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Astorino Unveils Westchester's African American History, Heritage Guide

County Executive Robert P. Astorino announcing the Traiblazer Award winners at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye.
County Executive Robert P. Astorino announcing the Traiblazer Award winners at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye. Photo Credit: Westchestergov.com

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. -- Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino last month joined Barbara Edwards, Esq., Chair of the Westchester County African American Advisory Board at the Jay Heritage Center in Rye, to unveil the new Westchester County Guide to African American History and Heritage and to announce this year’s Trailblazer Award winners.

The event was held in recognition of Black History Month in February.

“Black History Month is a time to celebrate and reflect on the many contributions African Americans have made throughout the United States,” said Astorino. “Westchester County is home to several unique sites for visitors to observe this important month and our updated Guide to African American Heritage and History is a roadmap to discover the rich African American culture in our backyard.”

The guide, produced by the Westchester County Office of Tourism & Film, maps various historical destinations throughout the county that date back to the 17th century, and can be viewed online in its digital format. Natasha Caputo, director of the Office of Tourism & Film, said the guide is designed to give visitors and residents the best way to explore the county’s historical landmarks.

“This guide gives visitors and residents alike a comprehensive way to follow our African American trail and explore the great historical landmarks we have here in Westchester,” said Caputo. “Not only does the guide have information about each destination on the trail, but we have included a map, information on events, art exhibits, notable Westchester residents and information on transportation and accommodations.”

Astorino also highlighted four landmarks on the trail:

  • The Jay Heritage Center, located in Rye, not only is the childhood home of Founding Father John Jay, but it was the home of several generations of people, both free and enslaved, who worked for the Jay family. John Jay was the founder of the Manumission Society of New York, which advocated for the abolition of slavery and established schools to educate free African Americans. The Jay Heritage Center houses various artifacts, including a manumission document declaring freedom for a Westchester slave.
  • Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, a property of Historic Hudson Valley, is a nationally significant late 17th- and early 18th-century milling and trading complex that was part of a vast 52,000-acre estate owned by the Anglo-Dutch Philipse family. Enslaved individuals of African descent operated the commercial center of the estate in what is now the village of Sleepy Hollow.
  • Philipse Manor Hall in Yonkers, listed in the National Register of Historic places, served as the Lower Mill complex for Philipsburg Manor in the 17th century and contributed significantly to the development of New York’s commercial life. The records of their business and lives indicate that enslaved Africans were vital to their success and the development of Westchester.
  • St. Paul’s Church in Mount Vernon, a National Historic Site, was the center of community life in the 18th and 19th century. Many of the 9,000 interred in the cemetery are persons of African descent buried here in the 19th and 20th centuries. The church records at St. Paul’s include the sexton’s book and burial records denoting the race of those entered into the historic graveyard.

In addition to promoting the history and heritage of African Americans in Westchester, Astorino and Edwards announced the honorees for this year’s Trailblazer Award ceremony.

For the past 18 years, Westchester County has honored individual African Americans annually with this award for their commitment to service, and generous use of their talent, which together create a bright future for us all, according to a report from Westchestergov.com.

Edwards, who has worked with the county to coordinate the Trailblazer Awards for the past 18 years, spoke about the significance of the awards.

“The history of African Americans in Westchester has significantly shaped the development and richness of Westchester County," said Edwards. "The 2017 Trailblazers, who will be honored this next week, inspire us by continuing the legacy of our ancestors’ perseverance, while making a positive impact for future generations."

The 2017 Trailblazer Awards Honorees are as follows:

  • The Elizabeth Catlett Award For Arts and Culture – Vinnie Bagwell
  • The Betty Shabazz Award For Civic Engagement – Eddie Mae Barnes
  • The Rev. L. Alger Adams Award For Publishing – Sandra Blackwell
  • The Robert C. Weaver Award For Housing – Mack Carter
  • The Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award For Human Services – Nathaniel Fields
  • The Dr. Valiere Alcena Award For Health Services – Judith Watson, RN

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