In her lecture, Carla Peterson described Black Gotham as a “partial” history of black elites in New York – “partial” because it is incomplete, because she is attached to it and because her family is a part of it. She also told us that it is a “spatial history,” organized by the geography and topography of New York City.
But the story begins with a family tale about her paternal great-grandfather Philip Augustus White, which lead Peterson to seek out more information at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. There, in a box labeled “biography” by a researcher from an earlier generation (Rhoda G. Freeman, author of The Free Negro in New York City in the Era Before the Civil War), she found this piece of paper, an obituary for “the late P.A. White.” This first scrap, his obituary from the February 21, 1891 issue of the New York Age, provides the first tangible piece of the scrapbook in Black Gotham. It transformed Philip Augustus White from a mis-described family legend (as a “white Haitian”) into a documented, embodied pharmacist who was educated in African Free Schools and became longtime communicant at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church.
Image from the Rhoda G. Freeman Manuscript and Research Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture