Community Service

“For many years the History Club has gone to the cemetery in McGraw along with history faculty to take part in a community service effort in which the weeds are pulled, the leaves are raked, and the picket fence is painted. As far as we know, the History Club is the primary care taker of this cemetery nestled in the backs woods of McGraw High School. It is important to take care of this cemetery because it is the final resting place of many students who attended one of the first African-American colleges in the United States. While cleaning up the cemetery, the club is able to work with professors outside of the classroom and engage in a community service effort, an effort that the Student Government Association (SGA) has been pushing for clubs to take part in. “ – Joe Barbella, President of the History Club (Fall 2014)

A History of McGraw Central College and Cemetery

Anti-slavery Baptists associated with the American Baptist Foreign Missionary Society founded New York Central College at McGrawville in 1849.  Ahead of its time, this college acknowledged that all people deserved the right to a fair and equal education. Established before the American Civil War and the abolishment of slavery, the college taught men and women, whether white or African-American, together in the same classrooms. This combination of sexes and races was seen as an anomaly at this time. One of those students was Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, who later published a memoir about his life as a slave in Brazil and his life in the United States.

Not only did the school accept students of all races, it also employed African-American professors. In fact,  Charles Reason (himself a former student at Central College) became the country's first African-American professor teaching at a college with white students. Reason also played active roles in the New York State Convention for Negro Suffrage, New York City's Citizen's Civil Rights Committee, and the New York State Labor Union. Since Reason was a mathematician, the University of Buffalo's Mathematics Department has a short history of his life at their website.

Central College's second black professor, William G. Allen, taught classics. He encountered hostility in the region due to his engagement to the daughter of a white abolitionist. A mob of "anti-miscegenation" residents near Fulton, New York attacked Allen and threatened to tar and feather him. He later wrote The American Prejudice Against Color: An Authentic Narrative, Showing How Easily the Nation Got into An Uproar (1853) and A Personal Narrative (1860) about his experiences at Central College and in the region. For more about Allen, visit Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women and niece of local abolitionist Reverend Samuel J. May, wrote a fictional account of Allen's life in a story entitled M. L.
The McGraw Central College Cemetery, also known as NYCC Black Cemetery, was the burial ground for college students who passed due to an outbreak of a small pox epidemic in 1850. This small area of solemn ground is located just a few steps from where the college stood, and the graves that remain today serve as a reminder of the strides made toward equality.  Shortly after the outbreak the college was plagued by other unfortunate circumstances and was forced to close its doors in 1860. 

– Megan Sloan (Graduate Assistant) and Scott Moranda (Associate Professor)