When the night train to Montreal set out from Utica on April 29, 1931, James E. Smith had already been toiling over the needs and wants of his passengers for many hours. At 29 years old, Smith had been a Pullman porter for about three years. He had done a stint in Pennsylvania and now was employed on the New York Central line of the Pullman Company.
The experience of the Pullman porter was both uncommon yet ordinary. The Pullman Palace Car company hired black men almost exclusively as porters. This practice began under the direction of the founder of the company, George Pullman, after the Civil War. On board a luxurious and comfortable Pullman Car, Pullman porters were expected to be the ideal servants to their well off white passengers. Continue reading
Fifty years ago, civil rights activists from across the country came together in Mississippi to fight entrenched racism and voter repression. To mark the anniversary of 1964’s Freedom Summer, the Museum of the City of New York will examine one of its key players at a talk titled Stokely Carmichael’s Journey: From the Bronx to Freedom Summer on Thursday, August 12 at 6:30 p at the museum, 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street, NYC. Continue reading
In 1968 the conflict that erupted over community control of the New York City public schools was centered in the black and Puerto Rican community of Ocean Hill–Brownsville. It triggered what remains the longest teachers’ strike in US history.
That clash, between the city’s communities of color and the white, predominantly Jewish teachers’ union, paralyzed the nation’s largest school system, undermined the city’s economy, and heightened racial tensions, ultimately transforming the national conversation about race relations. A new memoir, Inside Ocean Hill–Brownsville: A Teacher’s Education, 1968-69 (SUNY Press, 2014) has been written by Charles S. Isaacs, a teacher who crossed the picket lines. Continue reading
As the companion volume to Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1860–1901: Operating by Any Means Necessary, Michael E. Lomax’s new book, Black Baseball Entrepreneurs, 1902-1931: The Negro National and Eastern Colored Leagues (Syracuse Univ. Press, 2014), continues to chronicle the history of black baseball in the United States.
The first volume traced the development of baseball from an exercise in community building among African Americans in the pre–Civil War era into a commercialized amusement and a rare and lucrative opportunity for entrepreneurship within the black community. In this book, the author takes a closer look at the marketing and promotion of the Negro Leagues by black baseball magnates. Continue reading
While we often look back fondly on the Roaring 20s for a number of reasons, it was a very dark period in the North Country in at least one regard: bigotry. For several years, the region was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity during a high-profile recruiting effort. The assumption today might be that the effort failed miserably among the good people of the north. But the truth is, the Klan did quite well, signing thousands of new members to their ranks.
The original KKK died out in the 1870s after focusing on racial issues in the post-Civil War period, but the KKK of the 1900s was a different animal. Its resurgence in 1915 was linked to a movie released that same year, Birth of a Nation, based on a book titled The Clansman. While the movie was lauded for groundbreaking filming techniques, it was also highly offensive, featuring blatant racism and the rewriting of history. Continue reading
Over 1,000 people gathered for the first Gay Pride event in Nyack in 1999. As if to prove the positive force that this public affirmation of sexual identity can have, a Village of Nyack Trustee named John Shields, who would later serve four terms as Mayor, publicly came out of the closet that day.
In the late 1990s, if you lived in Nyack and wanted to attend one of the major Gay Pride celebrations that are held around the country each June, you had to travel to Manhattan. Phyllis B. Frank, Associate Executive Director of VCS, Inc. enjoyed the annual pride pilgrimage to the city, but thought aloud to others that “even if we had just a group walking behind one sign, we needed to do something for Gay Pride here in Rockland.” Continue reading
In this 50th anniversary year of the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a new book by Vanity Fair editor and Politico senior writer Todd Purdum, An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Henry Holt & Co., 2014) recounts the dramatic political battle to pass this important law that in many ways helped create modern America.
Pardum’s book revisits a turbulent time in America, a time of sit-ins, freedom rides, and the March on Washington. During this time, John F. Kennedy sent Congress a bill to bar racial discrimination in employment, education and public accommodations. Continue reading
John W. Fowler’s law school, called the State and National Law School, was ahead of its time in the field of legal education in the 19th Century. He founded the school in Cherry Valley, New York, in 1847, and moved it to Ballston Spa a few years later, where it was housed in the former Sans Souci Hotel.
Contrary to the normal practice, at that time, of lawyers being trained by “reading law,” Fowler’s school offered courses in extemporaneous speaking and debating, and utilized mock trials to allow students to hone their courtroom skills. The school received much positive attention from the legal community, including South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. Continue reading
Today is Martin Luther King Day, and if you lived through the 1960s, you’ll never forget that turbulent decade. Even turbulent is putting it mildly: weekly classroom drills for nuclear attacks (Get under my desk? What the heck is this thing made of?); riots over race, poverty, the draft, and the Vietnam War; the assassinations of JFK, King, and Bobby Kennedy; and so much more. Continue reading
In 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
Quietly, a line of singers circled a lone tree on the edge of the Harlem River, in the shadow of the 145th Street Bridge, late Sunday afternoon on September 29. The group swelled in numbers as the shadows lengthened. Hums, moans, soft cries and low tones began to form a chorus of spirit noises as the performance “Saved” got underway. Continue reading
George Chahoon, a man who lived in the North Country for 60 years, mostly in Ausable Forks, was the focus of two of the most remarkable incidents in the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War.
When the South seceded, it had named Richmond, Virginia, as its capital city. During the post-war years, appointees chosen by the military were placed in power to guide the recovery. Then in 1868 George Chahoon, a native of Chenango County, but a Virginia resident for most of his 28 years, was installed as mayor of Richmond, replacing a popular leader who had served in the position for 15 years. Continue reading
The significant events in New York State history are well known to educators, students and New Yorkers alike. But often, the role that women played in these events has been overlooked.
In Remarkable Women in New York State History (History Press, 2013), Edited by Helen Engel and Marilynn Smiley, members of the American Association of University Women in New York State have meticulously researched the lives and actions of more than 300 of New York’s finest women. Continue reading
The unveiling of the Sojourner Truth statue in the town of Esopus, NY where the abolitionist preacher was held a slave as a child, was a remarkable experience. I’ve lived in the Hudson Valley County of Ulster all my life and have never witnessed the “owning” of the shameful past of slavery before. Truth’s statue in the Esopus hamlet of Port Ewen represents the only statue in the world of a child slave at work, according to Ulster County Historian Anne Gordon. Continue reading
Activism and artistic practice intersect in Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, a presentation of 103 works by 66 artists that is among the few exhibitions to explore how painting, sculpture, graphics, and photography not only responded to the political and social turmoil of the era but also helped to influence its direction.
Debuting at the Brooklyn Museum, where it will be on view from March 7 through July 6, 2014, the touring exhibition marks the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the events leading to this historic moment, and the aftermath of the legislation. Continue reading
Charlotte Smith of St. Lawrence County was a women’s rights activist with few equals. From the 1870s through the turn of the century, she was among the most famous and visible women in America, battling endlessly for anything and everything that might improve the status of women. No matter what the issue―unemployment, unfair treatment in hiring, deadbeat dads, the plight of single mothers―Charlotte was on the front lines, fearlessly facing down politicians at all levels.
In the 1890s, she also staked out some positions that appeared difficult to defend, but Smith’s single-mindedness gave her the impetus to continue. The bane of women in America held her attention for years, but in modern times, it’s unlikely that any of us would guess its identity based on Charlotte’s description. Continue reading
In Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America: A Biography (Syracuse University Press, 2013) M. M. Silver provides the first scholarly treatment of a the sweeping influence of Louis Marshall’s career through the 1920s. A tireless advocate for and leader of an array of notable American Jewish organizations and institutions, Marshall also spearheaded civil rights campaigns for other ethnic groups, blazing the trail for the NAACP, Native American groups, and environmental protection causes in the early twentieth century. Continue reading
Women’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
February is Black History Month and New York State offers a special window into African American history and American culture as it was a center for 19th century anti-slavery organizations, and home to Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and many other Abolitionist and Underground Railroad leaders. In the 20th century the National Association of Colored People (NAACP) has its roots in the Niagara Movement, whose first meeting in 1905 took place on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls because members were turned away from hotels on the U.S. side. Continue reading