Kingston’s Fourth Annual Black History Month

February marked the beginning of this year’s Black History Month, a more important one for this country than ever before. The month’s short time span, and the Hudson Valley’s close calls with increasing COVID-19 cases, have not stopped Kingston, New York. And so, the third annual Black History Month Kingston (BHMK) festivities safely kicked off on January 31st. 

MyKingstonKids and Harambee, in collaboration, organized this bustling month’s celebrations. Past BHMK’s have been hosted primarily by Harambee, though MyKingstonKids is the not-for-profit spearheading this year’s month of events. Both organizations work with the community, with MyKingstonKids providing child care assistance to the parents of children in Kingston. Harambee, also a not-for-profit, is a Mid-Hudson Valley coalition that holds cultural and educational enrichment events for the community.

The culmination of the month’s cultural, social and political festivities result in the Black History Month Kingston Gala on February 27th. The fourth annual gala will be held virtually, but will remain focused on “paying tribute to African American heritage of the Kingston Area.” 

It goes without saying that the Hudson Valley is rich with African American history. Nonprofits, organizations and educational institutions in the area have worked hard in recent decades to unearth this history, literally. Partnerships between institutions (like Bard College) and organizations in Kingston have helped in bringing all too often buried narratives and voices of Black history, servitude and injustice, to the surface. Most, if not all, of the Hudson Valley was once the breeding ground for African slave oppression, abuse, and death.

The Pine Street African Burial Ground is a great example of community organizing to restore and protect a historic Kingston site. The Burial Ground was initially founded in 1750, outside the walled settlements of Kingston. Due to the denial of a “church burial” for any enslaved Africans at the time, their bodies were put to rest on these designated, undistinguished grounds. 

Several private owners juggled ownership of this land in the coming centuries after slavery ended in New York State in 1827. Archaeologists in 1990 found evidence of African human remains on the grounds that soon became rebuilt into properties like a lumber yard. The city of Kingston had plans of building a parking lot atop the grounds, despite aforementioned evidence, in 1996. Kingston, at the time, lacked the power of a formal organization to support community members rallying for the grounds’ protection. The Kingston Land Trust (KLT) was not formally formed until 2008. KLT’s founding strengthened the tireless work already done towards protecting the burial grounds. 

KLT remains heavily involved in the fight to preserve Pine Street’s burial grounds. Since KLT’s inception in 2008, long strides have been made to transfer legal deeds and ownership of the grounds over the independent organizations. Several fundraisers have been held over the course of the last ten years in an effort to raise money to purchase the burial ground land from banks (who held the property in a state of limbo.) 

Scenic Hudson, also a nonprofit prominent in the area, donated $40K to KLT and Harambee’s $200K fundraising goal back in 2019. KLT, alongside Harambee, and the help of many other Hudson Valley institutions, volunteers, and staff, gained ownership of 157 Pine Street in May 2019. 

The property deed was officially transferred to Harambee from the KLT on the morning of February 25th. The ceremony, a success on all fronts, was attended by Harambee’s current Executive Director Tyrone Wilson, and his seven year old son. 

Most of the community members who were involved with the Pine Street legal and social battles are the ones supporting this year’s BHMK. The City’s most involved members have found ways to create a robust schedule of events and discussions surrounding Black history and identity. Event planners prioritized inclusivity, safety and accessibility when creating the month’s layout. For that reason, BHMK has limited in-person events (with most programming free, or with suggested donation), via platforms like Zoom. 

Frank Waters, the original founder of MyKingstonKids, and Tyrone Wilson, Executive Director of Harambee (which is always open to new volunteers and donations), remain leaders of the event. Mayor Steve Noble has proven a notable figure in disseminating BHMK announcements as well, stating in a recent email: “The importance of Black History Month Kingston cannot be overstated… These events shed light on our past and educate our community on how to heal and move forward to a brighter future.”

On Bard’s campus, there are plenty of faculty who have intimate ties to some of Kingston’s most important initiatives. Christopher Lindner, Director of the Bard Archaeology Field School, has worked with KLT. Using his own work, Archaeology of African American Farms and Gardens, the collaboration is centered on creating educational material that connects archaeological theory and local history.

BHMK has created events in a wide range of categories, from cultural, theatrical or performative, child-oriented, to lectures and workshops. Consider attending any of the events remaining, for their suggested donation, should you have the funds available. You can click HERE to view the full calendar of events and registration options which were available throughout the month, and which remain for the close of the month. There remains a final stretch of online lectures, into the 28th. 

The Self-Guided Sojourner Truth Life Community Ride, which began February 22nd, is extending into the last days of February. Take a moment to visit, whether individually or (appropriately) with other community members, the historic KIngston sites important to the life of abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

Every month should be as pertinent a time to consider and confront Black history as February. That being said, there are plenty of causes to learn about, donate to, and keep on your radar as we see February to its close. 

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