Local historians to tell story of the Black experience in Saratoga County, spanning 200 years

Jack's Harlem Club, 56 Congress St., Saratoga Springs in the 1940s, from the George S. Bolster Collection.

Jack's Harlem Club, 56 Congress St., Saratoga Springs in the 1940s, from the George S. Bolster Collection.

BALLSTON SPA — A review of the struggles and successes of African-Americans in Saratoga County as of the mid-20th century is the subject of a Black History Month exhibit at the Brookside Museum, 6 Charlton St.

The free exhibit will run Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. beginning Feb. 6. The exhibit will be on display through February. Donations are encouraged, with proceeds used for museum upkeep and public programming.

The exhibit by the Saratoga County History Center is in partnership with the Saratoga County History Roundtable. It’s titled “Black Experiences in Saratoga County, 1750-1950.”

The exhibit is a product of research by a team of local historians brought together by the history center, including: Jim Richmond, head of the Saratoga County History Roundtable; Saratoga County Historian Lauren Roberts; Anne Clothier of the Saratoga County History Center; Maryann Fitzgerald, Saratoga Springs’ historian; Kendall Hicks, “Exalted Ruler” of the Frederick Allen Elks Lodge of Saratoga Springs; and Lorie Wies of the Saratoga Springs Public Library.

Their collective research and wealth of knowledge will be shared on several panels and display cases with artifacts relative to Black life in Saratoga County during those 200 years.

“We go back to the pre-Revolutionary War era when there were enslaved Blacks in Saratoga County,” Richmond said in an interview Wednesday. “We have information on some of the early experiences that they had, including being bought and sold, and the fact that they would often run away from their owners.”

By 1790, there were more than 300 enslaved Blacks living in the county, Richmond said.

“And then, we move on and talk about the Antebellum period from 1800 to the Civil War, and we focus on some of the more uplifting experiences that Blacks had in the county during this time, when it was still prejudiced and everything else,” the historian said.

The exhibit includes sections about free Black entrepreneurs in the pre-Civil War era, as well as the Underground Railroad.

“One of the interesting aspects that I didn’t know until I got involved in this,” Richmond said, “was the support for abolition in the county was very diverse between the countryside and the city of Saratoga Springs.”

Rural areas were much more in favor of abolition and supported noteworthy visitors such as Frederick Douglass for talks, Richmond said.

Saratoga Springs was a bit different because it had a resort area they were encouraging people from the South to patronize, Richmond said.

“They were a little more reticent to support abolition,” he said.

The exhibit will also give examples of free Blacks and their work in the hotel industry in Saratoga Springs.

“We highlight a couple of people that were very successful businessmen in the Black community and the mixed race community,” Richmond said. “They were supported by the community and there was a transition in the late 1800s to more support for Blacks.”

The team of historians is finalizing research into the 20th century, with a focus on the community life of Blacks in the area, specifically focused on Saratoga Springs’ nightclubs and social societies such as the Elks lodge.

The Saratoga County History Center has previously offered content on different Black experiences in Saratoga County spanning 200 years, but it was never before pulled together for a cohesive story, Richmond said.

Richmond co-wrote a book about the history of the town of Milton, which includes the village of Ballston Spa, and it contains a chapter on the experience of Black people in the Ballston Spa area.

The author had also conducted talks for the Saratoga Springs Public Library, prior to the COVID pandemic.

In parallel, Wies and Julie O’Connor, an Albany-based historian, are planning a Feb. 19 museum presentation about the Lattimore family, one of the first Black families of Moreau.

Considering the wealth of knowledge, Richmond said, “We thought that we should develop our material a little further, into small exhibits.”

Michael Landis, the history center’s communications director, said the Black History Month exhibit tries to provide material people haven’t already seen before.

After the exhibit runs its course at Brookside Museum, the panels will be distributed to smaller historical societies throughout the county, Landis said.

“It’s going to go mobile, and that way the work gets more attention in the long run, rather than just for people who can make it to Brookside,” Landis said.

“I really hope that this is going to be the first step in a larger process of including people of color in our work,” said Landis, adding the center recently launched a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

Contact reporter Brian Lee at [email protected] or 518-419-9766.

Categories: News, Saratoga County

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