The past year has been a highly successful one, as our project continues to move forward in exciting ways. First and foremost, we have a date for the exhibition. “Rediscovering an American Community of Color: The Photography of William Bullard,” will open at the Worcester Art Museum on Saturday, October 14, 2017 and continue through February 28, 2018. Last month the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities awarded WAM a major grant to support the exhibition. Clark University continues to be an active partner in this project. Clark is providing financial support for the exhibition and the accompanying catalogue and will help us develop and maintain a website to supplement the exhibition and guarantee an ongoing virtual life for the Bullard exhibition after it closes at the museum. This spring, Nancy Burns of WAM and I will co-teach a seminar at Clark, “Public History: Race, Photography, and Community,” in which Clark students will play an active part preparing the exhibition by researching and writing text for the photographs and helping to develop the website. We’re very grateful to Dean Matt Malsky for his enthusiastic support for this class and project.
In June, we held the first of several meeting of the Community Advisory Board. Originally organized to help us connect with family members and to help spread the word about the project, the board has taken on new responsibilities in helping shape programming around the exhibition as well as long-term projects that will continue after the exhibition closes. Members include Benetta Kuffour, George Smith, Maureen Carlos, Yvette Tolson, Thomas Doughton, and Frederick Freeman. We appreciate their dedication and many contributions!
Frank and I continued to meet with descendants last year. Among our meetings was a delightful day in June spent with Doris Oswell Brunot and Dr. Raymond Jackson in Washington, DC, great-grandchildren of David T. Oswell. We have long been fascinated by David Oswell, whom Bullard photographed holding his viola, not long before his death in 1902. Known as “Professor Oswell,” for his long, distinguished career as a teacher of violin and guitar in Worcester, Oswell was born in Boston in 1834 and moved to Canada in the 1850s–likely seeking safety from the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act that placed all northern blacks, free born or not, in danger of being kidnapped into slavery. Oswell married Adeline Watson of Portland, Maine, in 1855, and they had five children. Daughters Addie, Jennie, and Sylvia often accompanied their father in musical performances in Worcester, Boston, and other parts of New England. Professor Oswell, who was also a barber, also had his own orchestra and wrote several operettas. At the time of his death, the Boston Guardian noted that “it can truthfully be said of him that he never had an enemy in the world.”
Advertisement for Prof. David T. Oswell, March 3, 1884, New York Globe
Dr. Raymond Jackson, great-grandson of Professor David T. Oswell
Dr. Raymond Jackson, and his lovely wife, Inez, hosted our meeting at their home in Sliver Spring. We were thrilled to meet two of his descendants and to share the photograph of their great-grandfather with Raymond, Inez, and Doris, especially as they had never seen his image. Doris also provided us with valuable information about the Oswell family. To make the day even more special for us, Dr. Jackson played a piece for us on his beautiful Steinway grand piano. Musical talent runs very deep in the Oswell family! Like his great-grandfather, Dr. Jackson has had a distinguished career as a music teacher. He is retired Professor of Piano at Howard University. Moreover, he has had an outstanding career as a concert pianist and has played all over the world. We thank him for sharing his remarkable talent with us!
I also had the privilege of meeting with Larry and Nick Schuyler. Frank recently found a photograph of their grandfather, Raymond Schuyler, on a sled with his children, taken on John Street. Raymond, a native of Troy, NY, came to Worcester in the 1880s and was married to Rose Bates of Vergennes, VT. Raymond worked for the railroad and the family lived at 51 John Street, a house that remains in the family to this day. He and his family were members of All Saints Episcopal Church and Raymond was a Mason and was the oldest member of Worcester’s NAACP chapter when he died in 1956.
I had a pleasant surprise when Brian McClain of Florida, called me phone in November. A descendant of George Ringels, Brian came up on ancestry.com several months earlier as author of a family tree that included George Ringels. Although we did not meet in person, we connected through Skype and had a wonderful conversation and I was able to show him the photograph of Ringels. As noted elsewhere in this blog, we cannot post the photographs until after the exhibition in October. But I’ve learned that Skype is a good way to give you a view of your ancestor’s photograph, especially if you live far from New England.
Two dedicated Clark students deserve a big shout out for their help with this past year. Gabrielle Seligman first began her research with us as a student in my Public History seminar in Spring 2015. She then continued as a LEEP fellow over the summer and continued her research in her senior year, investigating the history of the Beaver Brook neighborhood. Digging in to city planning records, real estate records, city directories, and other sources, she wrote a compelling narrative of the neighborhood’s history and constructed a website http://www.thebeaverbrookneighborhood.com that invites former Beaver Brook residents to post their memories. Joe Viola was our LEEP fellow in the summer of 2016 and greatly added to our research archive. Working through city directories and the Boston Guardian, he compiled an extensive list of Worcester’s black organizations and their officers, from 1890 to 1910; found out a great deal about the fraternal organization, the Knights of Pythias (a Knight is featured in the Bullard photographs); and researched the history of revival meetings in the city as well as the revival meetings at the Sterling Campground. Thanks, Joe and Gabby!
It’s exciting to have the exhibition in sight. Frank and I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to research these photographs and look forward to their presentation in October 2017 at the Worcester Art Museum. Thanks to all who have helped us along the way!