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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roller Skating Craze and the Freedom to Participate

By Richard White
©Copyright 2018. 
All rights reserved by the author.

In the 1880’s, a roller skating craze prompted the openings of rinks in central New York for recreational skating for the public as well as exhibitions by professional skaters. According to NYS’s civil rights statute of 1873, all races were guaranteed equal access to public venues. In fact, depriving equal admission was a misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine. Yet in 1884, this law faced racism’s challenges at skating rinks in Norwich and Owego. African Americans in those villages were determined to defend their freedom and equality that resulted in two divergent legal outcomes.

In Norwich on Friday, June 13, residents were anxious to attend the new roller rink’s grand opening at the Wilson Opera House. In spite of the law, co-proprietor Calvin King left instructions at the ticket booth to bar admission of blacks. Excluded were George Breed, William Wycoff, Charles Robbins, and others—a few accounts also name Hannibal Molson and Thomas Randall, two of the region’s leading civil rights activists. The New Berlin Gazette succinctly summarized the next act in this racial drama. On June 16, there was a widely attended “indignation meeting” at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church which was chaired by Rev. Loren (1) T. Rogers whose words captured the assemblage’s emotions and anger. He declared that not since “darkest days of slavery no such outrage had been perpetrated in Norwich.” Wycoff and Robbins were appointed secretaries. Molson then inspired the audience with a reading of the 1873 law. Finally, the group adopted resolutions including one that contended that they appointment “a committee to consider the propriety of instituting legal proceedings against the management.”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Wright Brothers of Rome

by Lawrence S. Freund
© 2018 All rights reserved by the author.

The American Civil War split both the nation and many of the nation’s families, none more so than two descendants of one of the pioneer families of Rome in upstate New York. Theirs was a political and social division that exemplified the countervailing attitudes of North and South as well as the values and pathways that led to the conflict.

The Wright family arrived in what would become Rome, New York, from Connecticut in 1789, staking out land still known today as Wright Settlement. Joseph Wright, a descendant of the founders, fathered six children with his first wife, Martha, three with his second wife, Fanny. Phineas Camp Wright, born in 1816, was the oldest surviving son of Joseph and Martha. Phineas was raised in Rome, studied and practiced law, and in 1844 married Rosina Martin, a Virginia-born widow with a young son.[1] They soon moved south to New Orleans, to which Wright was drawn by the extended litigation of the Myra Clark Gaines case, a multi-year lawsuit in which a woman of uncertain ancestry sought to establish her inheritance rights.[2] It was a lawyer’s dream. For Wright, according to some sources,[3] the legal arguments and the documents he discovered led to an ambitious reverie, the creation of a semi-secret organization, the Order of American Knights, which would attach itself to the increasingly bellicose states rights sentiments of the South. [4]