A young assistant professor started a project to tell the history of African American churches in Buffalo back in 1974. On Friday, October 16, the legacy left by the late professor emeritus of history Monroe Fordham will be recapped when a conference, A Celebration of a Century of Ethnic History, opens at Buffalo State.
“We want this conference to show people what we have here,” said Chris Root, '09, special projects assistant at the Monroe Fordham Regional History Center. “And we want to reach out to other community organizations to collaborate and find ways to preserve the history of Western New York ethnic groups, religions, and organizations—the people’s history.”
Root, a North Tonawanda native who majored in social studies education before pursuing his master’s in history, has been interested in history as far back as he can remember. “As a joke, my high school buddies had bumper stickers made that say ‘Chris Root Loves History,’” he said. “They plastered them everywhere.” So it’s easy to see that for Root, organizing this conference has been a labor of love.
Fordham’s research interest was local African American history, and the Fordham Center has collections that include records and papers from the Colored Musicians Union of Buffalo dating back to 1917 and the Michigan Avenue YMCA dating from 1926 to 1960. A roundtable discussion on Friday will include a history of the Fordham Center as well as some of its collections. Friday’s keynote speaker will be Carol Kammen, author of On Doing Local History. Friday's conference sessions will be held in Buckham Hall.
Center Holds Records of Local Neighborhoods, Unions, and Churches
“We didn’t want it to be boring,” said Root. “We wanted to reach out to the African American community and the many people who entrusted their priceless records to the Fordham Center. And we wanted to remind the community of this resource, because we have records that include old phone directories, the history of different unions and churches, and even individual diaries.” One such diary, kept by Marcus Adams of Niagara Falls, chronicles (among many other things) a cholera epidemic in 1854.
Another goal is to rekindle community interest in Fordham’s passion, convincing people to record and preserve their own history. In an interview with Jean Richardson, associate professor emerita, and Nuela Drescher, distinguished service professor emerita, both of the History and Social Studies Department, Fordham said, “What is going to get you included [in historical records] is somebody deciding that it is important to gather those source materials from which people can do research and writing.”
Contemporary Immigrants Share Stories with Immigrants from Nineteenth, Twentieth Centuries
Saturday offers a choice of two of five sessions, each reflecting current community organizations. The neighborhood of Black Rock, contemporary immigrant communities, the importance of preserving buildings, and the challenges of preserving a heritage in the face of Americanization are among the many topics. Saturday’s keynote speaker is Imam Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad, who grew up in the Commodore Perry Projects. The sessions will be held in Bacon Hall and E. H. Butler Library.
Reservations for the entire conference, including meals, must be submitted by Friday, October 9, with payment of $65. However, the public, as well as members of the Buffalo State community, are welcome to attend sessions on Friday and/or Saturday for $20. The fee is waived for students and members of UUP. For more information, please contact Chris Root at (716) 878-5412.
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