New Hampshire is probably the third-whitest state in the country (90-94 percent) following only its neighbors Vermont and Maine. Those facts notwithstanding, the stories of our black and brown citizens have been mostly ignored when it comes to being represented in both our local and national history.
Even today, their history stories are mostly given a token mention, if at all. We have a great amount of catching up to do, and public education is a good start.
There are exceptions of course to this statement as some of New Hampshire’s black history heroes include people like Valerie Cunningham and Jerrianne Boggis of Black Heritage Trail reknown; along with researchers and authors such as Glenn A. Knoblock and J. Dennis Robinson who have worked for many years to bring to light the black experiences. There are others, of course, and I welcome your mention of them in this article’s comments.
According to the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire web site, “the first known black person in Portsmouth New Hampshire, came from the west coast of Africa (Guinea),” brought to Boston Massachusetts where he was sold to a “Mr. Williams of Piscataqua.” That region had a small number of both slaves and free persons of color in its early history.
—–POLITICS AND CIVIC SERVICE—–
Wentworth Cheswell is believed to be the first black person elected to office, justice of the peace and town constable among other positions in local Newmarket NH government. He also served during the American Revolution.
Melanie Ann Levesque a Democrat, represented the 12th district in the New Hampshire Senate from 2018 until 2020 and was the first African American to serve there.
Lt. Mark Brave of Dover is the First Black Sheriff (Strafford County NH), current.
Other black or brown politicians of note [as referenced in a 20 February 2013 House Record]: “In 1975 NH elected the first African American Henry B. Richardson (R-Greenville) to the NH State House. Henry Richardson served in the military for 31 years, served in 3 wars and was decorated 24 times. He achieved the rank of Major when he retired….Elected in 1986, Linda Diane Long (D-Nashua) served for 4 years in the House. Rep. Long was the sponsor of the Martin Luther King Day Bill in 1989. In 1898 the Hon. Juanita Bell from Portsmouth served for 2 terms. That same year the Hon. Lionel Johnson (D-Manchester) began his 12 years of service in the NH House. The Hon. Rogers Johnson (R-Stratham) served 3 terms. The Hon. Jackie Witherspoon (D-Exeter) served 2 terms 1997-2002 and remains active today in Exeter and in Washington. The Hon. Harvey Keye (D-Nashua) elected in 1998 also served 2 terms. The Hon. Harvey Keye gave an impassioned speech on the House floor which was instrumental in passing the Martin Luther King Day Holiday in NH. The Hon. Claire Clarke (D-Boscawen) served for 10 years from 2001-2010. She was a tireless advocate for education. The Hon. James Lawrence (R-Hudson) served 3 terms. The Hon. Carol Estes (D-Plymouth) served one term and gave a remarkable floor speech that helped pass civil unions. The Hon. Richard Komi (D-Manchester) originally from Nigeria served in the House from 2009-2010 and also ran for Mayor of Manchester. Our current Representatives are Rep. Jean Jeudy (D-Manchester) original from Haiti Rep. Kris Roberts (D-Keene) Rep. Caroletta Alicea, the daughter of the Hon. Claire Clarke and Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright (D-Nashua). Today  we recognize these Representatives cited for their achievements, not only for blazing a trail and being role models to what is achievable but for transcending barriers of race and gender. [Editor’s note: many of the women mentioned immediately above, and others are detailed in ISSUU: Influential & Phenomenal Women of New Hampshire.]
There are numerous other black heroes of New Hampshire (both living and recently passed) who have yet to hailed as such. Some examples follow:
Last year New Hampshire lost two amazing women, well known for their selfless work in mental health care.
— Sandra “Sandy” Toryeanea Hicks, aged 79 died on 22 January 2020. Her obituary states she was the first recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award in 1987 and also a recipient of the New Hampshire Unsung Heroine Award. In addition to her work mental health therapist she was devoted to her work as volunteer activist and advocate. She was President of the local Manchester NH NAACP chapter in 1991. See her obituary for more accolades.
— Marie Susan Madison Metoyer M.D. passed away at age 94 on 17 March 2020, having lived almost forty years in Manchester. Her obituary states she was New Hampshire’s first African-American female psychiatrist. [read her obituary].
—–ART & CULTURE—–
Richard Haynes – this talented Portsmouth NH resident is “a visual storyteller, a cultural keeper and maker.” [See his quilt exhibit at Currier Gallery]
Brad Randolph & Kevin Wade Mitchell, both greatly involved in the Black Heritage Trail, in 2017 hosted “Black Towns in 19th-century America,” a program about the experience of African-American life in the US.
Black New Hampshire residents have patriotically participated in all of our nation’s wars. They have been well-known writers, poets, entertainers, singers, athletes, activists, educators, and politicians (just to name a few professions that I have written about here).
Frederick Rockwell “Fred” Moody (1911-1980) – superb athlete and intercollegiate boxer, UNH grad, police patrolman.
The Celebrated Ventriloquist and Professor of Legerdemain & Namesake of Potter Place, New Hampshire: Richard Potter (1783-1835)
Exeter New Hampshire, African American Poet, James Monroe Whitfield (1822-1871)
African-American Soprano and “Queen of Song”: Dover New Hampshire’s Nellie (Brown) Mitchell (1845-1924)
Milford New Hampshire Black Novelist and Spiritualist: Harriet “Hattie” E. (Green) Adams Wilson Robinson (1825-1900)
Manchester New Hampshire’s Human Rights Champion, Volunteer, Civic and Community Leader: Vanessa Leah Washington-Johnson-Bloemen (1953-2011)
A Small Town Discovers Its Black History
NHPR: Black Granite Staters Call for More Inclusion.
The more we research and learn about local black history, the more we enrich everyone’s lives. Regardless of your origin, we are cousins. As Woullard Lett aptly and accurately stated “race” as a biological category, a genetic typology or a scientific reality does not exist. DNA studies prove it. At some point in our near or distant past, we all hail back to Africa.
Very interesting – I’m also researching the residency of Blacks at the Isles of Shoals. In his NH court probate record, Rev. John Tucke, who died on Star Island August 1773, his second most valuable ‘possession’ (after his house, a barn and adjoining land valued @ 70.00.00), was ‘Diana a Negro girl of about 12 years of age’, valued at 20.00.00. No other item in his inventory was as valuable as Diana.
In regards to Black History Month in NH, Oney Judge needs a front row seat! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oney_Judge
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