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Reliquary of Blackness: Uncovering and Archiving the History of the Black Community in the Paper City

Event Details

Date: April 25, 2024
Time: 6:00 pm
–7:15 pm


Free Zoom Lecture Part of the Shining a Light Series

What is history? And who gets to tell it? What stories are validated? Why? Within traditional frameworks of educational systems and institutions, history is viewed as past events that have been thoroughly documented, and validated through research and primary or secondary sources. Much of the history of the city of Holyoke, Massachusetts has been white-washed, focusing on the narratives of city’s founders, white-factory-owning-men and European immigrant communities, and their cultural industrial contributions to the city. More recently, stories of Puerto Rican migration and Puerto Rican culture and community have been shared and documented. The inclusion of these stories has helped to broaden the conversation about the city’s diverse communities. However, the history of the Black community here in Holyoke has been obscured and often times excluded from the larger narrative. With the support of members of the Black community in Holyoke, Wistariahurst Museum and grants from MassHumanities, Erika Slocumb embarked on a journey of uncovering and documenting the history of Black Holyoke through Black perspectives.

Join us in welcoming Erika Slocumb as she shares more about the history of Holyoke’s Black community through oral histories, archival digs, and readings of historical texts and documents.

Speaker Biography

Erika Slocumb

Director of Interpretation and Visitor Experience, Harriet Beecher Stowe Center

Erika Slocumb was born and raised in Springfield, MA. She received her B.A. in Social Justice Education and a MS in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst before entering the PhD program in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro American Studies. A mother, an artist, a community organizer, a world traveler and an advocate for social justice, Erika is the cofounder of the Western Mass Women’s Collective, a community organization advancing empowerment through “literacy, critical thinking, experiential knowledge, and community engagement.” As a public historian, she has been deeply committed to the recovery and interpretation of black history in Holyoke. With funding from Mass Humanities and the Holyoke Local Cultural Council, and in partnership with Wistariahurst (led by UMass Public History alumna Kate Preissler), Erika has undertaken a multi-year effort to gather archival materials and oral histories documenting the black past. In 2019, her exhibit Reliquary of Blackness: An Exhibit of Oral Histories opened at Wistariahurst; in 2020, the National Council on Public History awarded Erika a travel grant to present a poster describing that work. As a student pursuing the graduate certificate in Public History, she aims to continue that work. “It’s important to look at the histories of spaces, especially local histories,” she has written, “and ask ‘who propped up the prominent figures in this narrative?’ ‘Who is missing?’ and tell their story, let them tell their story.”

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