There is a rich heritage of Black history all around us to explore. Black History Month however often finds people returning again and again to the same figures and places. Martin Luther King Jr., Selma, Alabama, and Fredrick Douglass to name just a few of the top contenders. Great as they are, they represent a fraction of the amazing people and places that have impacted the state's and the nation's cultural landscape. For 2021 how about delving into New York's Black history by visiting locations in person or digitally. Here is a taste of what you can do to meet some new faces and places.
The state offers a variety of gateways into the legacy of African Americans and current happenings. Using the state's parks, historic sites, the State Historic Preservation Office, I LOVE NY's Paths Through History, and partnering organizations, you can open nearly four hundred years of interesting stories effortlessly.
NY State Parks Blog Posts
Meet the Faces and Places
Below is a sampling of both destinations within the state park and historic site system as well as a number of historically significant sites in communities across New York that help preserve and champion these vital stories.
Shirley Chisholm State Park in Brooklyn: named in honor of Shirley Chisholm, a Brooklyn-born trailblazer who was the first African American Congresswoman, as well as the first woman and African American to run for President. This amazing 407-acre park leads you into the life of Ms. Chisholm, and also into the wonderful world of environmental justice. Sitting on a reclaimed landfilled, the paths and views of Jamaica Bay can refresh your spirit while introducing you to one of New York's most noted Black politicians. Shirley Chisholm State Park on Jamaica Bay is the largest state park in New York City and offers hiking, biking, fishing and picnicking. Shirley Chisholm State Park
Marsha P. Johnson State Park in New York City: Renamed for a dynamic pioneer in the LGBTQ+ fight for equal rights and for transwomen of color, this seven-acre state park in Brooklyn offers a
riverfront view of Manhattan and an opportunity to relax in a place where everyone is welcome.
Marsha P. Johnson State Park
Note: the park is undergoing extensive renovations including the installation of public art honoring Marsha P. Johnson and the LGBTQ+ community. Some areas of the park will be temporarily limited during construction to be completed June 2021. The north section of the park will remain accessible through neighboring Bushwick Inlet Park.
Sojourner Truth at Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, Poughkeepsie/Highland: Although many people think she was from the South, Sojourner Truth was actually born and raised in Ulster County and grew up speaking Dutch. In August of 2020, a bronze statue of her was unveiled at the main entrance of Walkway Over the Hudson, in Highland, NY. You can visit her statue there and learn more about her life and Vinnie Bagwell, the sculptor who created her. Have You Met Sojourner Truth?
Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site in Albany: In 1793 a good portion of the City of Albany burned down. Three enslaved Africans were accused of setting the blaze. What are people thinking? How do they feel? In this fictionized drama based on historic evidence, see how the community of enslaved and free, African and European manage this tense time. The Accused: Slavery and the Albany Fire of 1793.
Crailo State Historic Site in the Capital Region: Pinkster, the oldest and first documented celebration enjoyed by enslaved and free Africans and their decedents well into the 19th century was popular not just in Albany but throughout the region. Learn more about this exciting event and start planning now to celebrate this May. Blogpost: Reviving a Dutch Holiday with African Flavor.
The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in the Hudson Valley: The mission of the newly reopened National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor is to collect, preserve, and share the stories of all Purple Heart recipients. There and online you can learn about our brave service men and service women including men like Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the first African American naval aviator. You can also learn about registering a Purple Heart recipient for the Roll of Honor. The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor
Fort Montgomery State Historic Site in the Hudson Valley offers a glimpse into the life of Benjamin Lattimore, one of the few known Black soldiers to fight in the Revolutionary War battle that took place at Fort Montgomery. Fort Montgomery State Historic, Facebook Site
Fort Ontario State Historic Site in Central New York, was the training ground for the Harlem Hellfighters. Military prowess and racial segregation went hand in hand during World War I. In spite of many obstacles African American men answered the call and served their country victoriously. The Harlem Hellfighters were one such outstanding group. Begin your journey into their fascinating story at: Fort Ontario's Face Book page
Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center on Long Island: The newly opened Center will be offering several programs during the month of February. Among them an exhibit of Black History-related posters. They're also doing social distance showings of No Time To Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin. The film shares the story of an amazing 98-year old National Parks Ranger's inspiring life, work, and urgent mission to restore critical missing chapters of America's story. Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center IMAGE: Heroes of the Great Outdooors.
One of the many Black History posters on display at Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center
Artist: Eren K. Wilson
National Register of Historic Places Black history is an essential part of understanding New York State in the past and present. Through scholarly research, the National Register of Historic Places program offers an opportunity to take a deeper look into the people and places that have shaped the Black experience in New York. The following list includes some of Park's most recent listings associated with lives and experiences of Black New Yorkers. We invite you to access the nominations and discover more about the people and places that have shaped our history.
Colored Musicians Club, Buffalo, Erie County The Colored Musicians Club in Buffalo is home to one of the oldest continually operating African American musicians' clubs in the country and serves as the offices of Buffalo Local 533, an early African American union of musicians. The Club is the recipient of a 2019 New York State Historic Preservation Award and is also part of Buffalo's Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor. Colored Musicians Club
Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest & Ninevah Subdivisions (SANS), Sag Harbor, Suffolk County The Sag Harbor Hills, Azurest, and Ninevah Subdivisions (SANS) Historic District, is a mid-twentieth century African American beach community on Long Island that has and continues to serve as a retreat created by and for families of color. Famous individuals who summered at SANS included Langston Hughes and Lena Horne. The district's stewards are the recipients of a 2019 NYS Historic Preservation Award. Sag Harbor Partnership
Mary E. Bell House, Center Moriches, Suffolk County The Mary E. Bell House, currently operated as a museum by the Ketcham Inn Foundation, celebrates 19th century African American land ownership and the central role of women in Black communities on Long Island. The National Register-listed building and its stewards are the recipients of a 2020 NYS Historic Preservation Award.
Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District, Harlem, New York County
The Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District is home of the first New York City park named for a Black serviceman. The square also served as an important site of social and political demonstrations, including a speech by
President Harry S. Truman that celebrated the desegregation of the armed services. The neighborhood is listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places, the Dorrance Brooks Square Property Owners & Residents
Association (DBSPORA) plan to pursue Historic District Designation by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Dorrance Brooks Square Historic District
James Baldwin Residence, Manhattan (Harlem), New York County Prominent author and activist James Baldwin (1924-1987) lived in this building during his last decades, 1965-1987. Baldwin made profound and enduring contributions to American literature and social history, addressing the major questions America faced in those decades. Recently, portions of Manhattan park were renamed after James Baldwin to further honor his legacy. His former home is featured in the New York City LGBTQ+ sites project. James Baldwin Residence
Lorraine Hansberry Residence, Manhattan, New York County Pioneering Black lesbian playwright, writer, and activist Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) lived in this building from 1953 to 1960 and produced some of her most important works, including "A Raisin in the Sun." The National Register-listed building is featured in the NYC LGBTQ+ Historic Sites project, a documentary project and partnership between the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant Program. Lorraine Hansberry Residence
Bayard Rustin Residence, Manhattan, New York County Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), a gay African American Quaker, civil rights advocate, proponent of non-violence, and campaigner for social and economic justice, lived in this National Register-listed building between 1962 and his death in 1987. His home is featured in the NYC LGBTQ+ Sites Project. Bayard Rustin Residence
Old Towne of Flushing, Queens, Queens County The Old Town of Flushing Burial Ground, Flushing's first public cemetery and now a public park, is the final resting place for 1,000 individuals, many of whom were Native and African American. The site is listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places and serves as a New York City park that can be enjoyed by all. The Old Town of Flushing Burial Ground
Stephen & Harriet Myers Residence, Albany, Albany County The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence was a headquarters for Underground Railroad activity in the Capital Region in the mid-1850s, as documented by a Vigilance Committee flier that has survived from that period with additional historic records. Today the site is operated by the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region as a historic site where the community can learn about the Underground Railroad, the first integrated Civil Rights movement in the United States, and its relevance to today. This site is the recipient of a 2015 NYS Historic Preservation Award and was also featured in the "We Are NY" series. and the Underground Railroad Education Center
John W. Jones Museum, Elmira, Chemung County The John W. Jones House in Elmira is listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places and is now a museum open to the public. John W. Jones became an active agent in the Underground Railroad in 1851 and continued to help enslaved individuals escape to freedom for many years. The museum explores Mr. Jones' community involvement and his relationship with his contemporaries, as well as the location's function as the only Underground Railroad station between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and St. Catharines, Ontario Canada. John W. Jones Museum
Buckhout-Jones Building, Oswego, Oswego County The Buckhout-Jones Building in Oswego is an important commercial building listed in the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The building was once associated with Charles Smith and Tudor Grant, both formerly enslaved people from Maryland who sought refuge in New York State and operated barbershops in this building and now serves as the Children's Museum of Oswego.
National Headquarters, March on Washington, Manhattan, New York County This Harlem rowhouse at 170 West 130th Street served as the National Headquarters for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an epic and meticulously planned event held on August 28, 1963. A quarter-million African Americans gathered here peacefully, asking for the basic rights of citizenship, as well as for Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, which culminated the assembly. The march inspired citizens and is credited with helping to spur passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The building is featured in the NYC LGBTQ+ Historic Sites project.