Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the Reading into History Book Club, and the emancipation holiday of Juneteenth! To celebrate, we had a very special book wrap for Joyce Hansen’s Home is With Our Family. We had the privilege of skyping with Ms. Hansen, and were able to ask question about the book and Juneteenth. The book gives us a detailed portrait of the ways in which 1850s New York City was and wasn’t a safe place for people of African descent. It also gives an excellent portrait of how different the education system was at this time, with children of all ages learning in one room while the oldest and most skilled acted as junior teachers called “monitors.”
Readers were particularly interested in talking about how New York was obviously a pro-slavery city in many ways, even though slavery itself was abolished in New York by this time. Many of the younger readers also wanted to discuss the unfairness of our protagonist not being promoted to monitor status just because she couldn’t sew well. Can you imagine sewing being so important in your life that you can’t graduate high school without making a shirt?
One parent asked Joyce this question: are we glad that Central Park is here, even though people were displaced in a potentially unfair way in order to create it? Joyce answered that while the park is wonderful, the way inhabitants of Seneca Village were treated was indeed unfair, and that this process still gets repeated as neighborhoods change today. She argued that this needs to change. It was a very thought-provoking discussion.
All of this awesome dialogue happened with a good deal of cake in our mouths, as you can see below! There was birthday cake and gingerbread, which is mentioned in the book.
After talking and stuffing ourselves, we took a tour of a lost community in Central Park, Seneca Village, which was the subject of a previous blog post. It was so fun. We climbed summit rock, the highest natural point in the park; then we saw the foundation of a Seneca Village structure; we stood in the spot where the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church stood in the mid 1850s; we handled artifacts (some of which were really over 100 years old!) like those found in the archaeological dig done in Seneca Village in 1991. We even had fun reading a census! It was a great afternoon, and perfect weather to boot.
The book club will continue this summer and next year so don’t forget to check out our family programs calendar. If you would like to receive updates specifically about Reading into History, email firstname.lastname@example.org. See you in July for some nineteenth-century baseball!