February is Black History Month and during these 28 days, businesses, colleges, groups, community leaders, etc. celebrate the past trailblazers and today's role models. February was chosen for this national celebration because of the birthdays of two very important men in US history, President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. In this edition, we'd like to discuss the history of the movement and would like to acknowledge a few Black-owned businesses in the Greater Plattsburgh region that have enriched our culture and history. If you'd like to read about some of the programs and efforts happening around the country, there will be links at the bottom of this News Blog.
Black History Month is a time take a deeper dive into American history while celebrating Black achievements. In the USA and Canada, as mentioned, it is celebrated in February. Other countries choose different months, but all have the same goal. In North America, each year a theme is chosen. This year's theme is Black Health and Wellness. Themes were created to navigate Americans to have a more focused reflection on Black culture and experiences. The first iteration of Black History Month was not a month-long observance. It began as Negro History Week and was created in February 1926 by Carter G. Woodson who was known as the "Father of Black History." Woodson was a historian who created the organization which is now called, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) and is currently the oldest historical society established for the promotion of African American History. A group of scholars in the ASALH chooses each year's theme which gives a defined pathway when researching history.
By 1976, the celebration of Black history was extended beyond the birthdays of President Lincoln and Douglass (both born on February 12) and President Gerald Ford officially recognized February as Black History Month. In 1986, Congress passed "National Black History Month" into law to spread awareness of African American inequities throughout history. 96 years later, Black History Month is still gaining traction. More and more organizations are showcasing Black achievement, learning more about Black history, the struggles and the breakthroughs and designing programs like 28 Days of Equity which SUNY Plattsburgh implemented in recent years. SUNY Plattsburgh also offers a diversity, equity and inclusion resources page where you can find a plethora of materials should you want to learn more or even create your own challenge.
As this is the first year TDC publicly celebrated Black History Month, we'd like to spotlight three Black-owned businesses. In a way they all contribute to this year's theme of Black Health and Wellness by positively contributing to the mind, body and soul.
Chapter One is owned by Chris Rosenquest and Tracy Vicory-Rosenquest. You might recognize the family name as Chris is the current Mayor of Plattsburgh, he was elected as Plattsburgh's first Black mayor in 2020. Chris and Tracy began this journey together in Seattle where Chris owned and operated Seattle Burlap which repurposed coffee burlap sacks. Chris developed his love and expertise with coffee as he was experimenting with roasting his own coffee beans at home. Thankfully, he and Tracy moved to Plattsburgh and opened Chapter One Coffee and Tea. They were first located in the Plattsburgh City Library before moving to City Hall Place.
Within 30 City Hall Place, there was a collaboration of three businesses: Chapter One, The Z Group and City Well (City Well has since closed). It is a true community space like Chris and Tracy first dreamed about. The space offers beautiful lighting, a cozy interior, handmade/upcycled tables and an art gallery. The art showcased is managed by the Courtney Meisenheimer and during the month of February there is a special display of works from artists of color. Do go see the amazing local artists on display, each month, something new graces the walls and it makes waiting for your coffee order much easier.
A love for local partnerships.
Their love for local is clear, the majority of ingredients are locally sourced. They offer Lakeside Coffee roasted beans, loose-leaf teas from Vermont, a Sacred Maple Latte with Sacred Roots Maple, wraps from Nourish by Tiffanie, pastries from Rulfs Orchards and all syrups are made in-house. It is a wonderful experience stepping into Chapter One Coffee & Tea
Some seasonal specials to try next time you’re downtown Plattsburgh:
Island Vybz is operated by Showayne Telfer; he offers a convenience store with a Caribbean twist. It is located at 26 Clinton Street in downtown Plattsburgh and you can purchase a variety of items and order yourself an authentic Jamaican meal. The business opened in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and since its opening, has made an impact in Plattsburgh. There are daily specials like oxtail stew, goat curry, chicken curry, shrimp curry, chicken stew or jerk chicken! Jerk, is an amazing Jamaican seasoning with a blend of thyme, cinnamon, allspice, and cayenne pepper which creates a flavor like no other.
During the 2021 Christmas season, the staff set out to represent the Jamaican community while connecting to those in need. If you needed a hot meal on Christmas day, Island Vybz would provide one for free, and delivered it. All you had to do was contact the store to reserve your meal and the staff would take care of the rest. As we know the ongoing pandemic has made life extremely difficult, some more than others. This remarkable gesture of empathy and kindness did not go unnoticed, Island Vybz was recently given a New York State Assembly Citation by Assemblyman Billy Jones for giving exemplary service to the community. The citation noted,
‘Island Vybz has shown dedication to the Plattsburgh community and has shared their Jamaican culture with the North Country since opening in 2020; and while many stores are closed on Christmas, Island Vybz stepped up by serving and delivering food to people in need of a hot meal for the holiday.’
An incredible contribution and recognition for a new business operating a restaurant in a pandemic. You can find Island Vybz on Facebook and Instagram, they also offer delivery service through Door Dash and Grub Hub.
Located in Ausable Chasm, the North Star Underground Railroad Museum is part of the North Country Underground Historical Association (NCUGRHA) which was launched in 2004 by Donald E. and Vivian Papson. The North Star Underground Railroad Museum was launched in 2011. NCUGRHA is a committee of volunteers who celebrate the lives of abolitionists and freedom seekers while focusing on the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad. The association concentrates on the UGRR history of seven northeastern counties which includes Clinton, Franklin and Essex county. The museum offers exhibits, preservation of historic sites, instructional materials, media presentations, dramatic readings and displays and historical celebrations. The mission of NCUGRHA is 'To research, preserve, interpret, and promote the Underground Railroad history of Northeastern New York's Waterways to Freedom and to celebrate the importance of that history and its relevance and significance to our own time.'
On the NCUGRHA website, you will find a wealth of information involving the seven northeastern counties. Material on the Champlain Line of the Underground Railroad was researched by founder Donald E. Papson. Between 1830 and 1860, thousands of enslaved Americans sought 'the sweetness of freedom' by finding refuge in Canada. The Lake Champlain Corridor passageway was key in providing a way to freedom with many agents ready to assist and provide a safe space. There is an estimated number of 100,000 Americans who escaped slavery in the United States, before the Civil War. 40,000 Americans escaped to Canada, many by following the Champlain Line. Our region helped change the lives of so many Black men, women, and children. The community should be quite proud of this history.
NCUGRHA is managed by Board President, Jacqueline (Jackie) Madison who is heavily involved in research and community events. In 2021, NCUGRHA participated in or held 20 programs/events! Some include reading and discussion groups, virtual talks, local tours, historic marker celebrations, suffrage discussions and many more. In June 2021 Jackie, Don and Vivian participated in the first Juneteenth celebration downtown Plattsburgh by sharing the significant history of our region. In September 2021, the North Star Underground Railroad Museum celebrated its 10th anniversary which was completely free and open to the public. Most recently, Jackie and NCUGRHA worked in conjunction with the newly recognized SUNY Plattsburgh Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Campus Center as part of the National Day for Racial Healing. The museum presented the region’s history and offered a virtual tour.
The Underground Railroads while initiated with formerly enslaved people and the abolitionists continue into the present day. After the Civil War, the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act saw this same route in use but in the opposite direction. Chinese immigrants left Canada coming into the U.S. So many came through in our region that the jails would fill up. To keep local jails from filling up with the Chinese immigrants, a jail was built in Port Henry. Many of these immigrants may have been citizens, as they were born in American but their parents returned to China.
Today, we have immigrants that are using Roxham Road to leave the U.S. Between 2017 and today more than 53,000 immigrants have taken this route to Canada, the same route that formerly enslaved people used. Even with the pandemic about 300 people were turned away because neither country would them to leave or enter. The organization that helped them had to bus them to Buffalo for shelter and then back when the borders opened up. In November 2021 about 700 went through, but by January 2022 more than 2800 made this trip. Unlike the formerly enslaved individuals, many of them are family groups.
Don and Vivian were celebrated for their contribution to the North Country in 2021 by a plaque dedication ceremony. We are grateful for their efforts and Jackie’s efforts that continuously change narrative, bridge history and deepen our local culture.
“Our museum is a reflection of the importance of human freedom and its relevance for the present and future generations.”
Please visit the North Country Underground Railroad Historical Association website to view the extensive history of our region or to take a virtual tour.
For more information about Black History Month, here are some additional websites you may visit:
Special Series: Black History Month 2022 by NPR >
The ASALH 2022 Black History Month Virtual Festival >
History.com | Black History Month >