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BWLI Students and Committee

History professor to discuss 'African Americans in Berkshire County'

02/16/2010

NORTH ADAMS, MA - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) history professor Frances Jones-Sneed Ph.D. will discuss "African Americans in Berkshire County" in celebration of Black History Month at the Orchards Hotel in Williamstown on Monday, Feb. 22.

The event, which includes a luncheon at Gala Restaurant, will take place from noon to 2 p.m.

Jones-Sneed will discuss her book, "African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley," which chronicles the histories of more than 100 African Americans between Pittsfield and northern Connecticut. She also will introduce her latest endeavor, "African American Heritage Project in the Northern Berkshires," which will gather the histories of African Americans living in Northern Berkshire County.

Notable individuals include baseball player Frank Grant of Williamstown; Robert Hawkins of Adams, who was called "the Father of Negro Golf"; Thomas Dawkins of North Adams, who worked as a Pullman porter on the region's trains; and Abe Bunter of Williamstown, who had an illustrious history in Williamstown, according to Jones-Sneed. 

"What we're seeing is there were a number of black businessmen. They owned barbershops, transportation businesses and catering companies. They didn't work directly for the factories, but had their own small businesses. That's kind of unique," said Jones-Sneed.

African American Heritage Project in the Northern Berkshires (AAHNB) consists of a group of educators, students, community members, local historians and librarians who formed an ad hoc cluster to research, write and publicize the role of African Americans in this area, from colonial times through the 20th century.

The group is using the Upper Housatonic African American Heritage Trail Project (UHAAHT) as a model, in that the UHAAHT deals with African American people, their lives and cultures from the headwaters of the Housatonic River in Pittsfield, Mass., through the northern portion of Connecticut, while the Northern Berkshires Project will focus on the northern part of the Berkshires.

African American Heritage in the Northern Berkshires celebrates African Americans in the region who played key roles in local, state, regional and national life, as well as ordinary people. The group intends to identify, preserve, share, and celebrate the African American heritage in the Northern Berkshires, through the creation of an annotated bibliography of primary and secondary resources in libraries, historical societies, and other repositories in the area, plan related interpretive materials for exhibits and public programs, and develop a guide book detailing the lives and events of African Americans in Northern Berkshire.  

Jones-Sneed has taught and researched local history for over 25 years. She is the co-director of the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail, and a board member of MassHumanities and the Samuel Harrison Society. She has directed two National Endowment for the Humanities grants entitled "The Shaping Role of Place in African American Biography," in 2006, and "Of Migrations and Renaissances: Harlem/NY &South Side/Chicago, 1915-75," in 2008. Both were "We the People" projects.

Jones-Sneed spearheaded a national conference on African American biography in September 2006.  A 2008 NEH Summer Fellow at the W.E.B. DuBois Institute at Harvard University, she is working on a monograph about W.E.B DuBois.

The buffet lunch and discussion is $15.95 per person plus taxes and gratuity. Reservations are strongly recommended.  For reservations or more information, contact Brian Flagg, Gala Restaurant & Bar, (413) 458-9611 ext. 531 or brian@galarestaurant.com.