The collection consists of VHS and tape cassettes of oral histories of local black residents and the research notes and other supporting documentation about topics of research. These files are associated with the Black Legacy Association of Columbia County (BLACC) Oral History Project and may have been maintained for the preparation of the interviews conducted from 1987 to 1989. The files include legal agreements, letters, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, book chapters, organization publications, and photographs. They also represent, in some cases, photographs and other memorabilia donated to the project by the interviewees.
10.5 Linear feet
The Black Legacy Association of Columbia County (BLACC) collection, Hudson Area Library History Room, Hudson, NY.
Scope and Content:
The BLACC collection files and recordings consist of administrative files, background research, memorabilia, photographs, transcripts, and audio recordings related to interviews conducted for the project from 1985 to 2010 with significant gaps. The audio/video portion of the collection comprises 60 audiocassettes and 18 VHS, 12 MP4s files and 1 MP3 file containing interviews of 15 people most from Columbia County’s African American community. It was conducted from 1987 until 1989. Subjects covered in the interviews include politics, education, religion, prejudice, discrimination, customs, cooking, daily living and employment. The interviews focused on building a profile of social and community life for Blacks growing up, coming into or living in the county from the slavery through 1980s.
Biographical / Historical:
This oral history project was a broad-based program undertaken under the umbrella of the Columbia County RSVP (Retired Senior Volunteer Program) through Columbia Opportunities, a non-profit serving individuals and families in Columbia County to help solve poverty-related problems. Several organizations were linked together under one heading – BLACC – which stands for “Black Legacy Association of Columbia County.” The association’s subheading was “From Slavery to Freedom in a New York County”.
The agencies which made up BLACC were: RSVP, Columbia-Greene Community College, World Wide Mission for Jesus Team (formally called the Black Ministers Alliance), the County Museum, the county chapter of the NAACP, and Columbia Preservation and the Columbia-Greene Community College and the Minority Alliance at the college.
BLACC’s proposal was to develop “the most broad-based research program to reveal a ‘hidden legacy of Columbia County History’ - the contributions made by the Black Community from slavery to present time. It will be the historical record of how the Blacks came here; what they did; how they lived; how they died; where they went to school; how they fought for this county and country and where they worshipped.” According to the detailed narrative included in the collection, “Columbia County’s original four groups were Indians, the Dutch, the Blacks and the English.” The narrative continues “While many later generations of Blacks migrated to the county there are still descendants of the original slaves living in this Hudson River Community.... [Black residents] helped to build it, [form] it, [fought] for it, [worked] in the whaling industry, at the iron mines in Ancram, in the many brickyards and prayed for it in their churches....The historical record of how the Blacks came here, what they did, how they lived, how they died, where they went to school, their social customs, their war efforts, their community involvement, their enclaves, their churches, their cemeteries has never been explored and researched in depth. [emphasis original text]”
Considering these observations, all the groups represented in BLACC had one aim: to amass as much material as possible about African Americans in the area from slavery to the 1980s including through oral history interviews in order to create “respect for the contributions this group made in history.” All of these efforts led to the publication of a curriculum guide “Been Laborin’ Here All These Long Years AND Fruits of Our Labors, African American History and Culture in Columbia County, New York” based on interviews and research.
In regard to interviews, the BLACC provided training to prospective interviewers and identified interviewees. Those individuals who were interviewed were: Ella Barksdale, Calvin Cobbins Kerr, Jessie Cooper, Bernice and Edward Columbus Jr., Helen Dago, Cora Harper, Mary Lewis, Ethel Loveless (Lovelace), Julia Minnisee, Marie Parker, Otelia Rainer, Leslie Stiles, Marion Van Ness, Selma and William Randolf Van Ness, Beulah Whitbeck. The interviews were conducted by Marcella Biegel, project consultant, assisted by Grace Schwartzman, Otelia Rainer, and Gil Lewis. The VHS were converted to MP4 file format and the cassette tapes were converted to MP3 in 2020.
A Note about Marcella Beigel: Marcella Mary Kane Schneider Beigel was the RSVP Director and originator of the BLACC Oral History Project. She moved to the Columbia County area at the age of 60 and was involved in many civic projects in Columbia County. She believed in the importance of the area’s black history and enlisted seniors to cull old newspapers as well as interview local residents in order to gather information on this history. She also was instrumental in creating a curriculum guide for local schools of the history that gathered in this collection.
A Note about Digitization and Access: Columbia Opportunities, Inc. donated the collection to the Hudson Area Library in 2018. In 2019, the library was awarded an Accelerating Promising Practices for Small Libraries grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services for a collaborative project with Oral History Summer School (OHSS) to create interplay between this collection, the library’s oral history collection, and the 500+ life histories in the OHSS collection. The interviews in the BLACC collection were recorded on VHS and audio cassette, the library has digitized the collection and it will be available online as well as in the library. All of the material in this collection was assembled by the Columbia County Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), sponsored by Columbia Opportunities, Incorporated (COI). RSVP volunteers, who formed the Black Legacy Association of Columbia County included: Vivian Austin, Ella Barksdale, Jessie Cooper, Bernice Cross, Edward Cross, Helen Dago, Barreiro, Phobe Eaton, Dandridge Harris, James Kerr, Gilbert Lewis, Ethel Loveless, Julia Minisee, Eloise Moore, Marie Parker, Annie Peden, Calvin Pitcher, Otelia Rainer, Grace Schwartzman, Leslie Stiles, Marion Van Ness, Selma Van Ness, William Van Ness, Annabel Waters, Bernard Weisberger, and Beulah Whitbeck. Marcella Beigel, the COI RSVP Director devoted much time and attention to the creation of this unique and inspirational project.
Materials were donated by Columbia Opportunities, Inc. All of the material in this collection was assembled by the Columbia County Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), sponsored by Columbia Opportunities, Incorporated (COI). RSVP volunteers, who formed the Black Legacy Association of Columbia County included: Vivian Austin, Ella Barksdale, Jessie Cooper, Bernice Cross, Edward Cross, Helen Dago Barreiro, Phobe Eaton, Dandridge Harris, James Kerr, Gilbert Lewis, Ethel Loveless, Julia Minisee, Eloise Moore, Marie Parker, Annie Peden, Calvin Pitcher, Otelia Rainer, Grace Schwartzman, Leslie Stiles, Marion Van Ness, Selma Van Ness, William Van Ness, Annabel Waters, Bernard Weisberger, and Beulah Whitbeck. Marcella Beigel, the COI RSVP Director devoted much time and attention to the creation of this unique and inspirational project.
The collection was processed by Archivist Marie O’Toole, October 2020.
The original order of these records was nonexistent, and the current order has been imposed by the archivist. The BLACC collection is arranged into 7 series. The series 2, 4, 5 are broken into subseries: Series 1: Administrative files Series 2: Organization of project Series 3: Printed materials Series 4: Documentary files Series 5: Interviews Series 6: Photographs Series 7: Memorabilia
New materials will not be added to the collection as they are purchased or received from donors unless they are from the original acquisitions, activities, and administration from the 1980s.