Tompkins County celebrates a rich Black history, including many notable icons nationally and locally.

Among the historical highlights is the St. James AME Zion Church, on Cleveland Avenue in Ithaca, which was built in 1833 and believed to be the oldest church structure in Ithaca and one of the first AME Zion churches in the country. St. James was a station on the Underground Railroad, and was visited by notable figures in Black history, including Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass.

Ground was broken for the Southside Community Center, on South Plain Street in Ithaca, in 1936 and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attended the dedication ceremony in 1937. Started as an organization to empower Black women, it later opened membership to men and continues to be an active community resource center, highlighting the contributions of peoples of African descent in the Ithaca and global community.

In Trumansburg, a historical marker highlights the former home of Lloyd Dorsey, believed the be the first Black person to vote in the town of Ulysses. He was self-liberated from enslavement in Maryland and came to Trumansburg, then met Nancy Hemans, a free Black woman from Caroline, and together they had nine children. In 1851 they purchased an acre of land for $430, which met the requirement for Black males to own property valued at a minimum of $250 to be able to vote.

The first Black collegiate fraternity began in Ithaca, established in 1906 by seven Black Cornell University students on North Albany Street, in the Dennis-Newton House. Today there are more than 850 chapters of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity around the world.

A notable Ithacan is Dorothy Cotton, who passed away in 2018, for her work with Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. She was part of the inner circle of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, serving as educational director of the Citizen Education Program. She is buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery and the Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers honor her with their performances.

Author Alex Haley was born on Cascadilla Street in 1921, and became well known for his milestone works, “Roots: The Saga of an American Family” and “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.” A memorial pocket park exists at the home of his birth, and the pool next to the Greater Ithaca Activities Center is named in his honor.

These landmarks and people merely scratch the surface of Black history in Tompkins County. The History Center has a wealth of resources to share, both at its location in the Tompkins Center for History and Culture in downtown Ithaca and online. In addition to the online information that includes digital presentations and audio interviews, there are self-guided walking tours available through the PocketSights app.

Among the tours available are The Southside Loop (Ithaca Heritage), Black History in Ithaca (Cornell University Press), Webb Family History (The History Center in Tompkins County) and  Sisters of Change (The History Center in Tompkins County).

From restaurateurs to designers, we encourage you to visit these Black-owned businesses in our community.

While Black history is meant to be honored year-round, because February is designated Black History Month, there are several activities taking place in the community. The following are some of the highlights:

Monday, Feb. 7 

The Dorothy Cotton Jubilee Singers will perform at 7:30 p.m. in Glazer Arena at the Ithaca College Activities & Events Center. The concert will feature award-winning baritone Sidney Outlaw and the Ithaca College Wind Ensemble. Under the direction of Baruch Whitehead, the concert will feature a range of pieces that honor the tradition of strength and activism in the Black community, and a special virtual performance of “Glory” from the movie, “Selma.” The concert will be streamed live by the Ithaca College School of Music on its YouTube page.

Thursday, Feb. 10

Cornell University’s Seymour Lecture in Sports History, titled “Reframing Boobie Miles: Racial Iconicity and the Transmedia Black Athlete,” will take place as a virtual event at 5 p.m. Dr. Samantha N. Sheppard, associate professor of cinema and media studies in the Department of Performing and Media Arts. Sheppard will explore the meaning of the black athlete, using Boobie Miles, as portrayed in the multimedia franchise “Friday Night Lights,” and give a new lens through which the audience can view the portrayal of black athletes. The free lecture is open to the public the Zoom linked can be found here. 

Friday, Feb. 11

Elijah Anderson, professor of sociology and African American Studies at Yale University, will give a virtual lecture, titled “Black in White Space,” at 3 pm. as part of Cornell University’s Spring 2022 Sociology Colloquium. In his talk, which is free, Anderson will discuss how Black people are required to navigate the white space as a condition of their existence. 

Tuesday, Feb. 15 

Dr. Nia Nunn will give a free Zoom presentation titled “Black Consciousness Explorations in Ithaca,” as the kick off to Story House Ithaca’s “Placemakers” series, from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Nunn, who is an associate professor of education at Ithaca College, executive director of the Community Unity Music Education Program and president of the Southside Community Center board of directors, will discuss efforts to raise consciousness and build community in Ithaca. 

Thursday, Feb. 17

One of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research Talks at Twelve, “Space-making and wellness among Black adolescent girls: Toward a participatory vision” will be given by Misha Inniss-Thompson, assistant research professor in Cornell University’s psychology department. This free talk, which will take place at noon in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, will discuss how Black girls are regularly exposed to physical, emotional, and psychological violence in various contexts, and they seek and carve out spaces that honor their need to thrive and feel psychologically safe. The presentation will conclude by identifying implications and future directions that can shape future equity-oriented science. For more information, visit Cornell Events.

Monday, Feb. 21

A Black History Month faculty showcase concert will take place at 8:15 p.m. in Ford Hall at the Whalen Center for Music at Ithaca College. It is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, Feb. 22

A BIPOC Student Showcase Recital will take place at 8:15 p.m. in the Hockett Family Recital Hall at the Whalen Center for Music at Ithaca College. It is free and open to the public.

Thursday, Feb. 24

A virtual talk, will take place at 5 p.m. Kim Gallon, associate professor of history at Purdue University, will explore the role of data in the pandemic and demonstrates how computational humanities offers an opportunity to redefine “crisis” through the Black American experience and turn it into a site and a defining moment for the recovery and reimagination of Black humanity. For more information or to register for the free event, visit Cornell Events.

Thursday, Feb. 24

An African Drumming and Dance Ensemble performance will take place at 8:15 p.m. in Ford Hall at the Whalen Center for Music at Ithaca College. It is free and open to the public.

Friday, Feb. 25

Alisha Knight, professor of English and American Studies at Washington College, will give a talk titled “Doing Digital Research with the Colored American Magazine.” Her work focuses on African American literature, book history, and print culture at the turn of the 20th century, and she is the creator of Putting Them on the Map, a digital humanities project that visualizes the Colored Co-operative Publishing Company's network of subscription agents. For more information and to register for the free event, visit Cornell Events.