HOLYOKE — Through the month of February, Wistariahurst Museum and Garden will display a poster exhibition titled “Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow,” organized and distributed by the New York Historical Society Museum and Library, with lead support for this traveling exhibition provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Black Americans gained monumental new liberties after the Civil War and the end of slavery. The era known as Reconstruction brought freedom, citizenship, and, for Black men, the right to vote. By the early 1900s, these liberties had been sabotaged by a repressive racial system known as Jim Crow. This exhibit chronicles the long strides forward, bruising setbacks, and heroic struggle for equality that took place during these years.
Erika Slocumb, scholar of Black studies, who has done much research on the local Black community in Holyoke, noted that “the fight for Black citizenship in the age of Jim Crow is interesting because Black folks used soldiering in the Civil War as a means to attain citizenship in the U.S. Specifically, this demand for citizenship came from Black abolitionists in the North, including Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois. The Massachusetts 54th Regiment was at the forefront of this call. There were quite a few soldiers from Western Mass. who fought in the 54th and were recognized for their bravery not only on the battlefield but also in their call for equal pay and rights in the U.S. Army.
“I think that it’s important to understand that emancipation, while it ‘freed’ enslaved Black people in the U.S., did not afford them the opportunities of the protections of the law,” Slocumb added. “Many people fled the Jim Crow south in search of a better life and greater opportunity. And that wave of northern migration and ones that followed are how many of the Black families we have spoken to came to be in Holyoke.”
In addition to the exhibit, this program provides a resources for teachers and the public, including recommended readings, recommending watching, links to interactive presentations, workshops and educational curricula, and lesson plans for grades K-12.
The exhibit will be in the Gallery at Wistariahurst Feb. 6-21 and will be supplemented with artifacts and images from the Black Holyoke collection. The gallery is open Mondays from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and Tuesdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Visit wistariahurst.org/events-2 to register for this event.