african american history

Did you know that many of America’s Founding Fathers― who fought for liberty and justice for all ― were slave owners?

Through the powerful stories of five enslaved people who were “owned” by four of our greatest presidents, Kenneth Davis’ new book, In the Shadow of Liberty, helps set the record straight about the role slavery played in the founding of America.

From Billy Lee, valet to George Washington, to Alfred Jackson, faithful servant of Andrew Jackson, these dramatic narratives explore our country’s great tragedy―that a nation “conceived in liberty” was also born in shackles.

Kenneth C. Davis is the New York Times bestselling author of America’s Hidden History and Don’t Know Much About History, which gave rise to the "Don’t Know Much About" series of books for adults and children. 

  Young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts. The unemployment rate for African Americans has been double that of whites for more than half a century. And yet Americans cling desperately to the myth that we are living in a post-racial society, that the election of the first black president spelled doom for racist policies and racist beliefs. In fact, racist thought is alive and well in America; it has simply become more sophisticated and more insidious.

Award-winning historian Ibram X. Kendi argues in Stamped from the Beginning, if we have any hope of grappling with this stark reality, we must first understand how racist ideas were developed, disseminated, and enshrined in American society.

  Pauli Murray has been called one of the most important figures in 20th century African American civil rights history. This remarkable woman was the granddaughter of a mulatto slave who among other achievements was a founding member of CORE, graduated at the top of her class at Howard University School of Law, was named Madame Moiselle Magazine women of the year in 1947, wrote states laws on race and color which Thurgood Marshall called "the bible of civil rights lawyers," was appointed to JFK’s commission on the status of women and co-founded national organization for women in 1966. Murray is now the subject of Patricia Bell-Scott’s biography The Firebrand and First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Struggle for Social Justice. Patricia Bell-Scott is professor emerita of women studies in human development and family science at the University of Georgia. 

  In the early sixties, Calvin Trillin got his start as a journalist covering the Civil Rights Movement in the South.

Over the next five decades of reporting, he often returned to scenes of racial tension. Now, for the first time, the best of Trillin’s pieces on race in America have been collected in one volume: Jackson, 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America.

Americans generally think of slavery as having ended on January 1, 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln. But it took more than two years afterward for the entire country to learn slavery had ended.

   In our Ideas Matter segment we take time just about every week to check in with the state humanities councils in our 7-state region.

Today we're talking with Lawrie Balfour, professor of political science at the University of Virginia, and Michael Washburn, director of the programs at the New York Council for the Humanities, about the writer James Baldwin. Baldwin's work is a powerful lens through which to view the country's current moment of social and racial tension. Balfour and Washburn have created a new Baldwin-related theme for the Council's Reading and Discussion program, and today we'll be talking about Baldwin's value to our contemporary world as well as the new program.

    In our Ideas Matter segment we take time just about every week to check in with the state humanities councils in our 7-state region.

Today we learn about Reading Frederick Douglass, a statewide initiative led by Mass Humanities. Communities and organizations around the state typically organize public readings of Douglass' speech, "What is the Meaning of the Fourth of July to the Negro." We are joined today by Manisha Sinha, Professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Rose Sackey-Milligan, Program Officer at Mass Humanities. With them we explore the value of the humanities in enhancing and improving civic life.

  In The Black Calhouns, Gail Lumet Buckley—daughter of actress Lena Horne—delves deep into her family history, detailing the experiences of an extraordinary African-American family from Civil War to Civil Rights.

Beginning with her great-great grandfather Moses Calhoun, a house slave who used the rare advantage of his education to become a successful businessman in post-war Atlanta, Buckley follows her family’s two branches: one that stayed in the South, and the other that settled in Brooklyn. 

  Ally Sheedy, a highly accomplished actress perhaps best known for her roles in The Breakfast Club, War Games and Short Circuit, is directing an amazing one-woman performance based on the 2015 award winning memoir, Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom: My Story of the 1965 Selma Voting Rights March by Lynda Blackmon Lowery.

The performance will take place at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 13th at M.C. Smith Intermediate School in Hudson, NY. It will feature the Hudson High School Choir, who will open the event by performing songs from the Civil Rights era.

The story recounts the experiences of a young Lowery growing up in Selma, Alabama during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Lowery was jailed nine times before her 15th birthday as a result of her participation in marches for voting rights. The show stars actress Damaras Obi. Damaras and Ally Sheedy join us in studio this morning and Lynda Blackmon Lowery joins us via phone from NYC.


  Stokely Carmichael, the charismatic and controversial black activist, stepped onto the pages of history when he called for “Black Power” during a speech one Mississippi night in 1966.

A firebrand who straddled both the American civil rights and Black Power movements, Carmichael would stand for the rest of his life at the center of the storm he had unleashed that night.

In Stokely, preeminent civil rights scholar Peniel E. Joseph presents a groundbreaking biography of Carmichael, using his life as a prism through which to view the transformative African American freedom struggles of the twentieth century.

  Even as a child, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shocked by the terrible and unfair way African-American people were treated. When he grew up, he decided to do something about it—peacefully, with powerful words.

His story is told in the latest book in Brad Meltzer's New York Times Bestselling "Ordinary People Change the World" series, I am Martin Luther King Jr.

Enrico Spada

  An imagined version of true events, Red Velvet is the story of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American actor to play Othello on the English stage in 1833. In the story lines are blurred between race, friendship, betrayal and art.

The powerful play is currently running at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, MA and stars OBIE Award-winning actor John Douglas Thompson as Ira Aldridge. 

Red Velvet was written by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed at Shakespeare & Company by Daniela Varon.

It’s time for our weekly check-in with the humanities. In our Ideas Matter segment we learn about the work being done by the humanities councils in our seven state region.

Today we check in with MASS Humanities and learn about commemorating the 150th Anniversary of Juneteenth and the end of slavery in the United States.

Amilcar Shabazz is a Professor in the WEB DuBos Department of Afro-American Studies and Faculty Advisor for Diversity & Excellence in the Office of Chancellor at UMASS Amherst.

Juneteenth 2015

Jun 18, 2015

The annual holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the U.S. is being observed throughout the Northeast.

  The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region's 14th Annual Public History Conference is taking place this weekend - April 17-19.

This year's conference is entitled "Breaking Free: Civil War, Emancipation, and Beyond" and will feature among its events, a Saturday Morning Keynote - "Underground Railroad to the Fight Against Neoliberal Racism: The Long Struggle for Black Liberation" presented by Henry Louis Taylor, PhD, a Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at University at Buffalo and the Founding Director of the Center for Urban Studies.

Dr. Henry Louis Taylor, Jr.'s research focuses on a historical and contemporary analysis of distressed urban neighborhoods, social isolation and race and class issues among people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos.


  Acclaimed biographer James McGrath Morris latest book, Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, brings into focus the riveting life of one of the most significant yet least known figures of the civil rights era—pioneering journalist Ethel Payne, the “First Lady of the Black Press."

A self-proclaimed “instrument of change” for her people, Payne broke new ground as the Washington correspondent for the Chicago Defender. She publicly prodded President Dwight D. Eisenhower to support desegregation, and her reporting on legislative and judicial civil rights battles enlightened and activated black readers across the nation. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson recognized Payne’s seminal role by presenting her with a pen used in signing the Civil Rights Act. In 1972, she became the first female African American radio and television commentator on a national network, working for CBS. Her story mirrors the evolution of our own modern society.


  There will be a Black History Month event at The Egg in Albany on Saturday, Feb. 28, that will combine music, speeches and a panel discussion to mark the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil rights marches and to discuss ongoing civil rights efforts.

They keynote speakers will be Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed and Colia Liddell Lafayette Clark.

Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed joins us. His most recent book is The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism.

    Raised in South Carolina and New York, Jacqueline Woodson always felt halfway home in each place.

In Brown Girl Dreaming she uses vivid poems to share what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement.

  Historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told that slavery and its expansion were central to the evolution and modernization of our nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, catapulting the US into a modern, industrial and capitalist economy. 

The African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region

This weekend marks the 10th Annual Albany Juneteenth Celebration. The free community event is planned for Sunday, in Washington Park.

Although the Emancipation Proclamation called for the liberation of Confederate slaves on Jan. 1, 1863, its effects weren't immediate.  Two and a half years later, the emancipation took effect—when the Union army rode into Galveston to enforce President Lincoln's executive order.

Juneteenth has been sporadically celebrated in the South as a black independence day ever since June 1865, when slaves in Texas learned of their freedom.

  We are very happy to continue our weekly feature on The Roundtable entitled – Ideas Matter: Checking in with the Public Humanities. It is our chance to check in with the Humanities Councils throughout our 7-State area to discuss important ideas and why they do indeed matter.

Today we’ll speak with MASS Humanites about their Reading Frederick Douglass project.

We welcome Pleun Bouricius, Director of Grants and Programs, Mass Humanities and David Harris, Managing Director of the Charles Hamilton Houseton Institute for Race and Equality at Harvard Law School.


  This Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (April 11 – 13), The Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region will present their 13th Public History Conference. This year’s conference is entitled Slavery and the Underground Railroad: the Larger Context, the Lingering Legacy and is co-sponsored by Russell Sage College, The Department of History and Society at Russell Sage College, and the Rensselaer County Historical Society.

Here now to tell us all about it are Brea Barthel, a co-coordinator of the Conference, and Professor at SUNY Albany and RPI and Paul Stewart, Scholar in Residence at Russell Sage College and co-founder of the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region.

    This morning in our Ideas Matter segment, we spotlight New York Humanities and discuss Anne Northup, Slavery, and the Birth of American Cuisine.

12 Years a Slave, which just won the Oscar for Best Picture, tells the story of Solomon Northup who was kidnapped from upstate New York and sold into slavery. Told from his point of view, the movie doesn't tell what happened to his family while he was gone. This week we'll learn about his wife Anne, who worked as a cook at the Morris-Jumel House in New York City.

Our guests are: Carol Ward, Executive Director of Morris-Jumel House and Emilie Gruchow, Archivist at Morris-Jumel House.


  Last week in our Ideas Matter segment we learned about an exciting national program, Created Equal, which uses documentary films to encourage public conversations about the changing meanings of freedom and equality in America. This week, we learn about how one local organization is using these films to discuss these ideas in the Capital Region.

At the Martin Luther King Memorial in Albany: Congressman Paul Tonko, Mayor Kathy Sheehan and County Executive Dan McCoy. (January 2014)
WAMC Photo by Dave Lucas

Black History Month is here, with a full calendar of events throughout February. Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas  previews some of the first in the region.

At this hour in Albany at the County Office Building, the start of African American History Month is being promoted as "an important time to look back and reflect on the advancements made in equality here in Albany County as well as the nation as a whole."

   Today, black-owned barbershops play a central role in African American public life. The intimacy of commercial grooming encourages both confidentiality and camaraderie, which make the barber shop an important gathering place for African American men to talk freely.

But for many years preceding and even after the Civil War, black barbers endured a measure of social stigma for perpetuating inequality: though the profession offered economic mobility to black entrepreneurs, black barbers were obliged by custom to serve an exclusively white clientele.

In his book, Cutting Along the Color Line, Vassar History Professor Quincy Mills chronicles the cultural history of black barber shops as businesses and civic institutions.

A 2010 Gallup poll asking Americans to assess the last nine presidents gave John F. Kennedy the highest ranking and highest approval rating at 85 percent.

Historian Robert Dallek- who the New York Times called Kennedy’s leading biographer, whose JFK biography An Unfinished Life was a number 1 New York Times best seller- was somewhat amused by this appraisal. For while he admired Kennedy tenured, Dallek’s own in depth study of the man and his presidency offered him a new assessment of his achievements and flaws.

The poll rekindled his interest in Kennedy’s leadership and he decided to revisit the subject in his new book Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House.

Solomon Northup was a free man who was lured from his home in Saratoga and kidnapped into slavery in 1841. His life is the subject of the upcoming film, 12 Years A Slave which opens at The Spectrum Theatre in Albany this Friday.

The new biography, Solomon Northup: The Complete Story of the Author of Twelve Years A Slave provides a compelling chronological narrative of Northup's entire life, from his birth in an isolated settlement in upstate New York to the activities he pursued after his release from slavery.

The biography was written by Clifford Brown, a political science professor at Union College in Schenectady, Rachel Seligman, former head of Union’s gallery (she now works at the Tang at Skidmore College); and David Friske, former librarian for the state.