African American History in Western Massachusetts

Harriet Tubman & The Underground Railroad

In addition to your literary explorations of African Americans’ creativity and contributions to U.S. literature, explore African American History Month in Western Massachusetts through the different cultural organizations and institutions that educate the public on the history of African Americans in our region.

One of the most significant pieces of New England history is the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes, stops, and places throughout 14 northern states that were established to help escaped slaves to freedom.

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Elm’s College Exhibit Beautifully Illustrates African-American History

Rhythms of a Faithful Journey: Verses from Slavery to Presidency

African-American artist, educator, poet and author Robin Joyce Miller will present a slideshow and an exhibit of 14 mixed-media collage quilts at 7pm, Tuesday, February 3, 2015 in the Borgia Gallery at Elms College in Chicopee, MA.

The framed pieces in this exhibit are approximately 35″ x 46″. Twelve of them illustrate African-American history events or periods accompanying poetry from the book. Recitations of poems that accompany these works of art will be included in the presentation.

The slideshow, Restoring My African Soul, is a personal narrative of the journey to restoration and healing through faith, art, poetry and photography. Miller co-authored Rhythms of a Faithful Journey with her husband, James Walter Miller, who also will read some poems at the event.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Black Man in Song: 18th Century Music & History in Deerfield

The Black Man in Song
Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, MA

The Old Deerfield Sunday Afternoon Concert Series will conclude it 2013 season August 25th with a special concert in tribute to Lucy Terry Prince, Deerfield’s 18th century African American resident and America’s first African American poet who was also known for her singing and story telling.

This Sunday, August 25th, is the 267 anniversary of the last of the Indian raids which took place in Deerfield, MA. Known as the 1746 Bars Fight, the event helped to shape the community of 18th century Deerfield’s relationship with their Native American neighbors. The event is chronicled in the only surviving work of Lucy Terry Prince, a notable African-American poet, songwriter, and storyteller of early Deerfield. A former slave, Prince’s unusual life has become an important part of western Massachusetts folklore.

At this week’s Old Deerfield Sunday Afternoon Concert, Prince’s life and work will be celebrated in song, marking the first annual Lucy Prince Tribute. Titled The Black Man in Song, the concert will include both traditional and contemporary music, including a commissioned piece based on letters written by George Washington Carver. Songs will be performed by tenor Irwin Reese and pianist Julia Bady, and the concert will take place in the Victorian Music Room of the Memorial Hall Museum, allowing concertgoers to enjoy historic surroundings while celebrating the village’s past.

While 18th century music may not be the typical favorite genre of most kids, the concert presents a unique musical lens to learn about American history. Older students who have some preexisting knowledge about early American history and the Revolutionary War can expand their learning with specific historical details through song, and will be able to broaden their understanding of artistic expression in early America…

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Underground Railroad History & Quiz

Underground Railroad Quiz
Listen to the HFVS Podcast Before Taking

Lloyd Miller from the Deedle Deedle Dees writes:

Our friends at the Hilltown Family Variety Show (HFVS) put together a special program all about the Underground Railroad. Our songs “Underground Railroad” and “Henry Box Brown” are on it. So are great versions of traditional songs by Taj Mahal and Bill Harley, a story read by Morgan Freeman and much more. Listen to it right now:

And listen carefully. That’s the only way you’ll pass the quiz we made up related to the show. The quiz is for 4th grade and up (or advanced readers of any age) and may require some extra research in addition to listening to the HFVS podcast.  Post your answers on a blog or Facebook page or public Google doc and share your link here.

Try to avoid using Wikipedia. Searching songbooks, history books, Bibles, and other tomes you hopefully have on your family’s shelves — or in your local library — will be a much more enjoyable way to find the information you don’t know already (Western MA resources available here).

  1. In our song “Underground Railroad,” what is the secret password needed to board? It’s actually three words.
  2. Name three cities or towns that were part of the Underground Railroad — and that we mention in our song about it.
    What is the “drinking gourd” described in the story read by Morgan Freeman and sung about by Taj Mahal?
  3. In the traditional song “Wade In the Water,” (Bill Harley’s version can be heard on the podcast) who, as the lyrics ask, are “these children all dressed in red” and “that young girl dressed in white?” There isn’t one right answer — tell us what you’ve read and what you think. (Hint: Many spirituals and Underground Railroad songs contained coded lyrics and secret messages)
  4. Henry “Box” Brown mailed himself to freedom in a box. In which city did he finally climb out of his box a free man?
  5. A state and a musical instrument are mentioned in “Nelly Grey” (Phil Rosenthal sings the version you hear on the podcast). Which state? Which instrument?
  6. Why was “Nelly Grey” written (Another question without one answer. We want your opinions as well as the results of your research)?
  7. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (Leadbelly and a choir close out the podcast with their version) describes a trip to heaven — or to freedom — in a real or metaphorical chariot. Which prophet left life on this Earth in a chariot according to the Old Testament?

Deedle Deedle Dee-Endorsed History Resources

Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield Hosts Interactive Web Site for New England History

American Centuries: Views from New England
Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield
Offers Online Educational Resources
on American Village History

Western Massachusetts today is home to scores of artists and artisans – a fact that brings visitors from near and far to see the unique and interesting products and pieces being created in the region.  Art has been a common thread amongst local residents for decades, and it could perhaps be said that the roots of the local art community lie in the American Arts and Crafts Movement.  Taking place around the turn of the 20th century, the movement was particularly prevalent amongst artists in Deerfield, MA.  The movement stood largely as an effort to counter the lack of artistry and creativity in decorative arts that resulted from the cultural changes that took place during the Industrial Revolution.  Artists in Deerfield created Colonial-inspired needlework, baskets, furniture, weavings, and more in the style of their New England settler predecessors.

Families can learn all about the movement’s local influence at the Memorial Hall Museum!  Located on Memorial Street in Old Deerfield, the museum is full of beautiful pieces illustrating the particular artistic style embodying the historic spirit of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, as well as artifacts from Deerfield’s earliest days and exhibits on the history and development of early new England.

The museum, which is one of the country’s oldest, also offers virtual educational resources.  In addition to offering information on much of the museum’s collection, their website includes resources for educators, a kids page, and links to educational interactive activities.  Interactive activities include:

  • Dress Up: See, hear and learn about the unfamiliar clothes people wore throughout American history.
  • First Person: Twentieth-century history as told by people who lived it and made it.
  • African American Historic Sites: An interactive map of Deerfield reveals historic sites with information on enslaved African Americans in the eighteenth century.
  • Now Read This: Try your hand at reading and transcribing some old and unusual writing.
  • Magic Lens: Move the Magic Lens over old manuscripts to reveal what the writing says.
  • Objects in the Round: Rotate objects from the collection to see them from every side.
  • Demonstrations of Early American Tools: Watch brief videos to learn how tools from the past worked.
  • New England Architecture: Explore New England house styles though history.
  • Chronologies:  Make a collection of items from the Digital Collection and place on a time line.

For those interested in learning more about the American Arts and Crafts Movement’s local influence, the Memorial Hall Museum’s curator, Suzanne Flynt, has created an informational and interactive website ( to accompany her new book, Poetry to the Earth: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Deerfield.  The site breaks down the plethora of information available into sections detailing important artifacts, artists and artisans, and places of interest.  Also included is an incredibly detailed timeline, matching significant local events up with historic happenings on a national level.

The information available from these resources can be adapted for use with students of any age, and can be used to help create a place-based component to studies of the Industrial Revolution, art history, American cultural history, and more.

Giveaway: (DVD) March On! The Day Martin Changed the World

March On!
The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World
… and more stories about African American history

This January, as America prepares to commemorate the birthday of our country’s most iconic civil rights leader and Black History Month, families can learn more about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other heroes of African American history in an entertaining and educational new Scholastic Storybook Treasure DVD release, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, which includes more than an hour of inspiring true stories.

Hilltown Families is offering one winning family a copy of this newly release DVD.  Deadline to enter to win is Monday, 01/18/10 @ 7pm. Details below.


The lead story, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World, is a moving account of the day when Martin Luther King, Jr. presented his “I Have a Dream” speech to the world during the civil rights March on Washington in1963. The story is told by Dr. King’s sister, Dr. Christine King Ferris, with colorful animation of London Ladd’s illustrations. As a bonus, the DVD includes an interview with the author, Dr. King Ferris. As the American Library Association noted about the production, “Lynn Whitfield’s sensitive and stirring narration is enriched with audio clips of Mahalia Jackson’s powerful song, crowd noises, and clips from MLK’s speech. Music by Michael Bacon sets the tone for the film and seamlessly accommodates songs of the era.”


Three more historical tales follow King’s amazing, true-life story, each carefully adapted from award-winning children’s books: Martin’s Big Words (adapted from the book by Doreen Rapport, illustrated by Michael Collier), Rosa (written and narrated by Nikki Giovanni, illustrations by Michael Sporn), Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad (based on the book by Ellen Levine, illustrated by Kadir Nelson). Together the stories have won 15 awards, including the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Children’s Video, Caldecott Honor Award, and selection as a American Library Association Notable Video. Celebrity narration by Whitfield, Michael Clark Duncan and others, plus engaging music, make these tales come to life for a new generation of Americans.


Your chance to win March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World from Scholastic Storybook Treasures is as easy as 1-2-3 (4)!

To win simply:

  1. POST A COMMENT BELOW (one entry per family) and be sure to tell us your
  2. FULL NAME and where you
  3. LIVE (TOWN/STATE) PLEASE include your town and state to be eligible.
  4. ACCURATE EMAIL (we never share your email address).
  5. We’ll randomly draw a winner and will share the results below.

IT’S THAT SIMPLE! — Deadline is Monday, 01/18/10 @ 7pm (EST).

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