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Friday Night Dialogues: Chris Verga on civil rights on Long Island

The February 22 Friday Night Dialogue promises to be an important and thought-provoking event, when historian Christopher Verga presents an illustrated talk on the often overlooked history of civil rights on Long Island (also the title of his book).

Verga is a true expert. As a lifelong resident of Long Island, he earned undergraduate and masters degrees in history. He chose “Southern New England Algonquin People and how Tribal Recognition affects Cultural Identity” as the subject of the dissertation for his education doctorate.

Since then he has been walking the walk, teaching American history and political science for the New York Department of Education and at Suffolk Community College. He has researched and written three books: “Civil Rights on Long Island” (Arcadia, 2016), “Bay Shore: Heart of the South Shore” (Arcadia, 2017) and “Saving Fire Island from Robert Moses” (History Press, 2019) which has a March 23 publication date. Aside from his professional work, he sits on the executive board of the Islip National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, serving as community coordination chairperson. He is a regular contributor to the online newspaper Greater Bay Shore, writing about local history, and he gives talks on this subject to civic groups around the area. All this and he is the hands-on father of two little children, ages 3 years and 9 months. Phew!

Verga has learned from his research that slavery was prevalent on Long Island from the first Dutch colonization and arrival of early English settlers in the 1700s, until abolition in 1825. Even then, freed slaves often became indentured servants and were not given basic rights of citizenship. He found a shocking fact — that while 6 percent of antebellum confederate families owned slaves, 27 percent of the population of Nassau/Queens (one county then) and 18 percent of Suffolk County families, were slaveholders. The Ku Klux Klan also had a large presence in this region. Today, Long Island remains largely segregated and Verga will discuss how civil disobedience has been employed to challenge racial barriers and some ideas for promoting integration.

Visit the community room of the Shelter Island Library on February 22, at 7 p.m., to join this very relevant discussion.

Up next: On Friday, March 8, at 7 p.m., Mashomack Preserve Director Jeremy Samuelson will speak about eroding bluffs and wetlands, rising groundwater and invasive pests. He will share updates on new climate research and the steps The Nature Conservancy is taking at Mashomack and throughout our region to adapt to changing conditions.