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The original item was published from 6/19/2023 8:36:52 AM to 7/2/2023 12:00:01 AM.

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News & Town Board Reports (gblist)

Posted on: June 19, 2023

[ARCHIVED] Irvington & slavery: the village is not afraid to highlight our history

Irvington is not hiding it's history of slavery
Today: Take a look at the magnificent sculpture on Main Street commemorating the role of slaves in building modern Irvington
Stop by at Scenic Park

Commemorate, a group of local advocates, was founded in March 2018 to commemorate the enslaved Africans who lived and labored in what is now known as Irvington. A primary goal of the group is to foster civic engagement to reveal the history and to honor the humanity, resilience, and contributions of these enslaved people. And, through ongoing education, they hope to promote community activism to dismantle the economic and social legacies of enslavement.

For four years, Commemorate Co-Chairs Cathy Sears, a journalist and researcher, and Sarah Cox, a former educator at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow, studied how slavery shaped Irvington.  They examined estate inventories, court records, wills and other historical records of the founding families who enslaved women, men and children of African descent. “In 1790, one out of every four households in Greenburgh Township enslaved people.  Among the 13 families in Irvington, the number jumped to one out of every two households.” Sears further notes, “some of our founding families enslaved four to ten people.”  Sears and Cox wrote a journal article, “Our Town & Slavery,” for the Irvington Historical Society’s “Roost” and gave presentations of their findings to standing room only crowds at the Irvington Public Library and the Irvington Presbyterian Church.

Commemorate is proud to announce that Irvington, New York, is now a destination for visitors to contemplate and to engage with celebrated artwork honoring the legacy of enslaved Africans who helped build this historic village. At the June 10, 2023 Unveiling and Dedication Ceremony, Vinnie Bagwell’s “Yesterday” joined the pantheon of Irvington’s historic monuments in a place of honor on Main Street. Main Street is where Irvington proudly displays its historical monuments, such as the war memorials and the Rip Van Winkle statue. “The prominent placement of this monument to these enslaved Africans is critical in order to serve as a contextual and educational counterpoint to the existing display of Irvington founders’ Eurocentric storytelling,” adds Cox. Since many of the enslaved were youth, Bagwell created a bronze bas-relief sculpture that features a pensive African girl.  An image of enslaved Africans toiling at agricultural work rises off her garment to expand the narrative. Bagwell explains that, “The title, Yesterday, evokes the notion that while slavery ended 200 years ago, the myriad legacies of slavery persist and are as close to the present moment as yesterday.” 

Vinnie Bagwell, a renowned Yonkers-based artist whose sculptures are found throughout the United States, is dedicated to promoting community engagement through her public art. Bagwell is a leading sculptor, activist and educator who has won prestigious commissions all over the country bringing to light this important part of our collective history. Her figurative art expresses humanity and thus invites a visceral connection between the viewer and this important subject. 

Village Trustee Arlene Burgos notes, “A second tribute—a memorial garden, benches, and plaque by the Hudson River—will honor the area where an enslaved African burial ground was once located. This hallowed land will serve as a serene place of mourning and reflection for these people and their families.” Sears and Cox rediscovered  this enslaved African burial ground through their in-depth review of historical maps and vintage Irvington Gazettes from the 1920s and 1930s–during the time that Barney Park was being developed. 

Commemorate member Lisa Genn put it perfectly, “The moment “Yesterday” was unveiled, we collectively started bringing her to life-with our gaze, our reflections, with conversations that are already happening in front of her and about her  She will come to life through adoration and through criticism, through praise and through hesitation or resistance.  So keep reflecting, questioning, sharing, discussing, showing, remembering-keep bringing her to life.”

I encourage residents of Greenburgh to spend some time in Irvington today to see the magnificent sculpture on Main Street and to reflect on the significance of Juneteenth at Scenic Park overlooking the Hudson River (this park is near the Red Hat restaurant) from 1-3 PM.


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