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Runaway Slave Ads: Should They Be in the Curriculum?

Runaway Slave Ad Extra-credit Assignment

In the school district of the Village of Port Chester where I live, a teacher offered an extra-credit option to create a runaway slave ad. The ad was to include:

1. The amount of the reward
2. The name and age of the runaway
3. A five-sentence description of the runaway
4. The moment and location when the act of running away was discovered
5. Contact information in the SOUTHERN STATE of the slaveholder
6. Portrait of the runaway.

Two examples of runaway ads were presented. One runaway was named “Aaron” or “Ape” and the other was from Kentucky. I could not read all the details from the image that I downloaded.

The extra-credit assignment immediately became a news item in print and social media. I read about it in my local paper. According local news reports, the assignment was related to a unit of curriculum on American slavery. The exercise was a follow-up to an exam on slavery, the Civil War, reconstruction, and American society leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In response, Port Chester Schools Superintendent Edward Kliszus released a statement after the assignment was posted on Facebook.

The District considers this assignment offensive and inappropriate on multiple levels. This morning we commenced an investigation into the incident and are involving our attorneys on the matter to ensure that we explore all means to best address this issue. I pledge that the District shall take appropriate action to ensure not only that this type of situation does not reoccur, but also, that all of our staff thoroughly understand the gross impropriety of the assignment. We believe firmly that we can discuss the tragedies of American slavery, the Civil War, and Civil Rights in ways that comport rather with the highest orders of human dignity….

The whole process is vetted through our attorney to make sure we do everything we’re supposed to. We’re not going to hide anything. Transparency is very important in these kinds of things.

As it turns out, these statements taking the high road, completely miss the mark and highlight a serious problem.

By coincidence, as this story broke, I attended, as I have on many occasions, the Memorial Day ceremony at the African Burial Ground owned by the Town of Rye in which the Village of Port Chester is located. [I also visit the John Jay family cemetery in Rye.  I am neither a Jay descendant nor black.] To the best of my knowledge, this recently-restored cemetery of free blacks (at death) is not part of the local school curriculum. I touched on this general subject in my post on Twelve Years a Slave – What about the Other Years?

In conversation with a prominent member of the local NAACP chapter, I mentioned my own experiences with runaway slave ads. Years ago when I began Teacherhostels/Historyhostels, we visited Philipsburg Manor, Historic Hudson Valley, in Sleepy Hollow. The historic site had initiated a new project involving runaway slave ads. Visiting students were introduced to the topic. Examples of the ads created by the students were hung on the wall. My impression was that Historic Hudson Valley was quite proud of its venture into this new way of teaching about the reality of slavery. The ads focused on slavery in the north, in the Hudson Valley. It didn’t just happen in the South and people did resist slavery.

Years later, Historic Hudson Valley developed a curriculum based on runaway ads:

During the colonial period, runaway slave advertisements were published in nearly every newspaper. Today these primary documents serve as a painful reminder of our nation’s history, indicate the size and scope of colonial enslavement in the North, and provide evidence of ongoing, active resistance by enslaved individuals against the institution that bound them. They also form the basis for Historic Hudson Valley’s (HHV) interdisciplinary school program, RUNAWAY ART: Interpreting Colonial Slave Ads.

Working in partnership with The Center for Arts Education (CAE), HHV has created an arts-integrated curriculum module which will serve 10,000 students in New York City public middle schools over three years. Set against the backdrop of northern enslavement and resistance and using new age-appropriate curriculum, the program includes:

Professional development workshops for participating teachers and teaching artists held at Philipsburg Manor, an 18th-century working plantation in Sleepy Hollow, NY

A collaborative classroom instructional model

Student creation of two-dimensional art and personal statement inspired by real runaway slave ads printed in local newspapers in the 1700s

Review our classroom materials, our teacher training materials, or download the complete curriculum.

More recently, Historic Hudson Valley was able to offer an NEH seminar for teachers on the subject.

Wednesday’s session will begin with Dr. Harris discussing how the enslaved community responded to their status as property rather than person. Moving from the framework of slavery at the institutional level into the details of enslaved life at a particular time and place opens a conversation about agency and action from the perspective of the enslaved. The afternoon will focus on the use of primary documents and historical fiction as a tool for personalizing the story of enslavement. Teachers will be introduced to a variety of documents ranging from wills, inventories, advertisements, depositions, and personal narratives that begin to humanize the story. Participants will also examine how to make use of creative narrative storytelling like drama, fiction, or visual art in the classroom to bridge gaps in documentation. In particular, HHV will highlight two successful ways in which it has used the arts to help build historical empathy: museum theater and an arts-integrated in-classroom project called “Runaway Art.”

Although not a participant in the seminar, I was able to attend the opening public lecture.

As I briefly recounted this information following the ceremony at the African Burial Ground, the NAACP representative accepted that these developments had occurred and noted the importance of the context in which the assignment was given. I heartily agree. The fact that the assignment mentioned southern state slavery and ignored the north and the regrettable comments of the School Superintendent didn’t bode well for the Port Chester school district. The village is located directly across the county from Philipsburg Manor. In fact I suspect when the Philips first imported slaves in 1685 and landed in Rye, the land route across the county to their manor probably followed parts of Westchester Avenue, the current local road that transverses the county and ends up in the middle of Manor.

By coincidence, two weeks later on June 16, I attended a workshop on slavery in New York at the New-York Historical Society. I asked about runaway ads mentioning this recent development in Westchester. Sure enough during the tour of the exhibits, there were runaway slave ads posted and they were part of the workshop discussion.

The next day, on June 17, there was a major op-ed piece in the local paper by two representatives of the African-American Advisory Board of Historic Hudson Valley. The Board generously offered its assistance to the Port Chester school system.

We invite middle schoolers at Port Chester and students everywhere to study runaway ads with the help of their teachers. Taught in historical context these documents can help students (and adults) grasp the complex and entrenched nature of slavery in the United States….

Parents, teachers, and school leaders in Port Chester may be eager to put the present controversy behind them as the school year winds down. To the contrary, we hope that Port Chester  – and every school district in Westchester – embraces the slavery topic anew. Runaway Art is just one way of doing that; a class trip to Philipsburg Manor is another….Objectionable as the assignment was, the real loss would be a retreat from facing this unpleasant history because of its potential for controversy.

Another way is for organizations like Philipsburg Manor and the New-York Historical Society to reach out to teachers at social studies conferences. Not everything has to be a federally-funded seminar or require travelling to the history organization. It is also possible for the history organization to go to the teacher.

The op-ed piece contains one oddity. There is an example of a runaway slave ad. It is for an escaped slave named George Latimer. I am not sure exactly why they picked this ad in particular. George Latimer happens to be the newly-elected Irish-Italian Westchester county executive.

Years ago, I held a conference on slavery in New York at Manhattanville College. One of the speakers was the then-site manager at Philipsburg Manor. Another was A. J. Williams-Myers, then at SUNY. Later this summer he is hosting a similar conference more geographically confined:

The Conference on Black History in the Hudson Valley

Saturday, July 14, 2018

9:00 AM to 5:30 PM

The Hudson River Maritime Museum and The Library at the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Center in Kingston are proud hosts of The Conference on Black History in the Hudson Valley. The focus of this conference is the history of Black and African-American residents in the Hudson Valley, including communities and work along the canals and tributaries of the Hudson River. The Conference on Black History in the Hudson Valley is open to researchers of all levels, with special sessions for short presentations of research-in-progress for students and historians alike. Concurrent sessions at HRMM and the African Roots Library will be scheduled in 60- and 75-minute sessions to accommodate more formal 45 minute presentations and performances, panels of three 15 minute research-in-progress presentations, and for workshops, roundtable discussions, and more.

Here is another example to familiarize oneself with the actual history.

The real problem with runaway slave ads was identified in parentheses in the op-ed piece: (and adults). The lessons of the this incident are adults behaving badly, adults not being well-informed, adults overreacting, adults seeking to take the moral high ground without understanding the situation. I don’t know what preparation occurred in the classroom prior to this extra-credit assignment. I do know that the requirement to limit slavery to the South presents a false picture of the slave experience. I do suspect that teachers, curriculum specialists, principals, and superintendents are not current with the scholarship and work on slavery and the resources available. I do know that field trips should not be considered a frill, an easily eliminated option. Isn’t it possible that students returning from a field trip to an historic site might want to read about it and what they learned there? If not, then shouldn’t the schools and historic sites be working together to create such learning environments? In short, there is an opportunity here that will be wasted to seriously think about the teaching of slavery, the teaching of local, state, and American history, and the role of historic sites as civic organizations in the k-12 curriculum.

30 thoughts on “Runaway Slave Ads: Should They Be in the Curriculum?

  1. Studying real ads makes sense. Trying to artistically and sympathetically depict the people described in such ads might make sense. Trying to depict the flip side of real ads, from the perspective of the “runaway” (i.e. “Man Seeks Freedom” rather than “Runaway Slave”) might make sense. Creating fictional runaway slave ads strikes me as bizarre, however.

    1. If the students are exposed to sufficient number of real runaway ads, then I think it is a valid educational experience to give them as much of a hands-on experience as they can. As it turns out the hand is a great teacher and taking notes in class is superior to more technological methods of retaining what was said in class. Developing some muscle-memory has its values.

  2. Yet another embarrassing example of a rush to be offended. To say this assignment was “offensive” is laughable. Slavery happened. It was offensive to humanity. Slavery was not a southern phenomenon. To censure or censor educational assignments like this is to whitewash the slave experience and the history of the institution and the general public’s complicity in it, in both the North and the South. The Port Chester School district should be ashamed of itself for not defending this teacher in his/her attempt to educate his students as to realities of chattel slavery. I have used runaway slave ads in my college curriculum for years. It is usually one of the most engaging round of discussions I ever have. Students are shocked to see these sorts of things on the front page of newspapers,especially when I show them ads from upstate New York.

    1. The bigger problem is the adults. I am sure the Superintendent thought he was protecting his students in his reaction but instead he revealed how little he knows about the topic. Let’s see if the school district takes up the offer to help by the advisory group to Historic Hudson Valley.

  3. The whole area of racial history is fraught. I recently had a talk rejected by APHNYS on the KKK in St Lawrence County in the 1920’s, and the parallel removal of the black population from the county. I will try to attach the article that I wrote on the subject to this comment. I am sure they have many more better presentations on black experience in upstate than mine…….As I have spent a decade researching black history in the St Lawrence valley I have constantly found a deaf ear. Why bother , Who wants to hear that? etc.
    The 1820 census of the county is missing the pages enumerating black people even thought there are abstract totals for the county. I can’t even get an answer on accessibility to the originals from the national archives.
    “I’ll tell you What Happened to the Blacks It Was the Men in the White Sheets”
    The Ku Klux Klan in St. Lawrence County

    Bryan S. Thompson

    ad about here

    Ad placed in Potsdam Courier and Freeman, June 22, 1927. (NYS Historic

    What would lead William F. Anderson, lumber salesman, to place such an ad in the Courier and Freeman on June 22, 1927? Most people are familiar with the first Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction era and the third Ku Klux Klan of the modern Civil Rights era. Few today remember the time of the Klan’s greatest influence across much of the country during the second incarnation of the organization. The second Ku Klux Klan had a profound effect on northern New York.
    The second Ku Klux Klan was organized by a group of followers of William Joseph Simmons. They met on the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia on the evening of Thanksgiving Day 1915. One of the major forces leading to the spread of the second Klan was the release of D. W. Griffith’s epic movie “Birth of a Nation” on February 8,1915. The movie positively portrayed the Southern narrative—a belief in the benignness of slavery, the horrid corruption of reconstruction and the noble role of the Klan in restoring proper order to society. As the editor of the Massena Observer described the film, “ The land (south) is overrun by a hungry horde of vengeful politicians and grafters. The poor Negro is cajoled in a false understanding of liberty and in his ignorance is led into excesses by these scalawags of fortune. Out of it comes the ghostly garbed crusaders of a terrible era to once more set things straight and return the lands and liberties of peace to their rightful owners.” FN1
    The release of the film had an immediate impact in St. Lawrence County when it screened here in the spring of 1916. The editor of the Madrid Herald was typical in heaping ecstatic praise on the film after viewing it in Potsdam on May 5th. He stated,
    INDENT “Especially Northern young people need to see (the film)…. Another great lesson may well be learned in the revengeful policy of the North in making the ignorant negro a citizen, for evolution- Gods’s plan of growth by related steps cannot be disregarded without incurring disaster. Had North and South been willing to use one tenth of the cost of the war in teaching and segregating the Negro, the war itself would never have been fought. ..and the damning chapters of race problem never would have been written.” FN2 END INDENT

    The grandchildren of the ardent Madrid abolitionists were now to be taught the proper place of the black man?
    The first evidence of the rise of the Klan in the county came in February 1915 when a “Law and Order League” was organized in Gouverneur. According to newspaper accounts the organization had recruited several hundred of the communities most prominent citizens and with them a great deal of cash. Those who had not joined were said by the paper to be plagued with insomnia thinking about the organization. Rumors of the forming of a KKK chapter of nightriders were reported soon after. FN3
    There are no further accounts of local activity of the Klan for several years. However, they were very active in other parts of the country and drew attention and often condemnation for their actions in the local press. By 1921 Congressman B. H. Snell of Potsdam, the ranking member of the House Rules committee, was involved in congressional hearings about the Klan. He drew the attention of the “Imperial Wizard” Simmons who wrote to him personally about the true works of the Klan. Snell later drew public condemnation from some quarters for closing the hearings without taking any action.
    The second Ku Klux Klan was set up as a bit of a pyramid scheme where the Klan Kleagle (recruiter) kept a portion (two or three dollars) of the $10 membership fee of each member he signed up. (The fee in today’s currency would amount to $140.) Each member who brought in a new recruit got $1 of the membership fee. The recruitment was usually on a bloc basis. They would obtain the membership list of a protestant church or social organization and then try to recruit the members as a group, friends joining with friends.
    By late 1922 the Klan had a Kleagle for Northern New York in Watertown. In December of that year the Ogdensburg Republican Journal reported that letters had been mailed throughout Northern New York. Each letter mailed included a questionnaire to determine eligibility. As stated in the entrance requirements to a Klan rally in Prescott, Ontario a few years later, “only white, gentile, protestants will be admitted”. FN4 The twenty questions asked for reasons for belonging, religious affiliation, nationality, politics, church membership, fraternal order membership, physical description, belief in white protestant supremacy and pure Americanism.
    On December 2, 1922, the Rev. A. H. McKnight, Baptist minister of Potsdam, gave a sermon on the Ku Klux Klan. He spoke largely in support of the organization, claiming its goals as noble. He did, however, condemn the organization for secrecy as an element not conducive to democracy.
    The Klan’s activities in the county led to much dissension in local churches and fraternal organizations. The state Masonic organization came out firmly against any affiliation with the group, yet the De Peyster lodge allowed Klan rallies to be held in their hall. The Grand Lodge of the I.O.O.F. refused to take a position. The Northern New York Presbytery came out in opposition to the group, yet the Rev. Lacey who spoke at Klan rallies locally, was a member of that denomination. The Northern New York Conference of the Methodist Church would not allow KKK representatives to speak at their conference meetings. Yet several of their ministers, including the Rev Ralph Stevens of Macomb, served as chaplains for local KKK chapters. Rev. Hull of Hammond gave sermons in support of the Klan. A Methodist minister in Saranac Lake was moved to a new church because his anti-Klan sentiments upset the pro-Klan congregation.
    Nationally by 1923, the Klan was getting increasingly bad press, but that did not seem to hurt local recruitment. The Klan sent The Rev. W. Jeffries Whaley, a Southern Methodist minister, to Watertown as the new Kleagle for Northern New York. Accompanied by his bodyguard, he launched an aggressive membership campaign that would net the organization thousands of local members. He was very successful until early 1926 when he was transferred to the Hudson Valley, then purged from the organization. In November 1926 he mysteriously disappeared.
    In November 1923, a cross burned in Benson Mines and KKK newspapers and pamphlets were distributed nightly to doorsteps. Another cross flamed outside Edwards that same month. In December, Thompson Park in Watertown felt the heat of a burning cross. Klan activity was on the rise.
    In November 1924 two crosses burned inside the village limits of Hammond. The editor of the Hammond Advertiser was careful to stay neutral in the debate, stating that it was nobody else’s business what clubs an individual chose to belong to. Yet this editor was the only one in St Lawrence County who named the names of some of the participants in the KKK activities. From the outset the local press never mentioned the names of the Klan’s victims or perpetrators. The Klan became increasingly vocal and vindictive, yet the local press never disclosed names.
    In a particularly onerous (egregious? I chose onerous for its meaning of troublesome which was more to my point.) case in Natural Dam a hooded Klan member knocked on the door of a decorated Word War One veteran at 10 PM demanding that he leave town within 24 hours because he was Canadian (and perhaps Catholic?). The newspaper gave all of the details of his service. The family took the threat seriously and left town but the newspaper never divulged their names. The same paper gave full gory details when a man was crushed to death by a falling safe, but would not give the equivalent details about a Klan victim.
    The local press often downplayed Klan incidents as “probably” the work of errant boys. Such an incident happened when the “Little Flower of Jesus Grotto” erected in Heuvelton by Father Duffy was defaced in November 1924. In September 1926, a KKK poster was glued and shellacked to the side door of St James Catholic Church in Gouverneur. Robert Boulet witnessed a car leaving the scene and recorded the license number. A Klan official soon appeared and offered to remove the sign and pay for damages. Father Gallavin refused and called the authorities. The car was traced to Fred Drumd(sic?). No warrant was issued. The Ogdensburg Advance in covering the story went to great lengths to defend the peaceful nature of the KKK.

    In December 1924 a massive mailing of KKK literature filled the Gouverneur Post Office. The same month a KKK emblem was painted on a table in the Massena fire department.
    In the spring of 1925 Klan organizers were again reported in the Ogdensburg area. In May a cross was burned on a hill behind Redmond’s outside De Kalb Junction. The following week a cross burned near Pyrites.
    The May 14, 1925 Ogdensburg Journal reported,
    INDENT “A determined campaign to proselytize St Lawrence County and place thousands of its residents under the banner of the Invisible Empire is now underway by the Ku Klux Klan.” FN5 END INDENT
    Two days earlier a large mass meeting in De Peyster crowded the Foresters Hall. Among those who spoke in favor of the Klan was Rev. Fenton Johnson of the De Peyster Methodist church. After the meeting a blazing cross burned outside the hamlet. A week later De Peyster held a second meeting to induct members.
    June 17, 1925 crosses burned outside the village of Canton. Local residents received threatening letters, suggesting it would be better for the morals of the community if they left town. Within a few days the residents of Mill St. in Hammond also received letters suggesting they leave town. On Sunday night, June 21, a cross was burned on the railroad right of way near Hammond. The Hammond Advertiser suggested it might have been the work of “errant boys.” It soon surfaced that several residents of Heuvelton including a decorated World War veteran also received letters. The War veteran publicly notified the Klan to come and get him. Again all victims’ names were suppressed. D.A. William Ingram was called to investigate the use of the U.S. mail to send threats.
    August 28, 1925 a cross burned near Natural Dam, and Potsdam held a rally. On September second a Klan Rally at the Pitcairn Forks, Disciple Church, outside Harrisville featured two burning crosses. 200 were in attendance. At a meeting near Harrisville the following week there was a near riot when a motorist rammed the cross.
    By mid September 1925 the local Klan had grown large enough to have their first scandal. The national organization of the Klan sent special investigators to examine the books and records of the Ogdensburg chapter of the organization. No meetings were reported during the winter of 1925-26.
    During this time period some people did speak out. The Rev. Harry Adams Hersey of the Canton Universalist Church published an article in a Universalist publication in which he discussed his experiences living in Indiana under severe Klan influence. He described the Klan as “fraught with danger” for the communities where it took root.
    The summer of 1926 was probably the peak of Klan activity in the area with rallies reported all over the county. Three rallies were held on the Luther Love farm near Fowler in June, July and September. These gatherings, which included members from Jefferson Lewis and St Lawrence Counties, attracted up to five thousand people. At one event over 500 new members were signed up. The order of the day included baseball, picnic lunches, a concert by the Russell Band, fireworks and inspirational speakers.

    The September rally, on the Love Farm, was attended by Rev. M’Cullough of the Gouverneur Baptist church. The following week Rev. M’Cullough gave an eleoquent sermon published in many local newspapers about the great works of the Ku Klux Klan. He allowed for the Klan’s weaknesses by stating “No organization, not even the church can be too seriously condemned because of certain of its members. The spirit and the program are the important issues” FN6 This sermon was given one week after the KKK sign posting incident at the St. James Catholic Church in Gouverneur. Rev. M’Cullough arranged to repeat his sermon the following Sunday at the Baptist Church in Richville where it was received with great interest.
    The summer of 1926 saw rallies on the banks of the St Lawrence River, and the Russell town hall. 3,000 people attended a rally at Wilder Park in Harrisville. A field day was held at Pleasant Lake. The Russell Band appeared at all the events.
    Additional rallies and cross burnings occurred in Pierce’s Corners, Brasie Corners, South Russell, Brier Hill, Woodbridge Corners near Canton and De Peyster, where a very active chapter met. There was even a KKK meeting in Kaplan’s Hall in Gouverneur. (Sol Kaplan was a successful local Jewish merchant, who would eventually own department stores in every major town in the county.)
    In June the Klan forced Charles B. Smith to remove flags from his golf course near Morristown. They continued to send letters to targeted citizens throughout the county suggesting they leave town.
    In July a large Klan delegation from the county attended the dedication of the Klan Haven Home for women and children in Mannsville in Jefferson County. The group curried friends by donating money to the Edwards Methodist minister who had spoken out in their support. They also donated money and a floral cross to the Ogdensburg Salvation Army.
    Klan members inserted themselves publicly into local politics in 1926. Early in the year a group of hooded Klansmen surrounded county D.A. William Ingram as he left his office in Canton. They demanded that he remove all Catholic employees from his office and pledge to never hire another. D.A. Ingram refused. FN7
    Assistant County D.A., Andrew J. Hanmer of Massena, agreed to the Klan’s terms and became their candidate in the Republican primary. There ensued a very acrimonious battle. The Republican establishment rallied their supporters for a door-to-door campaigning for D.A. Ingram. It was a very tight race. The city of Ogdensburg and the town of Gouverneur went overwhelmingly for Ingram. Most of the towns in the eastern part of the county where the Klan had not been active supported Hanmer, the Klan candidate, while the towns in the western part of the county supported Ingram. The town and village of Canton were split, with the town voting for Hanmer and the village for Ingram. Overall the primary was a rebuke to the rising power of the Klan and their methods in St Lawrence County.
    In January 1927 the leaders of the Northern New York Methodist conference went out of their way to let the public know that less than a dozen of their ministers were members of the Klan.
    Perhaps due to the election results, when the Klan began campaigning in the spring of 1927, most of their efforts were centered in the eastern portion of the county.
    On May 20 they held a large rally in the IOOF hall on Market St. in Potsdam. Then on May 26 a Klan meeting was held in the Massena Town Hall. All this was in preparation for a large outdoor rally that was held on June 16 half way between the two communities off current Route 56 near the intersection with the Knapp Station Road. Four large rallies were held at this location during the summer of 1927 with three to four thousand people in attendance. FN8 Hundreds of new members were reportedly signed up at each rally.
    Also in June 1927 rallies were held at the Pine Grove between Waddington and Ogdensburg and near Massena at the Raquette River Bridge. As the summer progressed the group held meetings at the Parishville Town Hall, Brier Hill, Mack’s Island near Louisville Landing, the Lisbon Town Hall, Johnson’s farm near Heuvelton, and on the Richville Road (U.S. Rt. 11) five miles from Gouverneur. C. B. Smith, the New York State Grand Dragon, spoke at several of these meetings. Crosses burned and intimidating letters continued to circulate.
    The Rev. Eva Pratt had hooded Klansmen visit her church en masse in September. There were more out of town people in attendance than locals. Hooded Klan members were the majority of participants at a chicken potpie supper at West Stockholm in November 1927.
    Very little criticism of the Klan activities appears in the press at this time. William F. Anderson, who used his ads in the Courier and Freeman to comment on local affairs, was almost a lone voice as he repeatedly passed wry comments on the Klan in his ads. His criticisms did not seem to hurt his business, as he continued to advertise his red cedar shingles at ninety cents a bundle on a weekly basis.
    As 1928 dawned, the climate for the Klan in New York State was changing. In 1923 the state had passed the Walker Act requiring oath-bound organizations to divulge their membership lists and their governing rules and regulations. For the KKK, an organization that ran on secrecy and intimidation, this was unthinkable.
    During a 1924 criminal case involving the KKK in Buffalo, the organization was asked, under the Walker Act, to divulge their membership list. The KKK sued, hoping to have the act overturned. It had been gradually wending its way through the courts. The United States Supreme Court finally ruled, November 19, 1928, that the Walker Act was constitutional.
    In 1928, Klan activities reported in the newspapers greatly diminished. In March, three cross burnings were reported around Massena. The Klan continued to hold meetings at Pleasant Lake, Brasie Corners and a hall in Heuvelton, along with a large outdoor rally near that village. The Ogdensburg Advance reported a car accident after a large column of cars filled the road on the way to a Klan rally near Heuvelton. One of the Klan cars swerved and hit two local cars. The drivers of the local cars were identified in the newspaper article. However the Ogdensburg newspaper continued its policy of not identifying Klan members, omitting the name of the driver of the Klan car. FN9
    On September 22, 1928, a four year old girl, Barbara Griffith, disappeared from the village of Massena. An extended search did not find the girl. It was two days before Yom Kippur, the KKK and some other citizens began to spread the rumor that the girl had been kidnapped for blood libel (ritual sacrifice) by the local Jewish community. The KKK exerted a great deal of pressure and got the mayor and state police to question the local rabbi and other members of the Jewish community about her whereabouts and the practice of blood libel. They settled on a mentally challenged Jewish teenager as the possible perpetrator. The girl was found unharmed in the woods the next day, but the local Klan still insisted the Jewish community had been involved. The incident drew national attention and the mayor of Massena had to issue an apology to the Jewish community.
    In 1928, the largest area of Klan activity was just over the border in Canada with rallies reported in Prescott, Brockville and Kingston through out the summer. The Gouverneur Free Press reported on Saturday, October 22, “There were about 125 attended (sic) the Ku Klux Klan chicken supper at Brasie Corners last Saturday night.” FN10

    charter about here

    Charter of the Brasie Corners KKK Macomb Historical Society. Courtesy who? I took the photograph but the charter is in the collection of the Macomb Historical Society

    Following the affirmation of the Walker Act in November an article appeared in the Ogdensburg Advance which listed the known KKK chapters in the county. They were: Ogdensburg, Lisbon, De Peyster, Heuvelton, Macomb and various other towns. The Klan was severely denounced in the Supreme Court ruling as an organization of terror.
    The local press stopped reporting on local Klan activities in their pages after listing one last large meeting planned for the hill just outside of Norwood on July 11, 1929. The incident at Massena and the Supreme Court ruling had taken its toll.
    However, this was not the end of the influence and activity of the Klan in St. Lawrence County. As evidenced by a letter postmarked September 14, 1929, in the possession of the St Lawrence County Historical Association, intimidation continued. The letter was sent to F. G. Fletcher of Norwood. It states in block letters, “You long eared rat beware tar and feathers are ready for you. KKK.” Mr. Fletcher was a Norwood businessman who sold automobiles, firewood and other commodities.
    The Klan’s own national records from their Fellowship Forum show local Klavern’s as follows: Ogdensburg Klavern number 207, Potsdam Klavern number 208, Brasie Corner’s Klavern number 214 (chartered March 1928), Power City Klan Massena number 212, founded 1931, Oswegatchie Klavern number 231 and Wanakena Klavern number 86. These Klaverns continued to exist well into the 1930’s. Their anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish, anti- black, anti-foreigner, and anti-disabled persons message continued to be spread throughout the area.
    The Klan had a major influence on what was socially acceptable in the local community dialog. The Commercial Advertiser of March 19, 1929 had no qualms about publishing the following anti-Semitic joke. “What are you doing at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, Ikey? You can’t join.” “I don’t want to join. I want to talk to the fellow that buys the sheets and pillow cases.”
    At the beginning of the decade of the 1920’s there was a stable population of black people in the county of around 150. Most of them lived in Ogdensburg and Massena and worked in the factories there. By 1930 the population had dropped by two-thirds to less than 50 individuals. At a talk in the Edwards Public Library about ten years ago I was displaying a graph showing this dramatic drop when a nonagenarian, Donald Mac Gregor, in the audience stood up and said, “I can tell you what happened to the Black people. It was the men in the white sheets.”
    The local press never divulged who the local Klan members were. They also never covered the local black community unless there was some kind of run in with the law. In the nineteenth century various interracial couples like Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Swan of Potsdam lived harmoniously in their communities. After 1920 none appear on local censuses.
    Perhaps the disappearance of the Black community from St. Lawrence County at the same time the KKK was attracting thousands of new members in the area is a coincidence. Maybe all those letters were written and the crosses burnt by errant boys as the newspapers often suggested, but the surviving local KKK charters, scare letters and national organization records paint a far different story of an era of rising hate, intolerance and intimidation.
    In such an environment people like W. F. Anderson, Rev. Harry Adams Hersey, Rev. John L. Cole and District Attorney William Ingram were extremely courageous to stand up to a mass movement of intolerance and intimidation that could have cost them all their careers, livelihoods or lives.

    I’ll move them to end-notes here in the layout

    Commercial Advertiser, March 19, 1929.
    Courier and Freeman, Oct. 19, 1921, May 20, 1925, June 24, 1925, Sep 15, 1926, June 22, 1927, Sep 18, 1928, June 26, 1929.
    Friedman, Saul S. (1978), The Incident at Massena, Stein and Day Publishers New York.
    Gouverneur Free Press, Nov 7, 1923, Nov 21, 1923, Dec 3, 1924, May 15, 1925, Sep 2, 1925, Sep 15, 1926, Oct 26, 1928.
    Hammond Advertiser, Dec 6, 1924, May 28, 1925, June 25, 1925.
    Madrid Herald, May 11, 1916.
    Massena Observer, May 11, 1916, Dec 11, 1924, June 2, 1927, March 1, 1928.
    Northern Tribune, Feb 17, 1915, Sep 8, 1926, Sep 5, 1928.
    Norwood News, April 26, 1916, Dec 26, 1924.
    Ogdensburg Advance, Feb 25, 1915, Sep 17, 1925, June 3, 1926, July 8, 1926, July 29, 1926, Aug 5, 1926, Sep 9, 1926, Sep 18, 1927, Nov 25, 1928, Sep 9, 1928, Sep 8, 1928.
    Republican Journal, Oct 13, 1921, March 28, 1922, Aug 18, 1922, Dec 7, 1922, Jan 25, 1923, Sep 21, 1923, Dec 11, 1923, July 14, 1924, Aug 20, 1924, Oct 4, 1924, May 2, 1925, May 18, 1925, May 20, 1925, June 26, 1925, Sep. 5, 1925, Sep 16, 1925, Sep 9, 1926, Sep 17, 1926, Sep 17, 1928.
    Potsdam Herald Recorder, Dec 8, 1922, Feb 2, 1923, July 29, 1927.
    US Census Bureau 1850, United States Census 1850, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1860, United States Census 1860, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1870, United States Census 1870, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1880, United States Census 1880, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1900, United States Census 1900, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1910, United States Census 1910, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1920, United States Census 1920, Washington DC.
    US Census Bureau 1930, United States Census 1930, Washington DC.
    VCU Libraries, Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan 1915-1940,

    1. The 20th-century KKK is a little removed chronologically from the time period of my post but it does show the continuity of the problem. There are numerous local stories for both runaway ads and the KKK in New York that need the told. One would think someone must have done a dissertation on the subject.

  4. Peter, interesting discussion. I just read Gretchel Hathaway book, “A Bonded Friendship, Moses and Eliphalet” about runaway slave from Maryland who ends up in Schenectady. Includes search by master with runaway slave ads and how Fugitive Slave Act let masters come into NY. Written for school age students and great summary of history and also how Moses Viney became successful and friend to students at Union College.
    I have a storyteller friend who goes into city schools to tell the story to mostly brown students who appreciate the story and lesson. Hope the teacher continues to finds a way to teach and engage students and their parents.

    1. Maybe you need to present at some social studies conferences or in workshops for teachers or both. There actually are many local stories to be told.

  5. Dear Mr. Feinman,

    I totally support your advocacy for the issue of slavery in New York being covered in school.

    I agree that the assignment was not necessarily in bad taste and my only disagreement might be that if the subject was the civil war, the teacher might have wanted to focus on southern slavery, but yes, absolutely a full understanding of how much a part of the fabric slavery was, requires understanding northern slavery.

    These are some Facebook Posts I’ve done on the subject in Mamaroneck New York.


    Why researching Mamaroneck history is so frustrating, surprising, and rewarding, all at the same time.


    January 29, 2017
    1689 July 4

    January 11, 2017

    In 1776 the British occupied New York City.
    January 10, 2017

    January 09, 2017

    January 02, 2017


    ON THE LONG ROAD TO JUNETEENTH: Independence Day for black Americans in Mamaroneck came long after 1776

    I am a member of the local Historical Society, but an amateur historian at best.

    My main interest in Mamaroneck history prior to 1828 (when John Peter Delancey died). Since some of our community members back then were slaves, it just makes sense to talk about their experience too.

    Ideally, in trying to understand how our neighbors (long since passed) thought about slavery and reconciled it with the black (and occasionally Native American) people they enslaved, will help us think about similarly difficult situations today.

    My best to you,


    Peter M Fellows

  6. This teacher sought (weekly) to have students think from the viewpoint of the “poor, wronged” slaveholder instead of putting them in the shoes of the slaves who were fleeing for their freedom. The teacher appears to be approaching the topic from a racist perspective.

    The question posed (Should the ads be in the curriculum?) is the wrong one. It should be “How should the ads be used to further students understanding of slavery?”

    1. While I agree with what the question should be, I question whether everyone does. That’s why I asked “should they be” rather than “how should they be.”

      I suspect the teacher was well-meaning and did not expect this reaction. The teacher probably thought it would help connect the students more closely to the slavery experience. I suppose at some point we will hear from the teacher what the intention was.

  7. Dear Peter,
    Thank you always for your good work and words which get right to the heart of important issues!
    We had a researcher at our family genealogy research center yesterday and his story was so upsetting that I gave him your contact information. I do hope he will write to you about his family graves.
    Best Wishes!
    Elaine Scott/Recording Secretary
    Henderson Historical Society
    Henderson, NY

  8. Thank you for writing this article and sharing it with me, as an Elementary teacher in Port Chester and a parent of a student was given the the assignment as extra credit, you express exactly how I feel. I hope the Port Chester School district heeds you advice. I am very passionate about how History is taught. -Jen

    1. Dear Jennifer,

      I think we met briefly at the Port Chester Sesquicentennial birthday party recently. There is a need for a professional development/CTLE course on the subject. Let’s see what happens as the post was sent throughout the school district.


    1. Since I know you and your sense of humor, I appreciate your comment but I would hesitate to use that line to a strange audience that might take offense. That’s the world we live in.

  9. I forget to add that several years ago I was fortunate to work on a grant from the Southeastern New York Library Resources Council SENYLRC. I created a virtual exhibit: The Missing Chapter: untold stories of the African-American experience in the mid Hudson Valley.
    I included eight teaching activities that teachers can use in the classroom.
    And thank you Peter for your thought provoking article.

    1. And thanks for all the work you have done on the subject in the Hudson Valley and Ulster County. There definitely should be more teacher programs on the subject. I guess I need to register for the July program.

  10. I think that CIVICS should be in the curriculum. Very few seem to understand how government should work including its various aspects. Why are we going back to the runaway slaves.
    Many of them attained respect and high positions. I consider it to be negative and insulting to them. Rather let’s continue to go forward. Let’s educate our young people in a positive way. Educate them
    about the function of our government. That should once again be a vital part of our children’s education.

    1. Civics certainly should be in the curriculum and as a vital part of the education of the future adult voters. The issue I was raising concerned the teaching of American history especially in the colonial era, the early republic, and ante-bellum periods. They are part of the story along with the Erie Canal, the Jacksonian Era and the other traditional topics. Your comment that some runaways attained high positions (or prominence) like Frederick Douglass highlights how much more might have been achieved if all the people were free.

  11. The exercise might be more effective if the students were asked to describe each other as if they were fugitive slaves. eg: “Jimmy, red hair, 10 years old, big nose, fat stomach, 4 feet tall, drops his ‘g’s’ , says ‘anyways’ instead of ‘anyway.’ Escaped from grandma’s on the last day of school and may be hiding down-the-shore. His hair is valuable; $10 reward, dead or alive.”

  12. There’s a professor at Assumption College in Worcester (his name escapes me) who assigns students to research the ads in historic newspapers at the American Antiquarian Society (just down the street from the College) and post them to a blog. He discussed his project during a recent program at the Rhode Island Center for Reconciliation at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence and did not elicit any negative response.

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