Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Harriet Tubman—these names often come to mind when thinking of black history in the United States. But just as history is grander than a handful of memories, so are the people and acts of bravery celebrated during Black History Month and every month of the year. In celebration of moments throughout history, here are 10 facts about black history in New York State.
Shirley Chisholm was the first African American woman elected to Congress and the first woman ever to run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination
In 1968, Chisholm was elected to the United States Congress and represented New York's 12th Congressional District for seven terms. Her district included eastern Manhattan as well as parts of Brooklyn and Queens where iconic spots like Gantry Plaza State Park, Corona Park, and MoMA PS1 draw New Yorkers and visitors alike. As head of the Education and Labor Committee, she was the third-highest-ranking member when she retired from Congress. During the 1972 US presidential election, Chisholm became the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination.
John Brown Farm State Historic Site was a major stop on the Underground Railroad
Known for his raid on Harper's Ferry and movement to liberate slaves in the South, John Brown's home near Lake Placid was a key stop for people seeking freedom in the north and Canada. Captured after the raid in 1859 and sentenced to death, Brown was buried on his New York farm which would later become a pilgrimage for abolitionists and a National Historic Landmark.
Jupiter Hammon was the first black published poet
Considered a founder of African American literature, Jupiter Hammon was the first black published poet who lived and wrote in the Joseph Lloyd Manor House in Lloyd Harbor, New York. Born into slavery, Hammon was one of the few slaves who learned to read and write, leading to his first published work in 1761. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, visitors can tour the Joseph Lloyd Manor House and dive into the history of Black literature.
African Americans were vital to the Battle of Saratoga
Initially banned from joining the Continental Army, nearly 400 Black soldiers took to the battlefield during the Battle of Saratoga, a turning-point victory in the Revolutionary War that is honored at Saratoga National Historical Park. Essential to the success of the war, many would go on to see the birth of the United States of America.
The only African American jazz club is in Buffalo
A hotspot for jazz and creativity, the Colored Musicians Club is the only operating African American jazz club in the United States. Formed in 1917 due to discrimination from Local 43, an all-white musicians union, the Colored Musicians Club nourished the growth of its members and became a stopover for jazz legends including Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Holiday. Check their music schedule or visit the club at 145 Broadway in Buffalo for live music, jazz lessons, and Sunday night jam sessions.
Harriet Tubman returned to the south multiple times
Known as the Moses of her people, Harriet Tubman helped countless people escape slavery along the Underground Railroad—making several daring rescue trips back to the south. Today, you can explore the history of the Underground Railroad and learn more about her journey at the Harriet Tubman Home in Auburn, New York.
Frederick Douglass founded The North Star in Rochester
An abolitionist newspaper that first got its start in the basement of an AME Zion Church in Rochester, The North Star is just one example of Douglass' influence on civil rights and New York State. An avid abolitionist, Douglass was also one of the few men to speak at the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. Visit the National Abolition Hall of Fame or the National Women's Hall of Fame to learn more about Douglass' role at the convention and other civil rights activists.
Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin
Inspired by leaders like Harriet Tubman, Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat for a white passenger on a public city bus on March 22, 1955, at the young age of fifteen. Removed from the bus and arrested, Colvin and four other black women became some of the first to challenge segregation laws. Colvin later moved to New York City, which has been her home ever since.
Jackie Robinson was not the first black man to play Major League Baseball
Paving the way for future athletes when he signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson was profoundly influential in breaking racial barriers, but Moses Fleetwood Walker of the Toledo Blue Stockings stepped up to the plate first in 1884. Today, fans celebrate athletes of all backgrounds at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Marian Anderson was the first Black woman to sing at the Metropolitan Opera
At the age of 57, Marian Anderson became the first Black woman to sing at New York's Metropolitan Opera where she performed Verdi's Un ballo in maschera on January 7, 1955. Today, hundreds of visitors pour into the MET Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for the finest musical talent.