Southern Life, Northern City

The History of Albany's Rapp Road Community

By Jennifer A. Lemak

Subjects: New York/regional, Public History, African American Studies, History, American History
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9780791475829, 207 pages, July 2015
Hardcover : 9780791475812, 207 pages, October 2008

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Illustrations

1. Shubuta, Mississippi: Home of the Red Artesian Well

2. "God Led Me to Albany"

3. "Whatever We Needed, He Could Get It"

4. Change Comes to Rapp Road

5. "I Needed to Let People Know the Community Was Here"
Conclusion: Looking Back at the Rapp Road Experience

Works Cited

The inspirational story of an African American community that migrated from the Deep South to Albany, New York, in the 1930s.


Southern Life, Northern City is the inspirational story of an African American community in Albany that has fought doggedly for generations to preserve its legacy and way of life. In the 1920s and 1930s rural African American families living in Shubuta, Mississippi, began relocating to Albany, New York. These former sharecroppers initially settled in Albany's South End, but quickly became unhappy with the vice and overcrowding of city life. A leading member of this community, Reverend Louis W. Parson, courageously led the effort to purchase land on the city's western edge. The newly relocated residents enthusiastically recreated their rural southern life in the north—building homes, planting crops, hunting, and raising families. Fifty years later, their settlement found itself threatened by sprawl, commercial development, and corporate greed. Joining forces with public historians and preservationists, the residents triumphed, with the Rapp Road community being named a New York State and a National Historic District.

Jennifer A. Lemak is Senior Historian and Curator of African American History at the New York State Museum.


"This book has an important place in articulating an aspect of African American history and culture poorly known and understood to date in American society and history. " — Gayle Graham Yates, author of Life and Death in a Small Southern Town: Memories of Shubuta, Mississippi

"Today, a national historic site, the Rapp Road community is a result of the endless and dedicated efforts of a daughter of that community, Emma Dickson, who brought much to bear to ensure that Rapp Road became a viable thread among many that went into 'the tapestry of Albany County. '" — A. J. Williams-Myers, State University of New York at New Paltz

"A fine local community study that invigorates our understanding and knowledge of the Great Migration of African Americans from south to north. " — Graham Russell Gao Hodges, Colgate University