For a century, the history of early African-Americans in New York State has been largely hidden. Although the Dutch diaspora has been well documented—it is the story of colonization and Albany’s founding—the parallel history of the enslaved in the region has been shrouded in mystery. Relegated to the basements of the large historic manors that dot Albany’s riverfront and the slave cabins adjacent, this history is being uncovered by a new tour company, Black Heritage Tours-New York State, which made its debut in Albany and throughout the Hudson Valley this spring.
Founded in Amsterdam in 2013, Black Heritage Tours-New York State focuses on the transnational history of the region and demonstrates the influence that the Dutch, Native American and African cultures had on New York. Although we often think of New York as a “free state,” slavery wasn’t abolished in New York until 1827, and its blows were felt long after that.
This three-day, two-night tour of New York’s Hudson Valley, which includes hotel accommodations and transportation, will provide a glimpse into our past, answering questions about the history of slavery in New York, and bringing to light the extraordinary experiences of the men and women who helped shape this region. The tour begins in Albany, with stops at Crailo Historic Site, Ten Broeck Mansion, the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and the African Burial Grounds. Tours will proceed along the Hudson River to New York City, with additional stops in Harlem and Brooklyn.
Jennifer Tosch, founder and CEO of Black Heritage Tours, started the company to help interpret the history of the enslaved in the Netherlands. The New York State tours are an extension of that early research, and continue Tosch’s mission to add these hidden histories to the canon. In many ways, the mission is personal for Tosch. Born in Brooklyn to Surinamese parents, Tosch came of age in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. The Toschs immigrated to America right before Tosch was born, expecting to enjoy the American dream, but those expectations were tested again and again during the country’s ensuing struggle for equal rights.
As an adult, Jennifer attended University of California, Berkeley, where she studied Dutch Colonial history. She traveled abroad to trace her family’s own diaspora, and during her studies in the Netherlands, she was surprised to discover large voids in the historical narrative. “Where were the positive narratives about the presence of Africans?” she asked. “Where were their contributions celebrated?” Similar to her childhood, Tosch recognized gaps between her experiences and the story being told by the predominant culture. She founded Black Heritage Tours to combat that “single story” approach to history and reclaim her heritage.
“My vision is that through this tour and the tireless work being done by dedicated scholars and activists throughout the Netherlands, we will move from silence, shame and blame to when we will speak about ‘Black history’ with pride, and to claim the heritage that is rightfully shared,” Tosch said.
To learn more, visit www.blackheritagetours.com or call 518-545-6644.