Black History Month

Joseph Lloyd Manor

Preservation Long Island, a regional preservation advocacy nonprofit based in Cold Spring Harbor, is pleased to announce the United for Libraries Literary LandmarkTM designation for one of its historic properties, Joseph Lloyd Manor, an 18th -century manor house in Lloyd Harbor, NY, and a site of Black enslavement. The designation honors Jupiter Hammon (1711– ca.1806), one of the earliest published African American writers who composed his most well- known works while enslaved at the manor.

The Literary LandmarkTM plaque unveiling and virtual celebration will take place at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 17, which recognizes Hammon’s 309th birthday as well as Black Poetry Day. This will mark the first Literary Landmark dedication to be livestreamed.

Jupiter Hammon’s life and writings offer an exceptionally nuanced view of slavery and freedom on Long Island before and after the American Revolution. His works are especially significant because most literature and historical documents from the eighteenth century were not written from an enslaved person’s point of view.

Hammon’s known works include at least six poems and three essays published during his lifetime. At Joseph Lloyd Manor in 1786, he penned “An Address to the Negroes of the State of New-York” and “An Essay on Slavery.”

“As one of the significant early examples of African American literature before the republic, Jupiter Hammon’s work is a masterful ethical critique on slavery, religion, and humane relationship,” said Dr. Georgette Grier-Key, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Eastville Community Historical Society and a member of the Jupiter Hammon Project Advisory Council.

“The designation by United for Libraries validates what we recognized from the beginning, that Jupiter Hammon is a nationally significant individual in history but not many people know about him,” said Lauren Brincat, Curator at Preservation Long Island.

“The Literary Landmark designation complements the work of our multi-year Jupiter Hammon Project that aims to engage the site more fully to reflect the multiple events, perspectives, and people that shaped the house’s history, including elevating the voice and history of Jupiter Hammon”, said Alexandra Wolfe, Preservation Long Island’s Executive Director.

The unveiling event will feature remarks by Rocco Staino, United for Libraries Board Member and Director of Empire State Center for the Book and Irene Moore, Chair, Huntington African American Historic Designation Council. Actor/writer, Malik Work will perform his poem, “An Aria of Pain”. The winners of the Jupiter Hammon Essay/Poetry Contest from Silas Wood Sixth Grade Center, South Huntington Union Free School District, will recite their winning entries. Closing remarks will be delivered by Joye Brown, Columnist/Associate Editor, Newsday.

“One of the advantages of a virtual event and livestreaming of the designation ceremony is that it will be accessible to a much larger audience. We will also have recorded documentation of this celebration of Hammon’s significant accomplishments and contributions to American history and literature that will endure digitally on our website”, said Wolfe.

To register for the virtual event via Zoom visit:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/jupiter-hammon-literary-landmark-virtual-celebration-tickets- 91899358455

To view the event via Facebook Live (no registration required), visit Preservation Long Island’s Facebook page on October 17th at 2 p.m.:
https://www.facebook.com/preservationlongisland/

From left, “Tobias” played by Darren St. George; “Thomas” played by Jordan Gee; Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn; “Dorcas” played by Carolyn Brown; and Lori Andrews, WMHO development director. Photo from WMHO

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Empire National Bank are this year’s generous sponsors of Ward Melville Heritage Organization’s riveting live theatrical drama, “Running Scared, Running Free … Escape to the Promised Land.” Performed by St. George Living History Productions, it tells the story of slaves escaping through the Underground Railroad from the south to Long Island and north to Canada. Native Americans, Quakers, free blacks and Abolitionists assisted them through the fascinating use of secret codes in quilt patterns as a means of communication.

The show, currently in production at the WMHO’s Educational & Cultural Center, 97P Main St., Stony Brook runs through Feb. 28. Tickets, by reservation, are $12 per adult; $12 per student (up to 35 students); $8 per student (over 35 students). To order, call 631-689-5888. For further information on this and other WMHO educational programming, call 631-751-2244 or visit www.wmho.org.

Residents of Chicken Hill, Marjorie and Hub Edwards. Photo courtesy of TVHS

During the month of February, Three Village Historical Society, 93 North Country Road, Setauket, joins the nation in celebrating Black History Month, a commemoration of African American history and achievement, with its latest exhibit, Chicken Hill: A Community Lost to Time.

Through photographs, artifacts and recorded interviews, the memory of this neighborhood, whose residents included African Americans, Native Americans, Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Rumanians, Irish and Italians, has been preserved.

The exhibit is a 2015 recipient of a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History and may be seen on Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $10 adults, $5 children and students. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

Barbara and Herman Lee with Barbara’s mother Ethel Lewis. Photos from Geral Lee.

By Geral Lee

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is unquestionably synonymous with Black History Month. He courageously confronted social inequities and racism in the midst of an adverse anti-black administration largely due to J. Edgar Hoover who had been appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation, renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1935. Few could compete with Hoover’s power and he went virtually unchallenged for half a century.

Hoover opposed making Dr. King’s birthday a national holiday. His smear campaign attempted to label Dr. King as a communist and a homosexual. He ordered illegal wire taps of Dr. King’s hotel room to try to justify his stance and used the power of government to satisfy his own bigotry toward blacks. Dr. King persevered.

Herman Lee in his Navy days (circa 1941). Photo from Geral Lee

There were many other individuals way before Dr. King who challenged the system in the name of justice. I am certain their actions helped define his political strategies. These people — and God bless them — were not just slaves, demonstrators or rioters.    

I must include Glenn Beck in this article. I am not suggesting he is an authority on black history. As the colorful conservative that he is, his question as to why the many contributions of black people continue to remain hidden from the mainstream is a legitimate one — and yet another reason to celebrate Black History Month.

In one of his tapings, “Glenn Beck Founders’ Fridays Black American Founders” (Fox News), that I listened to on YouTube, he mentioned Peter Salem, a hero in the Battle of Bunker Hill who saved scores of American lives. During the Battle of Lexington, white and black parishioners who worshiped together were commanded to fight. James Armistead served as a double spy. And is that Prince Whipple, the black crewman, in the painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware? I am not so sure because many blacks fought in the American Revolution. Freedom was not an automatic option.       

There have been unsung black heroes making all kinds of contributions throughout American history. The members of the 333rd Battalion, for example. The Chesapeake Marine Railway and Dry Dock Company of Baltimore, Maryland, which was one of the largest and most successful black businesses in America in the 1870s.   

“Dirty Little Secrets About Black History: Its Heroes & Other Troublemakers” by Claud Anderson reveals that in the late 1800s, blacks invented and filed for patents on a number of transportation-related devices. Andrew J. Beared invented an automatic train car coupler. Albert B. Blackburn invented a railway signal. R.A. Butler invented a train alarm. Although many inventors were fresh out of slavery and the literacy rate among slaves was 50 percent, black inventors filed hundreds of patents for transportation devices. The Safe Bus Company was a black-owned city-chartered bus line in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, from 1930 to the 1960s.   

Black history celebrates regular people engaged in positive activities. Here are some examples:

My father Herman Lee resided at 34 Christian Ave., Setauket, between 1956 and 2011. He was employed at the Setauket yard of the Brookhaven Highway Department in the 1960s and promoted to foreman in the 1970s. He did carpentry/home improvement projects for Three Village homeowners; among his regular clients, the Windrows and the Strongs. In World War II he served on the USS Hornet CV-12. After he became a chaplain for the VFW along with his wife Barbara Lewis Lee who was a practical nurse and historian in her own right. They sent all of their four children to college: Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter.

Barbara, Herman, Geral and Peter Lee. Photo from Geral Lee

Uncle Sherwood Lewis was an employee of Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO). He came up with an idea that saved the company more than $100,000 a year according to a Newsday article dated April 23, 1977. He, too, was raised on Christian Avenue and now resides in Massachusetts.

Grandmother Ethel Lewis, valedictorian of her high school graduating class, resided at 32 Christian Ave. with her husband Howard Lewis. They subdivided their property so my parents could build their house on Christian Avenue.

Aunt Hazel Lewis, salutatorian of her graduating class, was employed at Peck & Peck in New York City back in the day — a high-end boutique clothing store for women.   

Aunt Pearl Lewis Hart received an associates degree in accounting in her 40s, was promoted to supervisor of the payroll department at SUNY Stony Brook and, until her death last month at age 92, was living in her own home on Christian Avenue.

Uncle Harry Hart, Pearl’s husband, owned his own excavation and contracting business from the 1940s to the 1980s. He acquired land on Christian Avenue and rented to many local folks.   

Remembering a few of Dr. King’s principles of nonviolence can help provide the foundation for a healthy society: “Nonviolence is a way of life for brave people; attack problems, not people; know and do what is right even when it is difficult.”     

I know there are many individuals who believe in these principles.

Black History Month means different things to different people, but if it can fill in the gaps, identify injustice, encourage positive dialogue and provide a platform for people to work toward understanding one another, it is a valuable ongoing process.

Geral Lee returned to her Setauket home in 2013 to be with her father after living in Rhode Island for 12 years. She taught physical education and health in Hempstead early in her career and received a personal invitation from her primary school coach Jack Foley, who later became athletic director for Three Village schools, to teach at Ward Melville. She served in the Peace Corps in Senegal, loves dogs and cats and currently relieves stress as a reflexologist.