Museums and Historical Sites Where You Can Learn About Black History in the Hudson Valley
Celebrate and educate yourself this Black History Month by taking a tour of these historically significant spots.
PHOTO BY ROLFMUELLER VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Mount Gulian Historic Site, Beacon
Today a national landmark and museum, this Dutch Colonial estate was once home to Beacon’s Verplank family and their slave, James F. Brown. The family was unusually kind to him, teaching Brown how to read and write, and paying him well. For over 40 years, Brown kept a diary of his daily happenings, and though much of it is mundane (largely weather reports and chores), his documentation gives us an insightful look at the life of a 19th century African American. Tours of the house, barn, and garden are available from May through October.
Named after a prominent Black Studies professor and historian at SUNY New Paltz, this Kingston community center works to promote literacy and understanding of African history through various forms of artistic expression. Yearlong, lectures, performances, movie screenings, and workshops celebrate the African-American legacy and experience in the Hudson Valley and beyond.
For nearly 30 years, Albany residents Stephen and Harriet Meyers (both freed slaves, themselves) were dedicated to helping other African Americans escape from slavery. Today the stately brick townhouse (right) is listed on the New York State Underground Railroad Heritage Trail, and is a site on the National Park Service’s National Network to Freedom.
In Washington’s Shadow Walking Tours, Newburgh
This 60-minute tour along Newburgh’s Washington Street follows the story of George Alsdorf, a former slave who opened a series of local businesses with the help of his family, and assisted runaway slaves in the Underground Railroad. Notable stops include the Alsdorf House, AME Zion Church , The Colored School, The Alsdorf Academy, and the Desegregation of Colored School.
The Bevier-Elting House, New Paltz
Along with many other houses along Historic Huguenot Street, New Paltz’s Bevier-Elting House had a brutal slave-related past. As one of the oldest stone houses on the street, it appears charming from the outside, but inside, its cellar served as a prison-like home for slaves who were locked in at night to avoid escape. Check out the video below to see what happened when the Slave Dwelling Project spent the night here in 2010.
The Hillburn School, Hillburn
Over a decade before his landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall represented the village’s African American parents in an effort to integrate the local school system. Formerly the Brook School for Colored Children, it did not have a library, gymnasium, or even indoor bathrooms, unlike Hillburn’s main school for white children. Marshall was victorious, winning the case in 1943.
The Friends Meeting House, Purchase
A religious meeting place for Quakers, members were early to question slavery over 100 years before African Americans were officially granted freedom. In 1767, the Purchase Society of Friends forbade its members to own slaves, and urged them to provide them with the tools to support themselves going forth. This forward-thinking mindset was pivotal in encouraging statewide abolition efforts.
The New York State Museum, Albany
With a collection of pieces spanning from the 18th century onwards, the museum documents the social history of slavery, abolition and civil rights efforts, military action, and the day-to-day life of African Americans living in New York State. As a leader in research on these topics, the museum is currently looking into the Great Migration of African Americans to New York State.