New Paltz was once home to a vibrant Black community. More than twenty years ago, a group of researchers met at the Haviland-Heidgerd Historical Collection at the Elting Memorial Library and set out on a journey to discover what happened to that once thriving population in our town. Whereas in the mid-19th century, there were approximately 150 people of color in New Paltz, by the mid-20th century, that population had dwindled to 13!
In 2020, at the height of the COVID 19 pandemic, I enlisted the assistance of two interns, and then later a third, to help me try to put the pieces together to discover what happened in our small town. The puzzle was completed when I discovered the missing piece: the presence of a small AME Zion Church, built in 1871 by a group of men and women desirous of having their own house of worship. This was the perfect lens through which we could shed some light on the New Paltz community of color. The four of us have created this virtual exhibit to share the story of that community and fill in the blanks in our town’s history.
~Town of New Paltz Historian
Susan Stessin-Cohn, 2021
Note: These newspaper clippings are primary historical documents that reflect the attitudes, perspectives, and beliefs of our past. Some of the language of this period includes words, phrases, and "dialect" portrayals that can be considered offensive and demeaning to us today. Hudson River Valley Heritage does not endorse the inherent biases reflected in these clippings; but it is important that we present this little-known facet of American history in its original language to highlight the struggles and triumphs of African-Americans in our community a century ago.
The following timeline shows the progression of the AME Zion Church from its onset to its closing, c. 1918.
View timeline in full screen