HomeTop StoriesEssex residents talk about uncomfortable American history at John Brown Farm

Essex residents talk about uncomfortable American history at John Brown Farm

LAKE PLACID – A year ago, Dr. Essex resident Alice Paden Green releases her memoir, “Outsider: Stories of Growing Up Black in the Adirondacks.”

Green has received widespread attention and requests for interviews for her exploration of race, class, gender and culture through a black lens as the daughter of an iron ore miner in Witherbee.

The conversation continues Sunday, June 9, at 4 p.m. at the John Brown Farm State Historic Site in Lake Placid, when Yunga Webb, founder and director of the TimbukII Initiative, introduces Green for a book reading and signing, followed by light refreshments.

In an unrelated appearance, Green will participate in the Kickass Writers Festival’s Regional Authors Showcase, hosted by Christopher Shaw, with readings from writers Kelsey Francis, Amy Godine, Betsy Kepes, Roger Mitchell, Curt Stager and Annie Stoltie from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 8, at Harrietstown City Hall in Saranac Lake. The event is free. Register at acw.org.


During the height of the Great Migration, Green’s parents and five siblings – Geraldine, Joan, William, Ralph and Raymond Clyde – moved from Greenville, South Carolina to the Adirondacks.

Her father, William, an iron ore miner until he suffered a debilitating injury, worked for the Republic Steel Corporation.

Before returning to the North Country as a teenager in 1948, William had followed his brother Herman, a World War I veteran, to work in the mines in Standish in the early 1920s, returning to South Carolina during the Depression.

William’s wife, Annie Mae, a homemaker and devout Christian woman, followed in his wake, leaving behind the restrictions and terror of the Jim Crow South to find a sort of boom Shangri-la within the Blue Line.

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Green, executive director of the Center for Law and Justice, an Albany-based civil rights organization she founded in 1985, divides her time between there and Essex.

In the late 20th century, she attended a high school reunion that drew attendees from the ’50s and ’60s. When remembering the “good old days,” there was a disconnect between the memories of her white classmates and her own as a member of just two black families in Witherbee, and that’s what she explores in her sixth book, which has been wonderfully received . .

“I’ve never really promoted it, but I’ve gotten so many requests for presentations to talk about it,” Green said.

“Actually, I did one last night with the Adirondack Experience. I did a webinar with them. I’m going to Lake Placid and Saranac Lake this weekend. I’ve been getting a lot of requests because people are getting really interested in the topic. I did one thing here with Amy Godine (The Black Woods: Pursuing Racial Justice on the Adirondack Frontier) because she has her book, and some people think it’s a good idea to do the books together. ‘I get responses from people I haven’t heard from in years. They really wanted to talk to me about my perspective on what was going on during that period. They were there and they feel like they didn’t understand what was happening. That’s what they say.”

Paden and her husband, Charles Touhey, are planning a summer get-together in Essex.

“I’m talking about it now in relation to reparations,” Green said.

“I do a lot of work at the Center because people are interested in talking about these issues. and another thing is that the Legislature just passed a bill for the Reparations Commission. It will depend a lot on whether people talk about white supremacy, racism and the impact on their lives. So at the Center we are developing a project. I’ve gotten some great people from State University and other places talking about this issue in terms of the impact and how do you address that issue because we haven’t really identified it as something that needs to be addressed in terms of the impact of white supremacy and racism on black people.”

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In “Outsider,” Green gave readers a glimpse of what she experienced in the North Country in the following passage about Whitherbee:

“Of course I grew up there. It is an iron ore mining town. That was my life surrounded by mountains, which was very comforting in some ways, even though I had some hard times growing up there. There’s something about the mountains and the grass and everything that made you feel like you were safe from the rest of the world too. We did read about terrible things happening in the South. We had heard about Emmett Till and all the terrible things that were happening in the South. In a way it was comforting. Growing up in another country was a difficult place because we were the only black people there and they considered us outsiders. One of the white guys I talked to explained that to me. It was certainly a diverse community because there were all different types of Europeans living there, but if a black person came in, the other people would be united and see that newcomer as an outsider, and so they treated you as an outsider.”

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Now Green places her experiences in the context of a collective framework.

“I’m talking about the impact of history, of the Middle Passage, slavery, Jim Crow, all those things of white supremacy on black people,” she said.

“How do we talk about these issues now, because so many people are interested in diversity, equality and inclusion? My argument is that you can’t really talk about that or make any progress until you understand the history of Black people and the oppressive forces, especially white supremacy, that have affected Black people.”

Green anchors her experiences in larger, more complex issues outside herself.

“I also argue that people need to learn how to feel and care about these issues, because the project we are working on is to make people feel something about the Middle Passage and slavery, because terrible things have happened and the blacks never got any of it. kind of therapy to deal with that problem,” she said.

“So we’re looking at the history that we’re facing now in our community because we didn’t do that.”

The Center’s goal is to have its project developed and copied by other groups and organizations.

“To really educate people about the terrible things that have happened to black people in our history,” Green said.

“So I’m jumping from my experience at Witherbee to saying we need to look at the bigger picture.”

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