Oange County Executive Steve Neuhaus is proud to recognize Black History Month, which runs through February.
“Black History Month celebrates and highlights the many contributions that African Americans have made in our communities,” Neuhaus said. “Black Americans have played a prominent role in the history of Orange County and I’m proud to recognize these achievements.”
President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month.
The contributions of Black Americans to Orange County’s rich history date 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 Douglass 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 also played a role in the early stages 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 allows us to celebrate and honor all black Americans who have contributed so much to our common history,” said Inaudy Esposito, Orange County’s Executive Director of Human Rights. “Today, and every day, we should remember the struggles, the lives lost, and the many sacrifices that are still made that enable us to live in a society which believes we are all part of one human race.”
Added Orange County Historian Johanna Yaun: “African-Americans have played a significant role in the development of Orange County. They have served as leaders and renowned professionals in, among other fields, business, music, dance and education. We are proud of the many things that Black Americans have contributed to the County’s rich history.”
“Black History Month allows us to celebrate and honor all black Americans who have contributed so much to our common history. Today, and every day, we should remember the struggles, the lives lost, and the many sacrifices that are still made that enable us to live in a society which believes we are all part of one human race.” --Inaudy Esposito, Orange County’s Executive Director of Human Rights