It is doubtless a fact that most Northerners, including the writer, think that slavery in America was a Southern problem. In the North slavery was an occasional institution, or so we think.
A week ago on Thursday 6/8/17 I attended a program at the library, “Abolition and Women’s Rights in Local History” presented by the students of Hudson Community Schools’ Writing Center at the Hudson High School. More about this project here.
“James W. C. Pennington” by Cecille Ruiz – click to see full size image
The bulk of the program revolved around presentations by the students of their research and creative projects about slavery, abolitionists and women’s rights activists of the 1830s-1850s in upstate NY. The word and image projects are on display in the library now.
Slavery in Hudson and Columbia County
But, I want to focus on just one aspect here. The program opened with readings of notices of runaways slaves from the Hudson River Valley. Many were notices from slave owners in Hudson and Columbia County dating roughly from 1795 to 1840. The source of these notices is In Defiance: runaways from slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831 ((Stessin-Cohn, Susan, and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini. In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831, 2016.)) It is available in the library.
One hint about the deep history of slavery in our region is the fact that over 50% of the runaways spoke both Dutch and English.1 This is clearly an indication that they lived here long enough to learn two languages.
Here are a few samples from the book: (click on images for full size)
p324. Stessin-Cohn, Susan, and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini. In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831, 2016. [↩]
Isabel Wilkerson’s book, The Warmth of Other Suns – the epic story of America’s great migration,1 creates whole new planes of awareness of our history.
This book startled me to a new understanding of how encompassing and pervasive the Jim Crow laws and social rules of the South really were. Without much thinking on my part, I have always equated Jim Crow with images of separate water fountains, lunch counters, and schools, along with denial of voting rights. Included were images of lynchings and mob violence. Wilkerson’s work brings to life the real depth of the American system of Apartheid. These laws and social rules were so extensive as to lead to separate break times in factories so that whites and blacks would not even use a stairway at the same time.
This is the story of the six million African Americans who left the South for the North and West of the US between 1910 and WWII. Wilkerson builds her narrative of the main courses of this migration through the stories of three people leaving three different parts of the South, venturing to the three main destinations, NYC and the northeast, Chicago, and Los Angeles over three decades (teens through 40’s). Her overall research included interviews with over 1,200 people.
The stories do not end with the escape from the South. Wilkerson follows the stories as they unfold in their new environs. Here the transition from the oppressions of the South to the new realities of the north and west. No surprise the escape from the South did not mean an instant escape from racism institutionalized or otherwise. This part of the story is more familiar to a Northern urbanite.