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About This Site

Black Presence in the Episcopal Diocese of New York Project (BPP)

To create a public spiritual space for truth and truth-telling about the experiences of people of African descent within the Episcopal Diocese of New York from colonial times through the present day.

To provide material and stories that will expand and deepen the church’s understandings of the experiences, contributions and impact people of African descent bring throughout the diocese.

Historical Background and Development:
In February 2017, during the annual Commemoration of Absalom Jones at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, we had a display about the colonial and pre-civil war Harlem African Burial Ground (HABG). One member of the Absalom Jones Celebration Planning Committee (AJCPC) serves on the HABG Task Force Executive committee and arranged the exhibit to share information about this segregated cemetery, which included enslaved and free people of African descent from several Manhattan Episcopal churches, primarily St. Michael’s Church, St. Mary’s Church and All Angels Church.  The exhibit was the catalyst for two members of the AJCPC creating and coordinating  the Black Presence in the Episcopal Diocese of New York Project (BPP).

2020 Update:
As part of the National Council on Public History’s 40th Annual Conference (March, 2020) Digital Public History Lab, Jean Ballard Terepka, BPP Co-Founder, was to have facilitated a session on Digital Projects and Community Outreach.  This session planned to present the Black Presence Project of the Episcopal Diocese of New York as an example of primary source digitization as a strategy for community outreach.  The discussion would have  focused on  group-generated examples and their procedural features as well as practical strengths and challenges. Unfortunately the conference was cancelled as a result of the COVID 19 Pandemic.

In July, 2020, Terepka was elected President of the Board of National Episcopal Historians and Archivists (NEHA) after three years as a Board member and twelve years as a general member of NEHA. In addition, R. Emanuel Scott Jr. and Roberta Todd are NEHA members.  Wayne Kempton, Archivist and Historiographer of EDNY since 1995 and BPP Ex Officio advisor, is a long-time NEHA member and presented a paper at the national NEHA conference hosted by St. Michael’s Church, Manhattan in 2017.

2021 Update:

In 2021, Jean Ballard Terepka and Roberta Todd developed a training online workshop to demonstrate BPP website records as models for congregational Black presence history research and presentation.  This workshop was presented with follow up sessions for the  New York,  Massachusetts  and Long Island Dioceses.   A Zoom recording of one workshop can be viewed here.

‘Black’: A Note about Nomenclature and Identity:
On this site, in primary and secondary sources, people of African ancestry from four centuries of history in the Episcopal Diocese of New York are identified by themselves and others in a variety of terms. From the beginning, there have been disputes about nomenclature. They have been identified – among other things – as negro, colored, mulatto, Afro American, African-American, black and Black. Depending on the era, each term has carried its own clarity, confusions, nuance and implications, both positive and negative.

As of July 2020, following the model of the New York Times as presented in the editorial, “Why We’re Capitalizing Black” (Nancy Coleman, NYT, July 5, 2020), new writing on the BPP site will refer to people of African ancestry as Black. The capitalized term seems most representative of the breadth and depth of shared history, culture and African diaspora experience; it is most inclusive of particular narratives related, for instance, to legal status, such as enslaved or free, and migration histories, such as identification with Caribbean, North American or recent African origins.

On the BPP site, the language of quoted texts will never be changed: in any given era, what Blacks have called themselves or been called reflects that era’s assumptions, both implicit and explicit. Wherever possible, records’ dates are indicated. As the site grows, language use and nomenclature will, no doubt, continue to evolve as history and current events warrant.

Diocesan Participation:
All churches – their clergy, vestry and congregants – are encouraged to participate in the project by researching, documenting and exploring stories connected to  people of African descent in the diocese.   This work can be accomplished by the examination of church records, oral histories and other resources.   Let us know about material you are exploring and would like to share by completing the BPP diocesan form — click  here.   Tells us If you have comments or questions about the material on the website or the project; email us at [email protected].

The BPP coordinators will collaborate with you so your stories can be told.

Jean Ballard Terepka
St. Michael’s   Church,  Manhattan
Harlem African Burial Ground,
Executive Committee
Roberta Todd
Christ Church, Riverdale
Diocesan Anti-Racism Committee,


Ex Officio Members: Carla Burns, Wayne Kempton, Nicholas Richardson

Members: R. Emanuel Scott, Jr.,  Jean Ballard Terepka, Roberta Todd