Tuesday, February 23, 2021

African American Historical Records Project - Phase 1

A new public history project focused on Schenectady’s African American history will preserve primary sources and enable future generations to engage with the community’s historical records. Primary sources are the keys to understanding history, and access to those materials helps communities to connect to their past. The African American Historical Records Project, a collaboration coordinated by the Schenectady County Historical Society, will create a catalog of historical records created by the African American community in Schenectady. 

Two African American men standing in front of a building.
Mr. Jackson Barber and unidentified man. Barber Family Photos, Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.

The primary goal is to identify where those records are, what condition they are in, and how researchers can access them. The project is coordinated by SCHS librarian, Marietta Carr, and guided by an advisory committee of prominent community members. Committee members include Walter Simpkins, William Rivas, Johan Matthews, Sophia Delamar, and Miki Conn. "We hope the catalog and the records uncovered during the project will become a foundation for future research, preservation, and education," explains Carr. "African Americans have been part of Schenectady since colonial times, but their presence, activities, and experiences are significantly underrepresented in the collections available to the public in repositories like SCHS. Churches, community organizations, black-owned businesses, and individuals have their own historical collections. The catalog will connect those isolated collections and make them visible and available to the public.”

Portrait of a young African American woman in a white dress.
Nannie Jackson. Putnam Family Photos, Grems-Doolittle Library Photo Collection.

The project has received a grant award from the Documentary Heritage Program, an initiative of the New York State Archives. Working with an advisory committee of prominent community members, SCHS will conduct a survey of historical collections and records. Record is a pretty broad term in this context. Carr adds, “There are a lot of different ways that people record their lives and experiences. We’re looking for church records, organization or business records, diaries, oral histories, letters and correspondence, photographs, videos, music, and art. We’re open to all of sorts of items created by African Americans in Schenectady and connected to the community’s history.”
Nameplate - Marble slab depicting African Church. Both sides inscribed. Side showing to public said "African Church built by Rev. Isaac G Duryee D.D. 1837 Rebuilt by Rev. Walter Grayson 1886".

Anyone looking for information on the African American Historical Records Project or wishing to participate in the survey should contact Marietta Carr at the Schenectady County Historical Society at 518-374-0263, option 3, or email her at librarian@schenectadyhistorical.org