Embracing our Community; Embracing our youth
The Center of African American Art and History (CAAAH) is the first center in Holland, Michigan dedicated to the study and conservation of African American history, culture, and art. It was founded in 2009 by Ruth Coleman, her husband Wayne Coleman, Nancy Chamness, Harley Grishom, and others. Ruth Coleman and other founders established the center to celebrate black culture and create an inclusive place by working in intentional ways to increase cultural awareness for the community and educational benefits for students. The CAAAH is located at 21 W. 16th Street across from Family Dollar.Our History Cross the paths with Others Story Indians When Long Island was first settled by the whites it was inhabited by 13 tribes or groups of Indians. The Canarsee, Rockaway, Merrick, Marsapeague, Secatogue, and Unkechaug lived on the South Shore. On the north were the Matinecock, Nesaquake, Setalcott, and Corchaug. On the east end of the Island were the Shinnecock, Manhasset and the Montauks. The Unkechaug tribe occupied the South Shore of Brookhaven town with headquarters in Mastic, and Tobaccus was the sachem of this tribe in 1664. The North Shore of Brookhaven town was inhabited by the Setalcott tribe, which
had headquarters at Setauket and was a very powerful group. In 1653 the Narragansett Indians, under Ninigret, one of their chiefs, invaded the territory of the Montauks, and commenced a war which lasted for several years, and would have exterminated the whole Montauk tribe if they had not received help from the white settlers. Threaded throughout Western Michigan are numerous Indian names of towns and rivers such as Muskegon, Macatawa, Pymouth Rock, and so on.
After hearing about available lands in west Michigan, the Dutch reached their destination on February 9, 1847 on the banks of Black Lake—today’s Lake Macatawa. The hundreds of Dutch immigrants that followed expected to find their promised land, instead found a swamp and insect-infested forest. Over the next several years, Holland made a slow but steady revival with help from surrounding communities. By 1871, two railroads extended spurs to Holland, indicating that this was a stable city with a growing future. During World War II, not only did many of the city’s businesses manufacture vital defense needs, but thousands of residents signed up for duty. In fact, by the war’s end, Holland servicemen had served our country to a degree greater than most communities of a similar size.
From 1830 to 1850, more than 30,000 blacks walked out of the South in search of a new life on the Midwestern frontier. Not run by any one person or organization, the Underground Railroad was a large network of safe houses and routes that escaped slaves used to travel to the North, often covering 10 to 20 miles each day. Oral tales, passed down from one generation to the next, tell the story of what it was like to be a black person making a dangerous journey to the North.
Across the Midwest in the early 1890s, a wave of lynching’s was taking place. From 1889 to 1894, as many as 700 black men and women were lynched in America. In 1896, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that separate-but-equal treatment was constitutional, effectively clearing the way for segregation to become the law of the land and formalizing a racist, bitter status quo which haunts the United States to this day.
Between 1890 and 1910, most African Americans in the South had lost the right to vote through restrictive requirements such as property qualifications, poll taxes, literacy tests, and the “grandfather clause” that limited the vote to those whose grandfathers were registered voters, thus disqualifying blacks who had gotten the franchise only with the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The tightening of Jim Crow laws led many to leave the South and face even more turmoil in the Midwest.
The history of Black in Holland Michigan is a classic American tale of hard work, resilience, and triumph over a deteriorating political and social climate. A stream of Southern black men brought north by the Pennsylvania Railroad Company to work on the rail lines took what they hoped was a journey into freedom. But over the years, more than one-tenth of the country’s black population would voluntarily move north. The Great Migration, which lasted until 1930, was the first step in the full nationalization of the African-American population.
Community in Transition
As late as the 1950’s, Holland still boasted of its ethnically homogeneous population, with ninety percent Dutch heritage. But during the Vietnam era, the city that had so successfully retained its traditional atmosphere also found itself a community in transition. New industries and the resultant population growth produced a building boom. Old traditions, such as closing downtown shops on Wednesday afternoons, gradually succumbed to more mainstream practices. Through the sponsorship of various churches, there was an influx of Latino families and Southeast Asian refugees. Holland became a community in flux in other ways as well. Dozens of suburban housing developments spread across the surrounding townships. Fast food restaurants, outlet stores, and shopping centers increasingly lined the U.S. 31 corridor.
The CAAAH wishes to thank all its donors. For the past 2 years, the Center of African American Art and History have been recipients of impressive gifts from donors here in our community and surrounding communities. Wonderful donations of exhibitions, books, music and paintings are here for public viewing because of you. Your comments and gifts also contain such moving words of wisdom.
Thank you so much for keeping the conversations going, and for all the constructive criticism and praise. We sincerely appreciate the fact that you share your thoughts with us. You honestly fuel our motivation on a daily basis, and for that we are eternally grateful. Thanks again for the inspirations.
A famous quote…“Winners don’t do different things, they do the same things differently.”