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Recommended Field Trips:
Black History Month

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Black History MonthFebruary is Black History Month. Here are some noteworthy sites to remind us of how far we have come, and a list of African-American History Books for Kids.

As a child, I remember the thrill of discovering a square of diamond-shaped glass panes buried in the sidewalk before 157 Willow St. in Brooklyn Heights, just north of Pierrepont St. A plaque on the house says the window provided light to an underground tunnel that connected #159 to a post-Civil War stables. The houses were built in 1830, and in my child's imagination that tunnel was built to help runaway slaves escape. To me this was proof that parts of the Underground Railroad were indeed underground.

It turns out that Brooklyn, with its enormous harbor and active abolitionist movement, was a haven for stowaway slaves who jumped ship. Many city residents have discovered hidden basement rooms with old stoves and iron pots, leading them to believe that their homes were once "safe havens on the freedom line." Perhaps the center of the anti-slavery movement in NYC, and a major stop on the underground railroad, was Plymouth Church (on Orange St. between Hicks and Henry), known to some at the time as the Grand Central Depot.

Their first preacher, in 1847, was Henry Ward Beecher. Walt Whitman was a fan of Beecher's sermons, as was Abraham Lincoln (you can find the pew where he sat in 1860, marked with a plaque). Other guest speakers included: Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens, and (much later) the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tours are available by appointment, call 718-624-4743, FREE. Afterward, if the weather's good, stroll over to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, a great place to sit and eat lunch. If it's freezing, try the soup at Siggy's Organic Cafe on Henry St. right around the corner from Plymouth Church.

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The Weeksville Heritage Center in Brooklyn is a museum that has perserved one of the first free Black communities in the USA. They give tours of historic houses from the early 1900's where African-Americans lived for generations.

In Harlem, the Schomburg Collection in the NYPL offers exhibits and archives that chronicle Black American History. Check for events and current exhibitions. Black Life Matters runs through Aug. 15, 2015.

The Studio Museum in Harlem is a center for African-American artists with changing exhibitions and workshops for all ages. Free on Sundays.

In Queens, the Louis Armstrong House offers guided tours, group rates available. The house where Louis Armstrong lived is now a museum, depicting the life of this great American jazz pioneer, and celebrating his genius.

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In Nassau, on Long Island, there is an African-American Museum that focuses on history, art, culture, and education. They offer tours, genealogical research, and hands-on art workshops on Saturdays for all ages.

The African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan was discovered in 1991 during excavation work for a new federal building. Originally located outside the boundaries of New Amsterdam, hundreds of free and enslaved Africans were buried here during the 17th and 18th centuries, in unmarked graves. Today the site is a memorial, with an interpretive center next door at 290 Broadway, open Monday – Sunday 9 – 5.

Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges is on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage through February 21st. This exhibit tells the story of Jewish professors, scientists and scholars who fled the Nazi regime and found refuge in black colleges in the segregated south. The museum is located in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. If the weather is nice, wander behind the museum to view the harbor or have a picnic lunch.

The N-Y Historical Society, located at W. 77th St. and Central Park West, has online exhibits on the Civil War Lincoln and New York, and New York Divided about slavery and the Civil War in New York.

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Perhaps the greatest collection of Black Culture and History in NYC is at the Schomburg branch of the New York Public Library in Harlem. Their collection includes watercolors by a five-time winner of the Caldecott award for children's book illustrations, in an exhibit called Jerry Pinkney's African-American Journey to Freedom. Also on display are photographs of Barack Obama's first year in office.

Columbia University undertook a project to map the African American past in New York City. From 1632 to the present, MAAP (Mapping the African American Past) has archived photographs and mapped locations paired with lesson plans. Create your own walking tours, or browse through history from the comfort of your computer.

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African-American History Books for Kids

Other books:

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