Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Slavery in New York

By Jo Burgess
Epoch Times New York staff
The Epoch Times
Nov 01, 2005


Think New York was always the champion of freedom of expression? Think again, because until the abolition of slavery in 1827, New Yorkers had a very different idea of ‘liberty.’

With artifacts and stories spanning over 2 centuries from 1600 to 1827, the New York Historical Society’s exhibition, “Slavery in New York,” covers not just the historical facts of slavery, but the faces and lives of actual New York slaves, such as Sojourner Truth and “Ceaser,” whose Daguerreotype portrait appears on the cover of the exhibit brochure.

New York was an important slave-trading outpost in colonial America. Perhaps because slavery had been abolished in New York by the time of the Civil War, we rarely think of New York as a ‘slave state.’ The reality is that by the year 1700, 41 percent of New Yorkers owned slaves.

Occupying the entire first floor of the Society, the exhibit includes media presentations, historical artifacts and documents as well as newly commissioned works of art. Beginning with a short video series about the history of slavery in America, the first half of the exhibit covers the hard truths of slavery, including documents of slave sales and court records where slaves were brutally punished.

Ending with the road to abolition, the second half of the exhibit covers New York’s gradual progress towards freedom. Notable in the second half of the exhibit is an artificial well, where visitors are presented with the rippling reflection of a conversation taking place between three female slaves. In their discussion of everyday and spiritual matters, one truth becomes clear: slavery in New England is no better than slavery in the deep south. Slavery is just slavery. Providing the details of enslaved blacks’ lives, a collection of short biographies can be found near the end of the exhibit. The nondescript booklet is easy to miss, but the descriptions it contains are as valuable as any of the preserved documents and artifacts that are displayed. In it we find personal information about the lives and deaths, the struggles and tribulations of the slaves, former slaves and free blacks of New York. Accompanying each biography is a sketch of the subject’s face, a subtle but emotional image of the face of slavery in colonial New York.

The New York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West, on 77th Street. The exhibit “Slavery in New York” runs until March 5, 2006.


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