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James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Cooperstown

New York

Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Don’t Know
Unions, Organized Labor?
Don’t Know

Sundown Town Status

Confirmed Sundown Town?
Possible
Was there an ordinance?
Don't Know
Sign?
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Don’t Know

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld
1860
1870
1880
1890
1900
1910
1920 2528 4
1930
1940
1950
1960 2553 1
1970
1980
1990 2599 5
2000 2032 1955 19 33 2 47
2010
2020

Method of Exclusion

  • Unknown

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black

Comments

Cooperstown Historian:

%u201CCooperstown had a vital hops industry, and
blacks were hops pickers. But then the market fell
out from under the hops industry, and a blight
struck. Blacks left at that time, maybe under
pressure.%u201D

Cooperstown Historian:

%u201CI’m not aware of any effort in Cooperstown
to keep out African Americans. I don’t think that,
as such, it was ever an issue here or, I suspect, in
other Otsego county towns. African Americans
peaked about 1830 in the county, and then
declined until after World War II – though within the
county their distribution changed over the years.
Most were of basically local origin until it became a
fad, about the Civil War, to have African Americans
as hotel employees, and also as barbers. It is my
understanding that Lakelands Cemetery, opened in
1856, did not for a time permit burial of African
Americans, and as a result most were buried in a
section of the graveyard at Christ Episcopal Church
(even if of other faiths). But I’ve never seen any
documentation of this.%u201D

Cooperstown-area Historian:

%u201CThe majority history of Cooperstown is
“white” in terms of population demographics, but
that was never “on purpose.”
African American and Chinese Americans have
been present in Otsego County dating back to the
early 1800s, at least for the blacks. The Chinese
came later.
In 1827, when slavery was abolished in New
York state, 60 or more African Americans gathered
at the First Presbyterian Church on July 4 to
celebrate emancipation.
There is substantial research in progress on
the subject of African Americans in Cooperstown, in
Otsego township and in Otsego County – not just
their baseball connections, but in all respects.
Black males and females typically worked in
Cooperstown in hotels as cooks and cleaners in the
19th and early 20th centuries, or as servants to
wealthy families.
In the white community, minstrel shows were
a common form of entertainment in the 19th and
20th centuries – performed by professional
traveling companies and also by local citizens fire
companies, baseball teams, Rotary clubs, church
congregations and school groups. I have a photo of
a playground team of white boys in blackface from
the 1930s, for example.
Minstrel shows survived here into the 1960s.
Minstrel shows say more about white culture
perhaps than African American culture, but the
prevalence of minstrelsy as a form of white
entertainment for more than a century, and its
intersection with baseball, is interesting and
significant.
While Cooperstown history shows a degree of
tolerance and acceptance of African Americans as
individual citizens, there is also a great deal of
racist literature, particularly in the newspapers.
Black citizens appear to have been marginalized
and segregated in various pernicious ways, but they
were not “run out of town” as far as I can
determine, with one possible exception. Hop
pickers who came to Otsego County seasonally in
the late 19th century were regarded with suspicion
and were often reported to have caused “trouble,”
and described as “hobos.” Most hop pickers were
white, but blacks were also involved as hop pickers.
One 19th century ad in The Freeman’s Journal
invites customers to “purchase a pistol and shoot
the hobos if they misbehave.”
Young women brought to this area in the
1940s to help pick bean crops as part of the war
effort were segregated into “white” and “black” work
camps.
In conclusion, Cooperstown, in my opinion, is
a de facto “white” community historically, and at
present as well, although our diversity has
increased somewhat. Still, racism survives here.
During black history month last year, a
newspaper publisher privately criticized an article
that ran in his publication featuring a talk on Martin
Luther King by a woman of African American
lineage who has lived in this area for 27 years.
According to this critic, an article by a local woman
about MLK was inappropriate for a newspaper with
a predominantly white readership.%u201D