By Helen Rosengren Freedman

Slaves of New York

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   New-York Historical Society concludes its groundbreaking series on slavery in New York with New York Divided: Slavery and the Civil War, which opens on November 17 and runs through September 2007.

   This exhibit promises to be just as thought provoking as the earlier show.  A video left by visitors to the previous Slavery in New York testifies to New Yorkers’ amazement of facts untaught and unknown; this new show reiterates the words of chief historian, Professor James Oliver Horton, that, “Slavery was not a sideshow in American history, but the main event.”
   Even though slavery had been abolished in New York by 1827, at the time of the Civil War, one in five New Yorkers was a slave, and city residents continued to cast their votes for pro-slavery candidates.  In fact, Lincoln never received more than 35 percent of the vote.  On the one hand, New York was seen as the center of abolitionist activity as the new technologies in printing allowed for dissemination of stories of injustice. On the other, its merchants and bankers continued to drive the global economy of the time with their reliance on cotton production.  In the spirit of the modern convention, 100,000 Southern slave owners were feted upon their arrival in New York each year, and New York did not restore full voting rights to African-Americans till 1870.

   This new exhibit seeks to question the incongruous reality: How was it that New York and New York City became so deeply engaged in the support of slavery?  Louise Mirrer, president of the N-YHS, sums up the new exhibit as “a bold look at one of the most challenging periods in our City’s history … a critical chapter in American history that is largely unknown to the general public.”

   The New-York Historical Society, one of our cultural gems, is a great place to introduce kids who’ve begun the study of history in school to the historical roots of the world’s greatest city.

   A series of Family Programs is scheduled in conjunction with the exhibit, and museum educators will be working with visiting school groups.  Teachers should also inquire about the curriculum materials being offered to educators.
Where: New-York Historical Society is at 170 Central Park West, at 79th Street
When: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm; Fridays, till 8pm
How much: $10 adults; $5 students, teachers, seniors; FREE, children under 12
For more info: (212) 873-3400;

Photo: Exterior, the Colored Orphans Asylum/New-York Historical Society

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