National Trails Day Crosses Paths With Shameful History Of Racism In Port Jervis
Recreational Woodland Trails In Port Jervis Include One That Starts At Willfully Forgotten "N*gger Hollow"

 
Today is National Trails Day.  It is also the 126th anniversary of the June 2, 1892 lynching of a black man named Robert Lewis on East Main Street in Port Jervis.  Sadly, that heinous injustice committed by a rumor and racism crazed mob remains as embarrassingly shameful today as it did the night it took place. 

Understandably, some feel that tragic event is best forgotten and swept under the rug.  Yet the truth is that no amount of willful disregard of that horrific night will make the reality of what happened remain as dead and buried as the brutalized victim in his Laurel Grove Cemetery plot.   This infamous notoriety was most recently preserved again by the Robert Lewis lynching being included in the newly opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.  It was further distinguished there as not just the only lynching of a person of color in Orange County between 1877 and 1950 but in the whole of New York State during that timeframe.

As was noted on this day last year, Port Jervis has come a long way from when a segregated community of color commonly known as “N*gger Hollow” lived for at least twenty years near the dam of reservoir #1.    When mandatorily relocated to the end of North Orange Street in 1883, this again isolated setting continued to bear the racial slur among its place names well into the 20th century.

Once a genuine home where people were born, died, celebrated and suffered, “The Hollow” or “Reservoir View” as it was politely called then, is now nothing more than a Watershed Park trailhead and place to be unknowingly passed by on the way to somewhere else.     An attempt to remedy this deficit by placing a modest commemorative historical marker there was suddenly terminated last spring when late arriving insiders decided that using the word “segregated” on the marker was too much to bear.

The website for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), the non-profit organization behind the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, asks a reasonable question:  “Why Build a Memorial to Victims of Racial Terror?”  The answer is “EJI believes that publicly confronting the truth about our history is the first step towards recovery and reconciliation.” That was exactly the case pleaded in earnest for a marker in “The Hollow” but which, not surprisingly, fell on deaf ears and hard heads. 

Port Jervis may never have a solemn Robert Lewis Remembrance Day or a historical marker at the lynching site found curbside between today’s First Baptist Church and the Deerpark Reformed Church’s rectory.   But it should not, however, purposely hide its history and the sometimes painful but crucial lessons it can teach us.   All things considered, the placing of a historical marker at the reservoir #1 trailhead remembering “The Hollow” and what it represented would still be a small yet fitting and meaningful step in the right direction.  

 

 

 

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