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Sue Bush
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African-American Heritage In The Upper Housatonic Valley

12:00AM / Monday, September 18, 2006

MCLA history professor Frances Sneed-Jones
North Adams - Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts history professor Frances Jones-Sneed Thursday night introduced "African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley" at a book release event in MCLA Gallery 51. The publication chronicles the histories of more than 100 African Americans from the region.

Among the approximately 70 attendees were Berkshire County teachers and three state representatives - Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Byron Rushing, D-Suffolk.

Each of the legislators praised the project, which also included the creation of the "African American Valley Heritage Trail" and "The Shaping Role of Place in African American Biography" conference, held Sept. 14-17 at MCLA.

Jones-Sneed, co-editor of the book, said the publication, which also
serves as a trail guide, was the result of a two-and-a-half-year
effort ofthe Upper Housatonic Valley Heritage Advisory Council, which she co-chairs.

"It started out as a 10-page pamphlet about African Americans who lived in the Upper Housatonic, from Pittsfield down to northern Connecticut," Jones-Sneed said. "About 30 people, representing the local historical society, local activists, local historians and representing every college in the Berkshires - including the University of Massachusetts at Amherst - decided that we needed a fuller picture. It turned out to be a 250-pager."

Once area residents learned of the project, people came out of the
woodwork with stories about area African Americans to be included in thebook, Jones-Sneed said.

"In fact, they sent us so much that we were not able to include everything, so volume two is in the works," she added.

"African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley" first was
produced in draft form by the National Endowment for the Humanities
teachers group from MCLA, Jones-Sneed said. Under her leadership, 20 area teachers - with a $100,000 "We the People" grant from NEH - worked for 18 months to develop curriculum which links local figures from an ethnic group to national events as a means of teaching U.S. history to children in Kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Jones-Sneed and her colleagues are the first in the nation to create the model for such a project, according to the NEH.

Those featured in the book include civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois of Great Barrington, Revolutionary War veteran Agrippa Hull of Stockbridge, Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee of Lenox, ex-slave Elizabeth "Mum Bett" Freeman of Sheffield, and Civil War veteran Rev. Samuel Harrison of Pittsfield.

"This guide we hope is going to be a model for other communities to look at their local heritage," Jones-Sneed said. "In addition to local figures, we also profiled each community. We are very proud that we included the community guides as well."

All of the Berkshire County public libraries will receive a copy of the publication, which retails for $24.95. The book also is available to public school teachers and other educators at a reduced price, Jones-Sneed said.

The book, published by Berkshire Publishing Group in Great Barrington, was printed in limited quantities "because we weren't sure if people would be really interested," Jones-Sneed said. "But it seems they're going like hot cakes."

For copies of "African American Heritage in the Upper Housatonic Valley" go to www.berkshirepublishing.com web site.

To order call Berkshire Publishing Group, (413) 528-0206, and ask for the ordering department.

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