Friday, January 15, 2021

There’s a History of Black People in Montana? The Documentary is Coming (Watch)

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A group of African American women in Butte, Montana in the 1920s. A chapter of the Montana Federation of Colored Women’s club

*Not only does Montana have a rich African American history, it started even before the state was a territory.

Aside from famous country star Charley Pride, who got his start in Montana, there was York, the only African American explorer on the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery Expedition and the first African American to cross North America to reach the Pacific. There was also Taylor Gordon, Leo Lamar, and the couple James and Clarissa Powell Crump, all prominent members of Montana’s Black community whose names and histories are largely unknown, until now.

The Montana Historical Society secured a $50,000 grant to produce a short documentary on the historic African American experience in Montana. The grant, through the National Trust for Preservation as part of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund, was one of 27 that were recently announced.

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Internationally acclaimed singer Taylor Gordon (center) with his friends in 1892.

Following the Civil War, about 10,000 African American people moved to the northwest states of Washington, Idaho, and Montana by 1880. Although African Americans never totaled more than one percent of the state’s population, they’ve been in the place that would become Montana since the earliest days of non-Indian presence and contributed greatly to Montana’s culture, economy, and religious life.

Each corner of the state has significant stories to tell about the African American experience in the West. Below, MHS Community Preservation Coordinator Kate Hampton unveils the Society’s new African American heritage website and delves into the resources it offers.

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