GOSHEN – Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus is proud to recognize Black History Month, which runs through the month of February.
“Black History Month provides a wonderful opportunity for us to learn more about the many contributions that Black Americans have made to Orange County’s rich history,” Neuhaus said. “Since the inception of our nation, African-Americans have been at the forefront of cultural, business and educational progress. I’m proud to recognize Black History Month, an initiative which continues to move our country forward.”
President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month.
Orange County’s enrichment by Black Americans dates back to the 1600s. In 1612, Jan Rodriguez, an interpreter for the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam (now New York City), began working in Orange and the surrounding counties. Orange County also played an integral role in the Underground Railroad, the route used by slaves to escape to freedom in Canada in the late-1850s and early-1860s. Safe houses that sheltered escaping slaves have been chronicled in Goshen and in Newburgh.
Approximately 160,000 soldiers of African-American descent served in the Civil War on the Union side. Several hundred were from Orange County and received pensions after the war, using these funds to buy small homes and farms here. In 1870, celebrated civil rights activist Frederick Douglas visited Newburgh, toured Washington’s Headquarters and spoke at the Opera House to urge black men to exercise their newly-won franchise rights. The classic autobiography detailing the abuse of young black women bound in slavery, Incidents In The Life of A Slave Girl,was written in Cornwall by Harriet Jacobs who escaped from Maryland and made a new life in Orange County.
Newburgh is the birthplace of James Varick who founded the AME Zion Church in 1821 and was its first bishop. Orange County was also key in the beginning of the country’s civil rights movement. The NAACP was founded in 1909 and that same year a chapter was formed in Middletown.
The Alsdorf School of Music in Newburgh was operated from 1850 through 1950 by a family who taught and composed music and led local bands and orchestras for three generations.
Artist Horace Pippin, who lived in Goshen, had his artwork featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Pippin grew up drawing pictures of scenes from Goshen’s Historic Track. He died in 1946 at age 58.
“Black History Month is about celebrating and honoring Black Americans who fearlessly fought for justice and equality and contributing so much to our common history,” said Inaudy Esposito, Orange County’s Human Rights Executive Director. “Today, and every day, we should remember the struggles, the lives lost, and the many sacrifices that are still made for us to able to live in a society that believes that we are all part of one human race.”