wrote in defense of Walt Whitman–was an essential part of her personality. There was nothing contrived about her.

A Dangerous Woman is the first book to tell Menken’s fascinating story. Born in New Orleans to a “kept woman of color” and to a father whose identity is debated, Menken eventually moved to the Midwest, where she became an outspoken protégé of the rabbi who founded Reform Judaism. In New York City, she became Walt Whitman’s disciple. During the Civil War she was arrested as a Confederate agent—and became America’s first pin-up superstar. Menken married and left five husbands.

Michael Foster is a historian, novelist and biographer. A Dangerous Woman is his fifth book. Barbara Foster is an associate professor of women’s studies at City University of New York.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Camilo José Vergara Exhibit Features Harlem


By on

0 Comments

Photographs by MacArthur Foundation “genius award” winner Camilo José Vergara, will be on display at the New-York Historical Society in two rotations — Harlem: The People on view through June 10 and Harlem: The Place, from June 13 through September 16. The photographs in both exhibitions, part of the original 2009 exhibition Harlem 1970-2009, explore the effervescent neighborhood of Harlem by showing the transformation of the area over the past 40 years.

The images in Harlem: The People and Harlem: The Place show streetscapes that the photographer visited repeatedly over the course of thirty-eight years, so he could create a composite, time-lapse portrait of a vibrant, world-famous neighborhood seen as a place of ongoing transformation. The series has become a living historical record of Harlem. Vergara has been photographing this vital neighborhood of New York City since 1970, and in doing so he demonstrates, with powerful “before” and “after” images, how one of New York City’s most important neighborhoods has been redefined. As such, Vergara also captures the social and cultural changes in Harlem as he returns to photograph the same street corners and storefronts year after year. He continues to photograph these locations today and writes about his process:

“For a long time I have thought of myself as more a city builder than as a photographer. I think of my images as bricks which when placed next to each other give shape and meaning to a place. I see the images of neighborhoods arranged according to time and location, each one … linking the hundreds of stories that are a place’s history. This is how photographs tell how Harlem evolved and what it gained and lost in the process.”

Selected from the artist’s archive on the Invincible Cities website, the exhibition includes a sequence of photographs showing the evolution of Harlem, its buildings and its people—from the murals that used to condemn racism to advertisements for sports cars, liquor and young rappers; from shops owned by Koreans and West Indians to corporate franchises; from an incubator for struggling churches to famous landmarked churches that attract busloads of visitors from around the world.

All of these historically compelling photographs were donated to the New-York Historical Society by Camilo José Vergara in 2009.

Lecture: Hudson Valley African American Experience


By on

0 Comments

On Sunday, February 26 at 4:00 pm, Historic Huguenot Street (HHS) is presenting a special talk, The Missing Chapter, about the lives and working conditions of African-Americans in the Hudson Valley region during the colonial and antebellum periods.

The award-winning presenter, Susan Stessin-Cohn, Director of Education at HHS, will discuss her current research on slavery including the personal stories of several local African-American families over the course of 200 years. The presentation will include information gathered from HHS’s archives as well as the Ulster County Hall of Records, the Senate House, and 18th & 19th century local and national newspapers. Susan will also discuss her virtual “Missing Chapter” exhibit which can be found at www.hrvh.org.

Susan Stessin-Cohn is currently the Director of Education at Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz. She was formerly an instructor at SUNY New Paltz and Vasser College and is a past trustee of the Elting Library and a member of the New Paltz Preservation Committee. She now serves on the board of the Ulster County Historical Society, the Southeastern New York Library Resource Council and the Hudson River Valley Heritage Digital Advisory Committee.

For more information, call 845-255-1660, x108 or email Jan Melchior at jan@huguenotstreet.org.

Black History Symposium to Examine Prison State


By on

0 Comments

The City College of New York Black Studies Program presents a symposium, “Confronting the Carceral State II: Activists, Scholars and the Exonerated Speak,” 1 – 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 14, in The Great Hall of Shepard Hall, 160 Convent Ave., New York City. The event, consisting of two panels of activists and scholars plus a book signing, is free and open to the public.

The symposium builds upon the work begun by “Confronting the Carceral State: Policing and Punishment in Modern U.S. History,” a symposium held in March 2010 at Rutgers University. “At that conference,” a press statement from the organizers said, “it was made abundantly clear that the mass incarceration of the poor and people of color was an issue that demanded not only study but action.”

“Confronting the Carceral State II” is intended to inform and inspire study and action. All are welcome to join the audience and engage the panelists and each other in the discussion. The event program follows:

1 – 2 p.m. Reception and book signing for participating authors.

2 – 4 p.m. Panel One: Historical Perspectives:

Dr. Yohuru R. Williams, associate professor of African-American history, Fairfield University, moderator: “I Am Troy Davis: The Execution Narrative and the Politics of Race in 21st Century America.”

Dr. Donna Murch, associate professor of history, Rutgers University: “Towards a Social History of Crack: Drugs and Youth Culture in the Age of Reagan.”

Dr. Heather Thompson, associate professor of history, Temple University: “Ending Today’s Carceral Crisis: Lessons From History.”

Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture: “Occupied Blackness: Urban Policing and the Inevitability of Stop and Frisk.”

4 – 6 p.m. Panel Two: Activists and the Exonerated Speak:

Dr. Johanna Fernandez, assistant professor of Black and Hispanic Studies, Baruch College, moderator: “The New Phase in the Struggle to Release Mumia.”

Javier Cardona, arts & education director, Rehabilitation Through The Arts: “Doing Hope: Applying the Arts to Rehearse and Re-Create Life Within And Outside Prison.”

Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, professor of geography, CUNY Graduate Center: “The Popular Front Against Mass Incarceration: Movement, Perils, Prospects.”

King Downing, program analyst, American Friends Service Committee: “Doing Justice Work.”

Felix A. Navarro, Jr., Leaders Against Systemic Injustice (LASI), City College Student Organization: “Opening The Eyes Of The Youth.”

Vanessa Potkin, senior staff attorney, The Innocence Project: “Addressing Wrongful Convictions.”

Raymond Santana and Korey Wise, “Exonerees From The Central Park Jogger’s Case.”

6 – 7 p.m. Reception and book signing for participants.

For more information, contact Professor Venus Green, 212-650-8656, vgreen@ccny.cuny.edu. To RSVP, please call 212-650-8117.

Photo: The Vernon C. Bain prison barge operated by the City of New York. This medium and maximum security prison facility houses 800 prisoners. It was built in 1992 at a cost of $161 Million. Courtesy Travels of Tug 44.

Black History Month at Saratoga Battlefield


By on

0 Comments

In February 2012, Saratoga National Historical Park, located between Rt. 4 and Rt. 32 just north of the Village of Stillwater, will offer a free, month-long highlight exhibit on Agrippa Hull, a black soldier who fought in the Battle of Saratoga. And from 1:30 to 3:30 PM on Sunday, February 12, 2012, the Park presents a special free program, “Men of African Descent at the Battle of Saratoga.”

This special exhibit focuses on the Agrippa Hull, a black soldier who fought in the Battle of Saratoga. Hull, who was a slave in early life, fought in the American Revolution and eventually became a very successful businessman. Historical documentation on his life and family gives us a unique look into an ordinary soldier and extraordinary man.

The program on Sunday the 19th unveils new information about free and enslaved black soldiers fighting in the Battle of Saratoga. Among the fascinating findings is the racial integration in the ranks of the Continental Army, a situation that did not happen again until the Korean War.

For more information about this or other events, please call the Visitor Center at 518-664-9821 or check the park website at www.nps.gov/sara.

Illustration: Agrippa Hull.

Black Patriots: Continental African-American Vets


By on

3 Comments

Several thousand African-Americans served in the Patriot ranks during the Revolution. Both freemen and slaves fought alongside white soldiers, in integrated regiments, a practice which would not occur again until the Korean War. In celebration of Black History Month, learn about the vital role that African-Americans played in securing our independence Sunday February 12 from 2:00 to 2:30 PM at the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site.

Though some enslaved soldiers were granted freedom for serving in the Patriot army, the successful struggle for independence doomed generations of African-Americans to continued bondage. Great Britain abolished slavery 31 years before the United States, so it was quite possible that the American Civil War might have been averted had the thirteen colonies not rebelled.

Why would black soldiers agree to fight for a country that held many of their people in chains and excluded the remainder from all but the most menial tasks? The answer was quite simple actually; the deep-seated desire to be accepted and respected. Gifted African-American leader and orator Frederick Douglass, proudly proclaimed during the Civil War: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, U.S., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship.” African-Americans, of the Revolutionary War Patriot forces, were willing to fight and die to be accepted by white society as did their descendants “four score and seven years” later.

New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site is located on Route 300, 374 Temple Hill Road, in New Windsor, NY, just three miles south of the intersection of I-87 and I-84. For more information please call (845) 561-1765 ext. 22.

Illustration: An African American Private, 2nd New Jersey Regiment.

New York Celebrates Black History Month


By on

0 Comments

In the 19th century, New York State was home to some of the most powerful abolitionists. Because of its proximity to Canada, New York became an important destination and temporary home for many African Americans fleeing slavery in the South. Today you can visit the former homes of prominent abolitionists such as Gerrit Smith and Harriet Tubman and follow the trail of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses used by slaves to escape to the free states and Canada.

February is Black History Month and I LOVE NEW YORK is highlighting a remarkable period in history, the people who risked their lives to furtively abolish slavery, the sites you can visit to learn about them and the remarkable achievements that shaped our African-American heritage.

Here are just some of New York State’s many Underground Railroad sites:

Howland Stone Store Museum – Finger Lakes
The Howland family was very involved in abolition, women’s rights and world peace movements. This 1837 Cobblestone Store in the town of Aurora was an important station on the Underground Railroad. The museum preserves local, state and national history, where you’ll discover the stories of local sites involved in the Underground Railroad. The store is a vital part of the community and an eloquent reminder of the history of causes supported by the Howland family.

Harriet Tubman House – Finger Lakes
Harriet Tubman is the face of abolition. Known as the “Moses” of her people, Tubman embodied the true American ideal and spirit. A patriot, a war hero and instrumental in directing the Underground Railroad, she had the gift of touching everyone around her, earning praise and accolades from members of the U.S. Government and Queen Victoria of England. This historic site in Auburn, a tribute to the difference one person can make by caring for so many people, also includes the Home of the Aged, where she cared for the elderly during the last 50 years of her life. Her gravesite is nearby. The site includes the Home of the Aged where she cared for the elderly for the last 50 years of her life. Her gravesite is nearby.

Murphy Orchards – Greater Niagara
Stepping away from the classic colonial museum of the 1800s, Murphy Orchards, in the hamlet of Burt, offers an authentic example of the variety of stations that comprised the Underground Railroad. Charles and Libby McClew built the farmhouse, outbuildings, and barn that are all still used today and are believed to have been a part of the Underground Railroad from 1850 to 1861. The concealed chambers beneath the barn lend credibility and proof that this landmark served as an escape route for freedom-seeking slaves.

Fenton History Center – Chautauqua-Allegheny
Jamestown, New York is rich in Underground Railroad history and abolitionist activity. The Fenton History Center, located at the former mansion of Governor Rueben E. Fenton, is a community resource center for people of all ages to learn about the history of slavery and our nation. Governor Fenton was a close political associate of President Lincoln and an avid supporter of the abolition of slavery.

Old Fort House Museum – Capital-Saratoga
This landmark museum in Fort Edward was originally used as a fort during the French and Indian War. In 1829, a free and well-educated black man, Solomon Northup, along with his bride Ann Hampton, moved into the estate before Solomon was kidnapped and sold to slavery. Following his freedom and return home, he wrote a book entitled “Twelve Years A Slave”, considered to be as insightful on slavery and the north as the renowned “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

LinkPhilipsburg Manor – Hudson Valley
In Sleepy Hollow visit one of the largest and best documented slave sites in the North, Philipsburg Manor. A thriving farming, milling and trading center that relied on a community of enslaved African Americans to operate the complex, the Philipsburg Manor community contributed a great deal to the Hudson Valley’s historical development. Take part in 18th century hands-on activities, discover the riveting story of enslavement in the Colonial North, and explore the food systems, textile production techniques and medicinal practices of Philipsburg Manor’s inhabitants.

John Brown Farm – Adirondacks
The assault of the U.S. Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry in 1859 was the brainchild of abolitionist John Brown, who planned to use captured arms in an extensive campaign to liberate slaves. Following his capture and hanging for his leadership in planning this attack, Brown was laid to rest at his farm in North Elba, near Lake Placid. Today, visitors to the site can participate in guided tours, re-enactments and other activities.

The Gerrit Smith Estate – Central New York
Gerrit Smith is considered by contemporary scholars to be one of the most powerful abolitionists in the United States. He supported the work of abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and John Brown. Located in Peterboro, just minutes away from the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum, this valuable historic site provides tours, programs and a film presentation as well as special events and exhibits regarding the Underground Railroad.

National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum – Central New York
The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro honors anti-slavery abolitionists, including their work to end slavery and the legacy of that struggle, and strives to complete the second and ongoing abolition – the moral conviction to end racism.

These are just some of the many landmarks throughout New York State that played a vital role in the slaves’ flight to freedom. This Black History Month pay tribute to the deeds and memory of the fascinating individuals who helped make freedom a reality for so many.

Take an Underground Railroad Tour
If you can’t decide which landmark to visit, consider taking a statewide tour of New York’s Underground Railroad heritage. In conjunction with I LOVE NEW YORK, tour operator Arena Travel is offering an Underground Railroad tour, May 5-17, 2012, to domestic and international travelers.

The Arena Travel Underground Railroad and Slavery in New York Tour tells the complete story of the African Americans’ struggle for freedom. From the gateway to freedom across the Niagara River into Canada, to early slavery in New York State, the figures and stories are all here to explore. Performances by Akwabaa, a performing arts and tour group in Rochester, tell the vivid story of the life of Frederick Douglass sheltering slaves in his home while he spoke out against the institution of slavery. Other stops on this Buffalo to New York City adventure include the homes of Harriet Tubman and Gerrit Smith, and Philipsburg Manor. Learn more about this exciting travel opportunity at www.arenatravel.com.

America’s First African American Woman Judge


By on

0 Comments

A long overdue biography of the nation’s first African American woman judge elevates Jane Matilda Bolin to her rightful place in American history as an activist, integrationist, jurist, and outspoken public figure in the political and professional milieu of New York City before the onset of the modern Civil Rights movement. Jacqueline A. McLeod’s, Daughter of the Empire State: The Life of Judge Jane Bolin is published by the University of Illinois Press (2011).

Bolin was appointed to New York City’s domestic relations court in 1939 for the first of four ten-year terms. When she retired in 1978, her career had extended well beyond the courtroom. Drawing on archival materials as well as a meeting with Bolin in 2002, historian Jacqueline A. McLeod reveals how Bolin parlayed her judicial position to impact significant reforms of the legal and social service system in New York.

Beginning with Bolin’s childhood and educational experiences at Wellesley and Yale, Daughter of the Empire State chronicles Bolin’s relatively quick rise through the ranks of a profession that routinely excluded both women and African Americans. Deftly situating Bolin’s experiences within the history of black women lawyers and the historical context of high-achieving black New Englanders, McLeod offers a multi-layered analysis of black women’s professionalization in a segregated America.

Linking Bolin’s activist leanings and integrationist zeal to her involvement in the NAACP, McLeod analyzes Bolin’s involvement at the local level as well as her tenure on the organization’s national board of directors. An outspoken critic of the discriminatory practices of New York City’s probation department and juvenile placement facilities, Bolin also co-founded, with Eleanor Roosevelt, the Wiltwyck School for boys in upstate New York and campaigned to transform the Domestic Relations Court with her judicial colleagues. McLeod’s careful and highly readable account of these accomplishments inscribes Bolin onto the roster of important social reformers and early civil rights trailblazers.

Author Jacqueline A. McLeod is an associate professor of history and African & African American studies at Metropolitan State College of Denver and co-editor of Crossing Boundaries: Comparative History of Blacks in Diaspora.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

Peterboro Celebrates Black Heritage


By on

0 Comments

As Black History month commences, Peterboro, NY (in Madison County) is finalizing plans for 2012 programs that explore and explain the 19th Century history of African-Americans in the hamlet and its significance to the history of our nation.

On January 31st, the anniversary date of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum Traveling Abolition Museum exhibit was transported from Case Library at Colgate University to Memorial Library at SUNY Cortland for Black History Month.

The exhibit had been installed at Colgate for Martin Luther King Jr. commemorations at the college. Milton C. Sernett Ph.D. professor emeritus Syracuse University developed the text and visuals for the traveling museum that cover the history of American Abolition from slavery in the Colonial era to the Civil War.

Dr. Sernett, a member of the Cabinet of Freedom for the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum (NAHOF) in Peterboro, will also be presenting at SUNY Cortland on the Abolition Crusade in Upstate New York. Robert Djed Snead, a Jermain Wesley Loguen reenactor who performed at Loguen’s NAHOF induction in October 2011, will perform and present Loguen at SUNY Cortland. For the same month The History Center in Ithaca will be hosting the John Brown Lives! Timbuctoo exhibit during Black History Month. Timbuctoo explains Gerrit Smith’s plan to gift 3000 African-American men with 40 acres of land.

The 20th Annual Peterboro Civil War Weekend June 9 and 10, 2012 will join in the nation’s commemoration of the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Military battles were not waged on Peterboro soil, but Peterboro was the center of human rights activities that waged war against slavery, and those activities led to the ignition of the Civil War. Dr. Sernett will present The Terrible Swift Sword: Abolitionists and the Civil War. Also, Alice Keesey Mecoy, will return to NAHOF to share insights into her great, great, grandfather John Brown. NAHOF will exhibit a copy of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation gifted by the New York State library. Lincoln presented his draft of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his Cabinet on September 22, 1862. The New York State Museum will open an exhibit on September 22, 2012 about the Proclamation which was briefly owned by Gerrit Smith of Peterboro.

Sunday, July 1 at 2 p.m. at the Smithfield Community Center in Peterboro Dr. David Anderson of the Akwaaba Program at Nazareth College will portray Frederick Douglass’ in the delivery of Douglass’ famous Fifth of July speech. Saturday, August 4 the third annual 21st C. Emancipation Day will be held in Peterboro. On Sunday, August 5 Lesley Still Gist will detail the famous Underground Railroad work of William Still and his reunion with his long lost brother Peter Gist who came to Peterboro to seek help from Gerrit Smith. Saturday, August 18 at 7 p.m. Hugh Humphreys will present on the great Cazenovia protest against the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law.

The National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum Commemorations October 20, 2012 at Colgate University include the unveiling of Jermain Wesley Loguen’s banner for the Hall of Fame, as well as that of Abby Kelley Foster and George Gavin Ritchie for their risk-laden pursuit of freedom for slaves. Loguen’s afternoon symposium will be presented by Robert Djed Snead, and Snead will also re-enact Loguen during the evening celebrations.

Heritage New York Underground Railroad Trail and National Park Service National Historic Landmark exhibits on the Underground Railroad, abolition, and African-Americans of Peterboro are open from 1 – 5 pm Saturdays and Sundays May – September at the Gerrit Smith Estate National Historic Landmark and the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum.

For more information refer to www.sca-peterboro.org, www.AbolitionHoF.org or 315-366-8101 as the season progresses.

Photo: Robert Djed Snead portrays Syracuse Underground Railroad station conductor Jermain Wesley Loguen at Loguen’s October 2011 Induction to the National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum in Peterboro.

N-Y Historical Black History Month Offerings


By on

0 Comments

The New-York Historical Society has a number of exhibits and programs planned for Black History Month. All exhibitions are presented at the New-York Historical Society 170 Central Park West, New York, N.Y., unless otherwise noted. Phone (212) 873-3400 or visit www.nyhistory.org for more information.

THIRTEENTH AMENDMENT SIGNED BY LINCOLN
February 1 through April 1, 2012

The New-York Historical Society displays a rare handwritten copy of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution–the measure that abolished slavery—signed by President Lincoln himself. The document, which was recently acquired by David Rubenstein, managing director of The Carlyle Group, will be on loan to the New-York Historical Society until April 1, in the new Robert H. and Clarice Smith New York Gallery of American History.

FREEDOM NOW: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PLATON
Until April 29, 2012

This installation of large-scale images by the celebrated photographer Platon, gives the historic struggle of the 1950s and 1960s a stirring contemporary presence. Julian Bond—statesman, professor, writer and a leader in the Civil Rights movement—has written a personal introduction to the exhibition. Among the subjects of the photographs are the Little Rock Nine, whose attempt to enter Little Rock Central High School in 1957 became a national cause célèbre; Joseph A. McNeil and Franklin E. McCain, participants in the 1960 Greensboro lunch-counter sit-in; Southern Christian Leadership Conference members Joseph Lowery, Fred Shuttlesworth, C.T. Vivian and Andrew Young; Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee leaders James Lawson, Robert Moses and Diane Nash; Chris and Maxine McNair, parents of Denise McNair, murdered in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church; Black Panthers Kathleen Cleaver, Emory Douglas and Bobby Rush; Muhammad Ali; Harry Belafonte; Congressman John Lewis; and Jesse Jackson, Sr.

REVOLUTION! THE ATLANTIC WORLD REBORN
Until April 15, 2012

The path-breaking exhibition Revolution! The Atlantic World Reborn, is the first exhibition to relate the American, French and Haitian struggles as a single global narrative. Spanning decades of enormous political and cultural changes, from the triumph of British imperial power in 1763 to the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, Revolution! traces how an ideal of popular sovereignty, introduced through the American fight for independence, soon sparked more radical calls for a recognition of universal human rights, and set off attacks on both sides of the Atlantic against hereditary privilege and slavery. Texts and audio guides are in English, French and Haitian Krèyol. Highlights on view: the original Stamp Act as it was passed by Parliament in 1765, setting off the riots that led to the American Revolution, on loan from the Parliamentary Archives, London, displayed for the first time outside the U.K. the only known surviving copy of the first printing of the Haitian Declaration of Independence (1804, National Archives, London), recently discovered and exhibited here to the public for the first time.

Napoleon’s authorization to French negotiators to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States (1803, New-York Historical Society), as a direct consequence of the Haitian rebellion

THE BATTLE FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
Thursday, February 16, 6:30 PM
David Levering Lewis, Khalil Gibran Muhammad (moderator)
Location: Robert H. Smith Auditorium at New-York Historical Society, 170 Central Park West

In this powerful program, two experts reflect on the successes and setbacks in the struggle for civil rights and the changing ways in which the story of the Civil Rights Movement is told, from early writers and activists like W.E.B. DuBois, to the turbulent years of the 1950s and ’60s, to the present. Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Freedom Now: Photographs by Platon. A collaboration with the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

MEET AUTHOR MAIRA KALMAN—LOOKING AT LINCOLN
President’s Day, Monday February 20, 2012, 1 pm

Award winning artist and author, Maira Kalman, reads from the historical gem Looking at Lincoln. From his boyhood in a log cabin to his famous presidency and untimely death, Kalman shares Lincoln’s remarkable life with young readers. Her charming text and bold artwork make history come alive in a fresh and exciting way.

HISTORY DAYS PRESIDENT’S’ VACATION WEEK
February 20 – 24, 2012

Show off your presidential history skills at our daily family quiz show; drop in for some art making, or join our presidential history scavenger hunt. Best for ages 4 – 14. No preregistration required. Free with museum admission.

Family Presidential History Quiz, 2 pm

Where did George Washington take his first oath of office? Team up, sharpen your pencils, and enter our family quiz! Prizes for participation and grand prizes for high-scorers.

Presidential Art making, 1 – 4 pm
Make and decorate your own election button or poster.

Join the Hunt! Presidential Scavenger Hunt, 11 am – 4 pm

We don’t know if George Washington had a cat, but we do know he had a cot and we’ve got it! Find amazing memorabilia when we let you loose in the museum looking for everything presidents! Prizes for participation, and everyone can enter our Liberty the Dog raffle!

Living History Days: 1st RHODE ISLAND REGIMENT (CONTINENTAL)

Sunday, February 5 and February 19, 2012 11 am – 5 pm

As one of the earliest regiments in America to actively enlist African Americans, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment was assembled into service in late 1776 and early 1777. The Regiment fought in the battle of Newport in 1778, spent the infamous winter at Valley Forge, and participated in the Yorktown campaign without receiving any post-war compensation for their efforts. Since 2002, the 1st Rhode Island re-enactors have portrayed the regiment by recreating battles and encampments and presenting programs to audiences in an attempt to educate them about the role of African-Americans in the war effort.

Photo: Platon for The New Yorker, Emmett Tills’ cousins: the Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. and Simeon Wright, November 2009. Light jet print. Courtesy of the artist.

Guest Essay: Black Troops, White Civil War Units


By on

1 Comment

What follows is a guest essay by Bob Farrell, a researcher of the 123rd and 169th New York volunteer infantry regiments in the Civil War. This essay was inspired in part by New York History contributor Carol Kammen’s recent post on the life of Ira T. Brum, who enlisted in the 185th New York Volunteers in June 1864.

It was their country and they wanted to defend it. Their neighbors were enlisting and going to war, however, by law, that option was not available to them. Regardless of being free hard working citizens protecting their way of life, serving their country was denied to them. Despite this, all across upstate New York men of color went to a recruiting depot along with their neighbors to enlist in a regiment to be credited to their counties and their enrollment quota.

Stepping forward were James Brady from Malone, Ira Braum from Tompkins County, two step brothers from Fort Ann, Alonso Eddy from Owasco, and Bruce Anderson who in January 1865 would be awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions at Fort Fisher, North Carolina, stepped forward These are some names which have surfaced and been verified in the past few years.

The obstacle to identifying Blacks in all White regiments is the fact that nowhere in the regimental rosters provided by the Adjutant General for the State of New York is a racial distinction found. Mostly from postwar history have these names begun to emerge. Hopefully, with the current attention to the Civil War Sesquicentennial and the rising interest in the contribution of black troops to the success of Union victory, local historians and newspaper reporters will develop and further investigate and report on men of color.

Patriotism and a desire to defend the Union took the black man along with his neighbors to the recruiting tent. It is undeniable that the shade of his skin was a factor in being accepted into a company. In one example, three members of one family attempted to join the 169th New York Volunteers, one was accepted while the other two were sent to Riker’s Island which at that time was the training camp for the United States Colored Troops with the notation on their enlistment papers “of African descent”

For all those who successfully entered the military despite the shade of their skin, one thing is certain, their heritage was known to the other members of their company. For during the Civil War a company was a generally recruited from a specific town or region. Most of these towns, like today, were both rural and small. As anyone who grew up in one of these hamlets can tell you, everyone knows everyone and their business. With this in mind, no one served unobserved. Each man was accepted in his company and regiment not for his heritage, but for his commitment to serve in combat alongside his hometown neighbors.

Not until May 22, 1863 did General Order Number 143 establish a Bureau of Colored Troops to facilitate the recruitment of Black soldiers to fight for the Union Army. This bureau ultimately became known as the United States Colored Troops . From this simple beginning the USCT swelled to 170 regiments of approximately 178,000 members.

In the year 1862 there was no recognized means for a black to enlist. Emancipation was months away; plus any change in attitude by the Lincoln government was slow to emerge. Blacks remained in a limbo. The men in our story took history into their own hands and defied the government they were willing to defend. Let us hope that the clouds of history will clear and we will be able to enjoy more of their story of courage and determination