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The Black Holyoke Collection reflects the history of the Black community in this city. The collection is an assortment of books, articles, newspaper clippings, personal photos, and other historical documents found in archives from across the city and neighboring institutions. Though this collection is not hosted at single site, this finding aid serves to provide researchers with the necessary information to be able to locate information pertaining to the history of Black people in the city of Holyoke. While the collection has only a small amount of personal papers, there is much that documents the city’s Black community, their social lives as well as their work lives.

Terms of Access and Use:

Because the collection spans multiple institutions terms of access will be specific to each institution. RECOMMENDATION: Contact the archivist in advance.

Historical Sketch

Long before Holyoke was founded, Black people played an integral part of the community. In 1680 the earliest listings of “negro slaves” are documented in the Springfield area, it was noted that about 5,000 enslaved Africans lived in Massachusetts at the time.[1] In the late 1700s both runaway enslaved Africans and some who were freed lived in what would later become Holyoke.

The land that is now Holyoke was once the third Parrish of Springfield. In 1773 property to the west of the Connecticut River became West Springfield. In 1850, after a group of investors from Boston bought up acres of property to establish a planned industrial city that would capture the water power from the river to power industrial mills, Holyoke was established as its own town. The community later incorporated as a city in 1873.

Though the Black community has not been clearly documented, they have lived, worked, learned and contributed to the Holyoke community for generations.

 Scope and Contents of the Collection

This collection is not a physical collection, but a collective of archival collections held at the Wistariahurst Museum, the Holyoke Public Library History Room, and some documents and resources from the University of Massachusetts, Special Collections and University Archives. This finding aid is a pathfinder to assist researcher in finding the various elements of this collection

[1] 1The Black Community in Holyoke. Ella Merkel Dicarlo. American International College, Oral History Center. 1978

Terms of Access and Use

Please contact the institution prior to visiting the archive.

Wistariahurst Museum, 238 Cabot St. Holyoke, MA 01040. (413) 322-5660.
Archivist: Penni Martorell, [email protected]

Holyoke Public Library, History Room, 250 Chestnut St. Holyoke, MA 01040 (413)420-8107
Archivist: Eileen Crosby, [email protected]

UMass Special Collections & University Archives, 154 Hicks Way Amherst, MA 01003
Head of Special Collections: Robert Cox, [email protected]

Preferred Citation

Please refer to the archivist from the specific institution about their preferred citation.

History of the Collection

With initial funding from Mass Humanities, Wistariahurst has embarked upon a community history project headed up by scholar Erika Slocumb titled Black Holyoke: Uncovering the History of the Black Community in the Paper City. The purpose of this project is to uncover the stories of the black community in Holyoke, from the time the area was settled in 18th Century to the present. We will work to uncover the problems, the joys, the pain, and the struggles Black people in Holyoke faced in their daily lives.

Processing Information

Processed by various curators and archivists over decades. This pathfinder researched and coordinated by Erika Slocumb.

Click here to access a PDF version of the Black Holyoke Pathfinder.


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