Orange County has a rich tradition of Black History, dating back to the early-1600s

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  • "Domino Players," an oil painting by Horace Pippin, who grew up in Goshen and painted many local scenes (The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.)

Orange County Executive Steven M. Neuhaus is proud to recognize Black History Month, which runs through the month of February.

“Black History Month provides another opportunity to highlight the many contributions that African Americans have made in our communities,” Neuhaus said. “Black Americans have made significant contributions to the history of Orange County and I’m proud to recognize these achievements.”

Orange County’s history is full of important contributions by black citizens. In 1612, Jan Rodriguez, an interpreter for the Dutch West India Company in New Amsterdam (now New York City), began working in Orange and the surrounding counties. Orange County also played an integral role in the Underground Railroad, a group of secret safe houses and routes used by slaves to escape to freedom in Canada in the late-1850s and early-1860s.

Approximately 160,000 soldiers of African-American descent served in the Civil War on the Union side. Several hundred were from Orange County and received pensions after the war, using these funds to buy small homes and farms here.

In 1870, Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh was the setting for a visit by Frederick Douglass, who came to commemorate the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1870, which reinforced the right of African-American males to vote.

Egbert Alsdorf served on the Newburgh school district’s Board of Education from 1862-65 and ran a successful shipping company. In the 1860s, his family founded the Alsdorf School of Music and Dance which was in operation until the 1950s. Artist Horace Pippin, who lived in Goshen, had his artwork featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Pippin grew up drawing pictures of scenes from Goshen’s Historic Track. He died in 1946 at age 58.

Orange County also had a key role in the beginning of the country’s civil rights movement. The NAACP was founded in 1909 and that same year a chapter was formed in Middletown.

President Gerald R. Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. Since then, every American president has designated February as Black History Month.

“Black History Month is a time to celebrate and recognize the many contributions African Americans have made to our country,” said Inaudy Esposito, Orange County’s Executive Director of Human Rights. “This month helps us honor the exceptional contributions by the many black individuals that helped paved the way and fearlessly fought for justice and equality for all. The Commission is grateful to those who came before us and to those who continue to lead the way today.”

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