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Juneteenth: Weekend walking tour looks to amplify the voices of Northport’s Black community

People by: Joanne Kountourakis, June 16, 2022

Parishioners and minister of the A.M.E. Church in Northport, circa 1950. Photo courtesy of the Northport Historical Society.

When Ceylan Swenson, Northport High School graduate and current museum educator/researcher at the Northport Historical Society, was in elementary school, she was greatly inspired by then East Northport resident and school district employee Thelma Abidally Jackson, a historian and author of “African Americans in Northport: An Untold Story.”

This Sunday, June 19, Ceylan will lead the society’s inaugural “Black History of Northport Walking Tour,” an opportunity for residents to hear stories of the generations of Black families who lived in and around Northport.

“This project was a long time coming,” said Ceylan, who extended her gratitude to Ms. Abidally for her courage and perseverance in recording the stories of some of Northport’s long-time Black residents. “This tour would not be what it is without her work. I remember when she spoke to my class at Fifth Avenue about Booker T. Washington’s home in our community. I was nine or ten at the time. The experience stuck with me and helped shape the way I approach local history.”

Ceylan has since combined Ms. Abidally’s research with new research of her own, and hopes to “share a facet of Northport’s less widely known history and give some perspective on the diversity of people and backgrounds that are integral to our heritage and history.”

Born in Selma, Alabama in 1957, Ms. Abidally eventually moved to East Northport, where she worked for over twenty years in the Northport-East Northport School District. While here, she began researching the role and impact of Black residents in the area and learned, among many other things, that a small group of Black residents came together and built the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church on Church Street in 1910; that congregation is now located in Huntington. Ms. Abidally has also actively fought to recognize and preserve the Fort Salonga summer home of Black educator, author and activist Booker T. Washington, who frequented Northport Village’s Main Street to shop.

This past February, Not In Our Town (NIOT) Northport hosted a virtual visit with Ms. Abidally, who spoke candidly about both her love of Northport-East Northport and the racism she experienced as a Black woman living here.

Northport Historical Society Executive Director Caitlyn Shea attended the virtual discussion with Ms. Abidally right before assuming her position at the society. “The way she described her personal experiences as a Black resident in Northport and her depth of knowledge about local Black history truly paved a path for this tour,” said Caitlyn. “As we as a country celebrate Juneteenth as a federal holiday and continue to have more conversations about creating equity for all people, it is important to hear the stories rooted right in our neighborhood. It is my hope that individuals that take the tour will walk past these buildings in the future and reflect on the Black community members that contributed so much to Northport but were not always recognized in their lifetime.”

Two walking tours will take place this Sunday, June 19, one at 2pm and another at 3:15pm. Tours start at the 9/11 Memorial in Northport Village Park. Tickets are $10 per person; children 8-14 are free. Please note: this tour involves walking on uneven sidewalks and pavement. You can register for the event here.

The society thanks Thelma Abidally Jackson and Town of Huntington historian Robert Hughes for consulting on this project and invites Black descendants and residents to continue to share their stories with the society so that the tour can expand each year (please email education@northporthistorical.org).

A free self-guided audio walking tour will be launched from Northport Historical Society’s website at noon on Sunday, June 26.