Places to Educate Yourself About Black History in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires | History | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine

American history books and common societal narratives tend to center around the Colonialist and white settler perspective, while Black history is treated as a separate, niche topic. But locally in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires, a handful of organizations are working to change this by spotlighting the history, legacy, and struggles of Black residents in the region, from slavery to present day. Let Black History Month be your inspiration to get to know these rich community cultural resources, which are open for visiting and programming all year round.

The Library at the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center | Kingston

In February 2017, the A.J. Williams- Myers African Roots Center opened its doors at 43 Gill Street in Kingston’s Ponckhockie district. Named for the retired chairman of SUNY New Paltz’s Black Studies Department, the library is a repository of books, movies, art, cultural artifacts, oral histories, and other resources to encourage literacy in the Black experience, culture, history, and contributions. The Center’s vision statement proposes that “knowledge of the diverse cultural roots of people in our community needs to be understood and spread through sharing and learning from one another.” With this at its core, the library is available as a meeting place for local community groups and cultural organizations that share the goal of advancing historical literacy, cultural enrichment, civic engagement, and social justice. The Library also runs programs for children, teens, and adults as well as cultural events and celebrations. The library collection is also available online. The library is a sister institution to the Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library in Poughkeepsie.

Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library | Poughkeepsie

The building houses the Sadie Peterson Delaney African Roots Library has had many lives. Now dubbed the Family Partnership Center, it was formerly the Poughkeepsie High School and later Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School. In a stroke of elegant continuity, the African Roots Library, which opened in 2022, occupies the same space that housed the schools’ libraries. The collection is curated in collaboration with the Library Action Committee and the Poughkeepsie Public Library District.

The Black Library | Monticello

click to enlarge Places to Educate Yourself About Black History in the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires
Michael Davis and Douglas (DJ) Shindler outside the bank building that now houses the Black Library in Monticello.

In August 2023, artists Michael Davis and Douglas Shindler inaugurated the Black Library in the old National Bank Building in Monticello. The nonprofit project, funded in part by the Hurleyville Arts Center, aims to celebrate Black culture with a community arts space, library, and programming. Recipient of a $408,000 grant from Creatives Rebuild New York’s Artist Employment Program, the Black Library has expanded from its humble beginnings as a Black book club in a one-room studio into a large space with weekly and monthly programming including exhibits by Black artists, talks, and community discussions.. Browse through the collection of books Black authors, view the art on display, or attend an event like February 24’s Poets and Painters event, an iterative, collaborative art exchange. There’s also an open mic night every second and fourth Thursday of the month.

Hudson Area Library | Hudson

In the late 1980s, Columbia County’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program collaborated with other local organizations to launch the Black Legacy Association of Columbia County (BLACC) with the purpose of documenting the history of Black community members in the region and their contributions and struggles from slavery through the present day. The resulting BLACC Collection is a compilation of photographs, documents, and oral histories that offers a rich, humanized, and local lens on Civil Rights activism and Black heritage in Columbia County. The collection is housed in the Hudson Area Library’s History Room. You can also view the photos and read the resulting curriculum online. The BLACC Exhibition will have its opening reception with a panel discussion on Thursday, March 7. There will also be a youth Workshop on Saturday, March 9 and an event for educators on Saturday, March 23.

The Du Bois Freedom Center | Great Barrington

Just as the Hudson Area Library and the Black Library of Monticello seek to offer insight into the Black experience in the Hudson Valley, the Du Bois Center for Freedom and Democracy shines a light on the vibrant African American heritage of the Berkshires. Head to this Great Barrington destination to educate yourself on the remarkable life and enduring legacy of civil rights trailblazer W.E.B. Du Bois and the broader context of Black history, social movements, and intellectual and artistic contributions. Nestled within the former Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church on Elm Court in Great Barrington, where Du Bois was born and raised, the center is still under construction. Upon its completion, the Du Bois Freedom Center will be the first museum and living memorial in North America dedicated to Du Bois's life and legacy. The center’s 2024 event calendar will be published online soon.

Margaret Wade-Lewis Center | New Paltz

This last one will be a future beacon for Black history and culture, though renovation and fundraising is still underway. Constructed in 1885 by Jacob Wynkoop, one of the first Black landowners in the Village of New Paltz, for another free Black man: Richard Oliver, the Ann Oliver House on Broadhead Avenue is an important monument in local Black history. Today the house bears the name of Oliver’s widow. The property that the house was built on had been acquired by Stewart’s Shops and was slated for demolition. But when the village mayor petitioned the company to acquire the House for the public trust, Stewart’s responded by selling the lot and house to the Village of New Paltz for $1. It is now the future home of the Margaret Wade-Lewis Center, which will be a cultural center and local resource providing a regional lens on Black history. The organization’s stated mission is “to engage, empower, educate, and heal the community through history and culture.” Although there is no onsite programming yet, the MWL Center is accepting donations to restore the house and build the center, and you can also register to volunteer.

Marie Doyon

Marie is the Digital Editor at Chronogram Media. In addition to managing the digital editorial calendar and coordinating sponsored content for clients, Marie writes a variety of features for print and web, specializing in food and farming profiles.
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