The Documenting the Early History of Black Lives in the Connecticut River Valley project builds on a rich history of scholarship and public projects on local and regional Black history, much of which is accessible online. This webpage gathers many of these resources together.
Books and Articles
The Documenting the Early History of Black Lives Research Guide includes extensive bibliographies of books and articles on Black life in Hampshire, Hampden, and Franklin Counties and New England more broadly. Additionally, many of the categories in the guide — from autobiography to military history to the interpretation of enslavement in museums and historic sites — include rich lists of recommended readings.
Virtual Lectures and Interviews
This project’s launch on Juneteenth, 2021, featured panel discussions with historians whose research works to recover histories of enslavement and freedom in the Connecticut River Valley. A keynote address from Dr. Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at UMass Amherst, underscored the urgency of understanding and interpreting these stories in our local communities. The launch recordings, along with links to virtual talks that were viewed by attendees in advance, are all available at the Launch Event page on this website.
In addition, there are a rich selection of recorded talks, discussions and interviews available online. Please note that this list is not exhaustive. We invite you to email email@example.com to recommend additions.
Local Black History
A short talk on the Northampton Association of Education and Industry by Ousmane Power-Greene, Professor of History at Clark College. UMass Amherst Feinberg Series, October 1, 2018.
- Black Holyoke Uncovered
A conversation with Erika Slocumb, PhD student in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst and curator of a Wistariahurst Museum exhibit on histories of the Black community in Holyoke from the time the area was settled in the 18th century to the present. Radio Plasma.
- Entangled Lives: A Conversation on Women and Work at the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House in the Past and Present
In this conversation with Porter-Phelps-Huntington board president Karen Sanchez-Eppler, historian Marla Miller discusses her research on women’s work in early Hadley–including white women’s work as domestic servants, and the family enslaved at Forty Acres: Peg and her daughters Phillis and Rose. Porter-Phelps-Huntington Foundation, June 16, 2021.
- Finding Slavery in New England: History and Memory
A lecture by historian Ian Delahanty, highlighting new scholarly findings on the history of slavery in New England, and presenting case studies of historical commemoration of slavery and abolition in the region. Storrs Library and the Longmeadow Historical Society, December 16, 2020.
- Florence’s Abolitionist History
A conversation on Northampton, MA radio station WHMP with Bruce Laurie, author of Rebels in Paradise: Florence’s Abolitionist History. WHMP, 2015.
As part of the Amherst Historical Society’s “History Bites” series, Amilcar Shabazz, professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst, explores the history of the memorial tablets commemorating Amherst men who served as soldiers and sailors in the Civil War. The lecture also connects the history of Juneteenth to the struggle to remember the Civil War as a common fight for freedom.
- Rediscovering Florence’s Abolitionist Past: Houses, Heroes, and their Stories
Historian Steve Strimer of the Ruggles Center discusses Florence’s abolitionist and underground railroad history focusing on the homes once occupied by David Ruggles, Sojourner Truth, Basil Dorsey, Henry Anthony, Joseph Willson, Ezekiel Cooper, and Hannah Randall. July 26, 2015.
- Scars of Slavery (see also this audio story)
Historian Bruce Laurie explores the story behind a famous, or infamous, image that testified to the evils of slavery. The account traces the lives of three men–two of them white soldiers from western Massachusetts, serving the Union Army in Louisiana, and the third a man named Peter, whose heavily scarred back horrified all who saw it. The shocking image became among the most significant images of the Civil War era, and its interpretation today. Amherst Historical Society, October 25, 2019.
- Self-Evident Truths: A Program on Anti-Racist History
A film screening of “One Minute’s Freedom” (on Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman and the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts) and “The Truth is Powerful” (on two public versions of Sojourner Truth’s most famous speech) followed by a conversation with the scholars, filmmakers, and educators who produced the series: Jellissa Lacon, Michael Lawrence-Riddell, Chrishaunda Lee Perez, and Bayeté Ross Smith, moderated by Ousmane Power-Greene. Historic Northampton, January 26, 2021.
- Slavery in 18th Century New England
An interview with Gretchen Gerzina, Paul Murray Kendall Chair in Biography and Professor of English at UMass Amherst and author of Mr. And Mrs. Prince: How An Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved Out Of Slavery And Into Legend. Vermont Public Radio, January 29, 2008.
- The Struggle for Freedom: The History of African Americans in Western Massachusetts
A discussion with Wayne Phaneuf and Joseph Carvalho, authors of The Struggle for Freedom. Springfield Technical Community College, February 7, 2017.
State and Regional Black History
- Against Wind and Tide: The African American Struggle Against the Colonization Movement
A interview with Ousmane Power-Green on C-SPAN Book TV about African Americans’ battle with the American Colonization Society, an organization founded in 1816 with the intent to return freed slaves to Liberia. C-SPAN Book TV, December 21, 2015.
- Before Abolition: Quakers and Slavery in the 1700s
A virtual lecture by Elizabeth Cazden, a Quaker historian, writer, speaker, and workshop leader, discussing a research project entitled “Slaves Among Friends: Rhode Island Quakers in a Slave-based Economy, 1655-1785.” Sandy Spring Museum, March 17, 2021.
- Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England (GBH forum, C-SPAN book talk and Vermont Public Radio interview)
Talks and interviews with historian Jared Ross Hardesty, author of Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: The History of Slavery in New England. This acclaimed book focuses on the individual stories of enslaved people in New England and larger contexts, including the importance of slavery to the colonization of the region and to agriculture and industry, New England’s deep connections to Caribbean plantation societies, and the significance of emancipation movements in the era of the American Revolution.
- The Enduring Legacy of Slavery and Racism in the North
Although Massachusetts formally abolished slavery in 1783, the visible and invisible presence of slavery continued in the Commonwealth and throughout New England well into the 19th century. This panel conversation with Kyera Singleton, Manisha Sinha, and John Stauffer, moderated by Tiya Miles, examines the role and impact of slavery in the North and how Black abolitionists responded to scientific racism. Harvard University, October 8, 2020.
- Forgotten History: How The New England Colonists Embraced The Slave Trade
NPR’s Terry Gross interviews Wendy Warren, associate professor of history at Princeton University who specializes in the history of colonial North America and the early modern Atlantic World. Her most recent book New England Bound was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. Fresh Air, June 21, 2016.
- Freedom’s Woods: The African American Community of Peterborough in Warren, Maine
Historian Kate McMahon discusses the story of Sarah and Amos Peters who moved to Warren, Maine in the early 1780s, exploring how their establishment of an African American, Native American, and mixed-race community provided opportunities for resistance to racism and enslavement. Maine Historical Society, September 14, 2020.
- Getting Started in African American Genealogy
Newbury Street Press historian and genealogist Meaghan E.H. Siekman shares resources and tips to consider when embarking on African American genealogical research, from published genealogies to local histories, original manuscripts, and rare documents to online databases. Greenwich Library, February 25, 2021.
- In New England, Recognizing a Little-Known History of Slavery
A brief NPR story, recorded in 2015, on Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s then-new African Burying Ground Memorial Park. National Public Radio, May 24, 2014.
- Moving Mountains and Liberating Dialogues: Creating a Black Feminist Archaeology
The Natalie Boymel Kampen Memorial Lecture in Feminist Criticism and History at the Barnard Center for Research on Women, delivered by Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Professor of Anthropology and Director, W.E.B. Du Bois Center, UMass Amherst, September 3, 2019.
- Phillis Wheatley Peters and African Lineage and Kinship in The Age of Phillis
Poet, novelist, critic and English professor Honorée Fanonne Jeffers discusses her newest book of poetry, The Age of Phillis, which uses creative strategies based upon fifteen years of archival research to explore the pre-slavery life of the African child renamed Phillis Wheatley Peters. American Antiquarian Society, November 5, 2020.
- Pride or Prejudice?
A public lecture by Ousmane Power-Green on debates over monuments and memorials to the Confederacy and the question of how the United States should confront acts of inhumanity perpetuated by the state. Landmark College, November 12, 2019.
- The Rise and Fall of Slavery in Massachusetts
Virtual lecture by author and historian David Mark on Massachusetts’ history of slavery, including the story of Lucy Chester and her mother Cate Taylor of Stow, MA. Maynard Public Library, February 28, 2021.
- Slavery & Emancipation in the Invention of Massachusetts
Lecture by MA State Representative Byron Rushing on the history of slavery in Massachusetts. Rep. Rushing is a historian by training and former President of the Museum of African American History in Boston. Talks at Google, April 17, 2017.
- Slavery and Freedom in Little Compton
Marjory O’Toole, Executive Director of the Little Compton Historical Society, explores the history of Northern slavery and emancipation through the personal stories of people enslaved in Little Compton, RI, and surrounding communities, with a focus on women and girls. Little Compton Historical Society, August 6, 2020.
- Recovering History in New England: The Atlantic Black Box Project
A discussion by Meadow Dibble and Kate McMahon on The Atlantic Black Box Project, a grassroots historical recovery project that empowers New England communities to research, reveal, and begin reckoning with the region’s complicity in the slave trade and the global economy of enslavement while re-centering the stories of its racially marginalized groups. Maine Historical Society, September 23, 2021.
- Slave Codes, Liberty Suits and the Charter Generation
In this episode of “Teaching Hard History,” historian Margaret Newell discusses the systematic enslavement of Native people across North America, with a focus on New England.
- Slavery and Its Legacies
A podcast series from the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, featuring visiting scholars, activists, and others about their contributions to the understanding of slavery past and present and its ongoing role in the development of the modern world.
- Slavery in Lincoln Massachusetts: Reckoning with Our Past, Planning for a More Honest and Inclusive Future
Literature professor Elise Lemire examines the history of slavery in Lincoln, MA. Lincoln Historical Society Bemis Lecture, June 19, 2021.
- #SlaveryArchive Book Club
The #SlaveryArchive Book Club hosts discussions of books on the history of slavery and the trade in enslaved persons of African descent, and the link above includes numerous recordings of past discussions.
- The Work of Slavery
Historian Heather Andrea Williams explores how work shaped the lives of enslaved people, including ample discussion of slavery in the north. National Humanities Center, October 25, 2012.
Online Exhibitions and Interpretive Websites
There are numerous websites, apps, virtual tours and other dynamic web-based resources exploring Black history in the Connecticut River Valley and New England. Among these, the Freedom Stories of the Pioneer Valley is co-publisher of the narratives of local Black historical figures that were uncovered through the pilot phase of this project. The list below is a sampling of additional resources. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to recommend additions!
Local Black History
- Amherst Black History
A website dedicated to gathering and sharing Amherst’s Black History, dedicated to Dr. Amilcar Shabazz, professor in the W.E.B. DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies, and instructor of the class “Heritage Of The Oppressed.”
- Black Springfield Matters
This resource-rich website accompanies the course, “Black Springfield Matters: An Introduction to New Afrikan Urban Studies” taught by Amilcar Shabazz, Professor in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst.
- The David Ruggles Center for History and Education
Located in Florence, MA, The David Ruggles Center honors the contributions made to the abolition of slavery by courageous individuals in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts. It offers walking tours and hosts visiting school groups using original curriculum. Museum exhibits highlight David Ruggles, Sojourner Truth, Lydia Maria Child and the local Underground Railroad. The center also sponsors a range of programs pertaining to this past and related contemporary issues and includes an archives and reading room that is available to the public by appointment.
- Freedom Stories of the Pioneer Valley
A collaborative project dedicated to telling the stories of African Americans who lived in the Pioneer Valley and strived for freedom.
- Our Plural History
A website by Springfield Technical and Community College exploring the histories of immigrant and ethnic groups in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Massachusetts, which includes pages on “The Great Migration: Industrialization & Immigration” and “Resisting Slavery: Abolitionism & the Underground Railroad.”
- Pan African Historical Museum USA
A Springfield-based museum dedicated to bringing African and African-American culture and history alive for area students as well as the general public. Their website and museum have a special focus on Western Massachusetts.
- Reliquary of Blackness
The website for Reliquary of Blackness, an Wistariahurst exhibit by Erika Slocumb, showcases photos, quotes, and audio clips from Holyoke, MA’s mid-20th century Black community.
State and Regional Black History
- African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts
In this website, the Massachusetts Historical Society brings together 117 historical manuscripts and rare published works that “serve as a window upon the lives of African Americans in Massachusetts from the late seventeenth century through the abolition of slavery under the Massachusetts Constitution in the 1780s”.
- Massachusetts Constitution and the Abolition of Slavery
This webpage prepared by the Massachusetts Court System and published on mass.gov (the official state website) explores the history of slavery in Colonial and Revolutionary Massachusetts, numerous court cases, and an introduction to Judicial Review concerning slavery.
- Royall House & Slave Quarters
The webpage for this historic site in Medford, MA includes resources on current exhibits, researching the lives of enslaved people, primary source education materials, information on telling uncomfortable histories, and more.
- Shadows Fall North
The website for the documentary, Shadows Fall North, on New Hampshire’s Black history.
- Witness Stones Project
Inspired by the Stolpersteine project in Germany, and with their blessing, the Witness Stones Project began in Guilford, Connecticut, in 2017. Its mission is to “restore the history and honor the humanity of the enslaved individuals who helped build our communities,” through teacher workshops, engagement with students and the larger community, and, finally, memorializing enslaved individuals through the installation of Witness Stones.
Historic Sites and Trails
- African American Trail Project
The African American Trail Project is a collaborative public history initiative mapping African American and African-descended public history sites across greater Boston, and throughout Massachusetts. Under the leadership of Tufts’ Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, the project aims to develop African American historical memory and intergenerational community, placing present-day struggles for racial justice in the context of greater Boston’s historic African American, Black Native, and diasporic communities.
- Boston Virtual Black Heritage Trail and Boston African American National Historical Site
The Black Heritage Trail is a 1.6 mile walk through the heart of Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, showcasing the residences and community buildings associated with the Black community that thrived on, and near, the north slope of Beacon Hill before, during, and after the American Civil War. The website includes the map and rich information about the stops, as well as a link to an audio tour.
- Brattleboro Words Trail
A community-curated series of audio-stories and a walking trail of Brattleboro history, including discussion of African American poet Lucy Terry Prince. See also the archived website of the Brattleboro Words Project.
- Florence African American Heritage Trails
Guided and self-guided tours of Florence by the David Ruggles Center and Sojourner Truth Memorial Committee, including an African American Heritage Trail, a Women’s History Tour and a Sojourner Truth Memorial Tour.
- Network to Freedom
The National Park Service’s listing of 690 locations nationwide – including 34 sites in Massachusetts – with a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad. NPS also produced a report, The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts 1783-1865, providing historical context for the underground railroad in Massachusetts.
- Springfield Underground Railroad Walking Tour
A trail map and in-person tour in downtown Springfield, MA by the Pan African Historical Museum USA.
- Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail
A project of Housatonic Heritage, this project “brings together the efforts over many years by a diverse group of local scholars, historians, educators and community leaders to identify, preserve and share the area’s rich African American heritage. In the making is a heritage trail guide that recognizes African-Americans of national and international significance, while illuminating distinctly local people, places and events that reflect national trends. The guide tells the stories of these people, some of the places they lived and died and events that reveal their courage and determination in the face of adversity to fully participate in all aspects of American society.” See also Trail Map Brochures, Upper Housatonic African American Heritage Trail.
- Vermont African American Heritage Trail
This site, which includes a downloadable pdf, offers Vermont travelers and residents a guide to sites that mark “the enduring contributions of Vermonters of African heritage and the role of white Vermonters in both Vermont and American civil rights history.”
Research Resources and Databases
This lists highlights local and regional research resources and databases available online, including those from one of this project’s founding partners, the Pioneer Valley History Network. Additional research resources, including information on how to access written records in local repositories, see also this project’s Research Guide.
- Atlantic Black Box
Atlantic Black Box is a public history project that empowers communities throughout New England to take up the critical work of researching and reckoning with our region’s complicity in the slave trade and our extensive involvement in the global economy of enslavement. This grassroots historical recovery movement is powered by citizen historians and guided by a broad coalition of scholars, community leaders, educators, archivists, museum professionals, antiracism activists, and artists.
- Enslaved: Peoples of the Historical Slave Trade (Enslaved.org)
This robust, open-source project aggregates records of more than 600,000 people involved in the historical slave trade — including enslaved people and enslavers. It includes a searchable database with more than 5 million records, narratives of enslaved people’s life stories and a journal on data-driven research about the lives of enslaved people.
- Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition
Gilder Lehrman Center is dedicated to the investigation and dissemination of knowledge concerning slavery and its legacies across all borders and all time, from the distant past through the present day. Its resources include an accessible online databases of historical documents, the World Bibliography of Slavery and Abolition, the Yale University Slavery and Abolition Portal and Slavery and Freedom in New England (list of online resources, repositories and projects on the history of enslavement in New England), and more.
- Massachusetts Digital Commonwealth
Digital primary sources related to history of slavery in Massachusetts.
- Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI)
The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) is an online searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and enslavers in the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey. NESRI indexes census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. The goal is to deepen the understanding of slavery in the northeast United States by bringing together information that until now has been largely disconnected and difficult to access. This allows for searches that combine records from all indexed sources based on parameters such as the name of an owner, a place name, and date ranges.
- On These Grounds: Slavery and the University
On These Grounds is a project of digital history experts, archivists, and historians of slavery from Michigan State University, Georgetown University, the University of Virginia, and the Omeka Team that is creating a “linked open data” model focused on describing and making publicly available the lived experiences of persons enslaved at universities and a set of resources to enable colleges and universities to undertake this work.
- Pioneer Valley History Network Finding Aids Project and Resource Page
The Finding Aids Project endeavors to aggregate finding aids from Connecticut River Valley museums and archives. The Resource page includes a resource guide for local history and links to relevant repositories.
- Northern Visions of Race, Region, and Reform in the Press and Letters of Freedmen and Freedmen’s Teachers in the Civil War Era
Collection of digitized and transcribed document
The resources on this website were updated in February of 2022.
Photo courtesy of the Lyman & Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History, Springfield, Massachusetts.