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Blacks in the Adirondacks: A History, by Sally E. Svenson.

January 3, 2018

Blacks in the Adirondacks
Blacks in the Adirondacks: A History
by  Sally E. Svenson.  Syracuse University Press, November 2017.  With an Afterword by Alice Paden Green.

A meticulously researched account of African Americans in a mountainous region of New York from colonial times to the present.

Sally Svenson is a white author who noticed the scattered references to blacks in the old newspapers on microfilm that she was researching for another project.  She began collecting those references and realized that they were an indication of an untold story of the Adirondack’s history.   An independent scholar, she has also published Adirondack Churches: A History of Design and Building and Lily, Duchess of Marlborough (1854 – 1909): A Portrait with Husbands.

By focusing on African Americans, Svenson has uncovered a rarely examined thread in the history of a particular locality.  Projects like hers provide the particular stories that are needed by historians writing on a larger scale.  Her notes reveal that she has obviously spent long hours tracking down short references in an immense number of sources.   Her account is particularly rich for the period, 1850-1950.

The book ends with an insightfulAfterward: Autobiographical Reflections” by Alice Paden Green, a long-time black resident of the region.  In it she provides a moving personal account of the more recent years. Green has also created her own foundation to assist writers of color.

While this is a book of obvious value, it could have been even better if Svenson had placed her project more in the context of new, best work in African American History.   She is not the only historian to research blacks in locations where they are a significant minority, and more attention to the national picture would strengthen her work.

I recommend Blacks in the Adirondacks primarily to historians of upstate New York or of African American history.

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