Dreaming of Timbuctoo

February 4 to February 21, 2012


Archival Image courtesy of the Adirondacks Museum www.adkmuseum.org

Exhibition Opening Night on February 3 from 5 to 8pm.
Panel discussion on February 4 from 2 to 4pm.

As voter identification laws are enacted around the country and in commemoration of African American History Month, The History Center in Tompkins County, Cornell University and Ithaca College are partnering with John Brown Lives! (JBL!) to bring Dreaming of Timbuctoo to Ithaca, a traveling exhibition that delves into a little-known voting rights saga in pre-Civil War New York.

The "Dreaming of Timbuctoo" Exhibition explores an 1846 abolitionist "scheme of justice and benevolence" in which 3,000 African American men each received 40 acres of Adirondack land from Madison County philanthropist Gerrit Smith. Among the grantees were 17 Tompkins County residents.

Scott Callan, Director at The History Center: "We're extremely pleased to be able to host 'Dreaming of Timbuctoo' during the month of February. As an organization dedicated to linking the past with the present, The History Center has always sought to find innovative ways to use the past to discuss issues relevant to us today."

Download the Slide Show


Part strategy in the political war on slavery, the land giveaway was also timed to expand the franchise in New York State when a referendum loomed large that threatened to reinstate an onerous $250 property-owning requirement for free black voters while eliminating it for white voting-age males. The referendum passed.

Through letters, documents, archival photographs, and curator Amy Godine's illuminating text, the exhibition reveals the backdrop and motivations of some of the country's most illustrious anti-slavery leaders who energetically promoted the land give-away, including the Rev. Henry Highland Garnet of Troy, Frederick Douglass, Syracuse's Rev. Jermaine Loguen, and Dr. James McCune Smith of New York City.

Though most of the 3,000 grantees never moved onto their land, one of the loosely knit communities settled in the Adirondacks by the new land owners came to be called "Timbuctoo". Another was known as "Blacksville".

To complement the exhibition and emphasize its significance, The History Center is hosting a panel discussion series with area scholars and a symposium with Cornell graduate students on Saturday, February 4 from 2 to 4 p.m.

"Dreaming of Timbuctoo" was produced by John Brown Lives!, a freedom education project founded in 1999 to promote social justice and human rights through the exploration of issues, social movements and events, many of them rooted in Adirondack and New York State history. A joint project of JBL! and the Essex County Historical Society, the exhibition premiered at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake and has been seen by over 100,000 people as it has traveled the state.

Funding from the New York Council for the Humanities and the New York Council on the Arts were principal funders of the exhibition and educational programs.


For more information, contact
The History Center