State Recognizes The Promised Land

by Lynn Rothenberg

GUIDLERLAND: A piece of local African-American history has received state recognition. While residents have long called the neighborhood the Promised Land, the state will now recognize it as the Rapp Road District.

The designation by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is due to one woman’s efforts. The district will be on the state register, and may then be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, said Emma Dickson, who spearheaded the effort.

“I jumped up and down,” said Dickson upon learning the news. It took seven years to achieve the distinction. State markers will be placed at each end of the district, marking a neighborhood of modest, well-kept homes, many of them built by their original occupants.

Dickson, herself a second-generation resident of Rapp Road, told the Enterprise for an article about the unique enclave last year, “It is important to have people recognize this community and the importance of it to the city of Albany. It is important history of African-Americans who migrated to the North.” She told the story of how her neighborhood was built.

African-American settlers came to the Albany area from the South during the 1930’s where they had lived as tenant farmers, paying a share of their crops as rent for the use of the land. Many, including Dickson’s parents, left during what became known as the Great Migration. They left Shubuta, Miss. in the ’30’s, ’40’s and ’50’s to seek a better life. They often were cheated by landowners in the South and felt trapped because they could not afford to leave.

The escape route for the sharecroppers was paved by Reverend Louis Parsons who brought them to Albany. Landing in the south end of the City, many found they missed farming and were unhappy with urban life. Some wanted to return to the South but were encouraged by Parsons to remain. He and Reverend Tolliver, from Albany, bought land in the Pine Bush that stretched from Gipp Road to Washington Avenue. The land soon became a settlement for the people from Mississippi.

“At that time, there was nothing here. There were tall pines, land that looked just the way it did where they had come from in Shubuta,” Dickson said last year. Soon people began building homes and settling in what became known as the Promised Land.

In February of 2000, the Albany County Legislature issued a proclamation recognizing the formation of the community, honoring black sharecroppers from Shubuta. The date was proclaimed as “The Day of the Promised Land.”

The recent ceremony to name Rapp Road an historic district took place on Friday Sept. 13 in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy. Dickson laughed at the date and place.

“I said to myself, ‘I don’t care where it is.- I don’t care what’s there. And I don’t care when it is. I’m going to be there.'” The cemetery was selected because the Garrett Memorial Chapel there was also being nominated for the state historic register.

Sites are listed on the National Register for their significance in history, architecture, archaeology, and culture. Evaluators look for integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. Four general guidelines are considered.

First, if the site is associated with events that have contributed to the broad patterns of American history.

Second, if the site is associated with the lives of historically significant people.

Third, if the building embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or represents the work of a master, or possesses high artistic values, or represents a distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.

Fourth, if the site has yielded or is likely to yield information important in prehistory or history

The Rapp Road District is the only district to be named in Guilderland on the state register other than Route 146 in the village of Altamont.

Samuel and Henrietta Fantroy, original Rapp Road settlers, attended the ceremony with Dickson. The Fantroys live in one of the original homes of the settlement, which Samuel Fantroy built after World War II. The highlight of the day, said Dickson, was to hear Fantroy say, with tears in his eyes, “I just thank God to see this.”

Printed in the October/November 2002 Newsletter