MCLA Students to Present Research Findings on African Americans in North Adams from 1790 - 1930


NORTH ADAMS, MASS. - Students from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) will present a program entitled "African American Heritage in North Adams, Massachusetts, 1790-1930" on Tuesday, May 4, at 6 p.m. at the North Adams Public Library, 74 Church St.

The event is free and open to the public.

Thanks to the efforts of Frances Jones-Sneed Ph.D., MCLA history professor, local students have the opportunity to learn about African Americans in their own back yard.

Jones-Sneed's students looked at census records from North Adams from 1790 to 1930. Students took that research and started the story of tracing the histories of local African Americans over time - finding out who they were, where they lived and what kind of occupations they had.

The MCLA student presenters and their topics include Jeannie Gilson about 19th century interracial marriage; Christopher Hess about William G. Massey, Kailey Maloy about African American occupations; Kenneth Recore about African Americans servants in post-emancipation Massachusetts; and Jared Sprague about "African Americans in North Adams 1790-1930: An Overview."

Soon, with the help of Jones-Sneed's students at MCLA, and others at Williams College in Dr. Leslie Brown's history class, young people in Northern Berkshire County should have a similar educational opportunity as the histories of African Americans who lived in North Adams and Williamstown are discovered.

The 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.

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 and South Side/Chicago, 1915-75," in 2008. Both were "We the People" projects.

Already, Jones-Sneed is aware of some notable individuals from the northern Berkshires. They include baseball player Frank Grant of Williamstown; Robert Hawkins of Adams, who was the first African American to promote golf to other African Americans around the late 1890s; Thomas of North Adams who worked as a Pullman porter on the trains in the region; and Abe Bunter of Williamstown, whom Jones-Sneed said had an illustrious history in Williamstown.

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

In conjunction with the census research, Jones-Sneed and her students are collecting the oral histories of some of the older African Americans living in the area from a growing list of names. In a couple of years, she hopes to have a healthy line-up of African Americans to highlight.