In honor of African American History Month, TCHS has organized an exhibit that showcases the history of African Americans in Tioga County. The name of our exhibit is “We Shall Overcome”. The exhibit is meant to honor the successes and sacrifices of African American’s. Community members can discover music from well known musicians such as Ray Charles, Charlie Pride, Aretha Franklin, and the Supremes with our record collection; see a tribute to Hank Aaron; and discover the story behind notable Tioga County African American’s, such as James Hollingsworth.
Also included in the display are artifacts that showcase the struggle and sacrifice of African Americans. Caricatures were used throughout the 18th and 19th century as a way to de-humanize African Americans through engraving, books, and images. Caricatures lost popularity after the Civil Rights movement pushed back against these and other forms of racism. Although these are highly offensive artifacts, we feel the need to display them for educational purposes.
When speaking of African American history, it is impossible to not talk about the tragedy that is slavery. Tioga County, especially Owego, was a well known stop on the Underground Railroad. Included in our exhibit is a re-creation of an Underground Railroad quilt. Quilts were used to communicate information to runaway slaves about how to escape to freedom, using a special code.
Also included in the exhibit is a dress belonging to former Tioga County resident Rose Brewster. Rose Brewster, a former slave, relocated to Owego after the Civil War, where she lived until her death in 1902. The dress itself is in wonderful condition. Our volunteers took time to carefully set up the dress for our exhibit.
The Civil War is significant in African American history. Many Tioga County residents fought during the Civil War, including many African Americans. In 1863, Oscar Barton enlisted in the Union Army as a drummer. For two years, he carried his drum across the south as a member of the 26th United States Colored Troops. After the war, Barton settled in the Owego area. He died at the age of 101, and was buried in Owego’s Evergreen Cemetery. The drum that Oscar Barton carried with him throughout his service has been a part of the Tioga County Historical Society’s collection for many years. Unfortunately, it was damaged, along with many other items, in the flood of 2011. Thanks to the generous donations from our community, it is now restored, and on display for African American History Month.
In addition to our exhibit, TCHS is holding a lecture series with local historians. The first lecture, given by Ed Nizalowski, the director of the Bement-Billings Farmstead, was a success with many community members attending. The next lecture will be given by Tioga County Historian Emma Sedore, on Saturday, February 28, at 1 pm.
The goal of our African American History Month exhibit is to provide our community with a comprehensive display about the history of African Americans in Tioga County. It is important that TCHS celebrate all aspects of African American history. I’m reminded of a quote by the poet, Mutabaruka, who said, “Slavery is not African history. Slavery interrupted African history.” I hope that we have achieved that goal.
We hope you will join us in celebrating African American History Month. The exhibit will remain up throughout March, so feel free to stop by and check it out! Please leave your comments and/or questions in the comment section located on the Blog Post page!
-Staci Becker, Marketing and Communications Coordinator