History is always changing, often so slowly we don’t even notice. But in truly historic times—right now, for example—history changes with incomprehensible speed.
The recent police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and especially George Floyd have dramatically—and quickly—raised public awareness of essential race and criminal justice issues. Reputable polls have in fact shown that, in the two weeks following Mr. Floyd’s murder, American support for the Black Lives Matter movement increased by nearly as much as it had during the previous two years.
We’ve all witnessed many hundreds of thousands of activists of every description who have been marching in cities and towns across the nation and around the world to demand long overdue social, political, and cultural changes. And as many of us know, Schenectady itself has been the site of multiple protests: lots of marches and signs, lots of passion and outrage.
So where are we headed at this potentially critical moment in our history? No one knows. But we do know two things: one, that our understanding of the past is our best guide to the future, and two, that historical change doesn’t just happen, people make it happen. Barack Obama knew this when he said “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
For its part, the Schenectady County Historical Society is dedicated to this kind of democratic vision. Our agreed-upon values call for us to commit “to diversity, professionalism, and community engagement.” And our stated vision is to work with all of our community members, share authority among ourselves, and together become better informed history makers.
We believe in particular that Black lives do indeed matter, and we look forward to listening to and learning from Schenectady’s African American community and creating a more just, more meaningful, and more usable understanding of Schenectady County history.
If you have a moment, consider visiting the “Talking About Race” portal presented by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The portal helps people and communities talk about racism and the ways in which race shapes every aspect of our society, from economy, to politics, to American culture.
President, Schenectady County Historical Society