UAlbany’s Africana Studies Event to Highlight Black Women in NYS History
By Bethany Bump
ALBANY, N.Y. (March 23, 2023) — The Department of Africana Studies at the University at Albany will co-sponsor an exhibition and forum Tuesday with the New York State Commission on African American History highlighting Black women and their contributions to democracy and society in honor of Women’s History Month.
The event kicks off at 4 p.m. with an exhibition in the Campus Center Ballroom featuring items from the collections of local historical societies and organizations researching Black history. The commission will then convene for its public meeting in the same location at 5:30 p.m., which will include a panel discussion with various experts in Black history.
Gov. Kathy Hochul established the commission last year with a goal of bringing New Yorkers together through events, cultural programming, scholarly research and other activities that promote greater understanding of the often-overlooked history and achievements of African-Americans and people of African descent throughout the state. The commission is hosted by the New York Department of State.
“One of the benefits of having the relationship and co-sponsoring the event with the commission is that it really helps to draw more attention to the importance of studying Africana Studies and Black history, especially in New York state,” said Jennifer Burns, a lecturer of Africana Studies at UAlbany.
The commission reached out to the department earlier this year seeking to build connections, and the department recommended co-sponsoring an event here on campus, she said.
“Many of us in the department have been doing research in Black history, contributing to academic journals, presentations and advocating for the need to have more of the research we have done in New York state promoted and understood,” Burns said. “And so through this partnership, it is going to feed some of our research into the commission's report, and it also helps the governor understand that it's vital to uncover what has been omitted from our historical texts and our historical knowledge about the state of New York in the past, so that we can correct it.”
Burns will moderate a panel discussion on the topic of Black women in state history and government. Panelists will include Ciji Dodds, associate professor of law at Albany Law School and Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference.
She is particularly excited about the exhibition portion of the event, which she worked to organize and which will feature artifacts from the Black history collections of various local organizations. It will also serve as a networking opportunity for Black history scholars, students and members of the commission.
Bringing scholars and researchers together under one roof is particularly important when it comes to Black history, Burns said.
“Because archives and repositories have neglected either collecting Black history items or stories, or because they haven’t indexed them in the same way as white history, you have to research differently,” she said. “You tend not to be able to walk into one location and get all your answers. You have to kind of network at a lot of different places to track, say, an enslaved Black person or their descendant who becomes free later.”
Participating exhibitors will include the Albany Institute of History & Art, the Hart-Cluett Museum in Troy, Historic Cherry Hill, New York State Archives, Rapp Road Historical Society, Schenectady County Historical Society and the Underground Railroad Education Center.
“For most of us researchers, we tend to bounce back and forth to these different locations in order to build the story or the picture of just one Black family,” Burns said. “So I knew from working with all these entities at different times on different projects that they’d be eager to be in the same room. It’s really, I think, invaluable to show people that this work is being done and it’s being done all around our area.”