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Black Holyoke: Uncovering the History of the Black Community in the Paper City

With initial funding from Mass Humanities, scholar Erika Slocumb has embarked upon a project 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. With this project, we aim to unearth the lives and stories of the black community in Holyoke in order to make that history available to the public through archival collections, talks, and exhibits.

Since December of 2017, Slocumb, along with a team of Wistariahurst volunteers and interns, has been researching and indexing existing content in our archives related to Black Holyoke thanks to a Research Inventory Grant from Mass Humanities. As we secure a better understanding of the material which already exists in our local repositories, we are now embarking upon a call to community members to add their own knowledge and material to that historical record. On February 24, from 9 a.m. – 1  p.m. Slocumb and City Historian Penni Martorell will be collecting archival “leads” from community members in order to map out a plan for future interviews, document scanning, and other forms of archival collecting. “Leads” may include names, anecdotes, family documents, and photographs. It will be our first session to gather, reminisce, and  remember a part of this city’s history that has not often been shared. For more information on that session, please click here.

If you cannot attend the session but have information or materials which you would like to share, please fill out out THIS FORM or call us directly at 413-322-5660.

As we develop the City’s archival collection, we will also be working to deepen our collective understanding of black history on a regional scale with an on-going series of public lectures by local scholars. In order to understand and appreciate history specific to Holyoke, we also have to have a sense for what was happening on the regional and national levels.

The first talk will be From Western Mass to the World: W. E. B. Du Bois’ Genesis in Great Barrington with Camesha Scruggs on February 8, 2018, which is honor of the 150th anniversary of W.E.B. Du Bois’ birth. Click here for more information.

These activities are all just the very initial steps of what we believe will be multi-year project to research, document, learn, and engage on topics related to Black History in Holyoke.

This project is being headed up by Erika Slocumb, a native of Springfield, MA. She is a mother, an artist, scholar, community organizer, world traveler and an advocate for social justice. She is the co-founder of the community organization the Western Mass Women’s Collective and continues to do work in the Western Mass area. She has received her B.A. in Social Justice Education, a MS in Labor Studies, and is currently working toward her PhD in African American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.


This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


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