The Brothers Records, 1966-1999
- The Brothers was a civil rights group that was active in Albany, New York for several years beginning in 1966.
- 2.1 cubic ft.
- English .
- Preferred citation:
- Preferred citation for this material is as follows: and Identification of specific item, series, box, folder, The Brothers Records, 1966-1999. M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University at Albany, State University of New York (hereafter referred to as The Brothers Records).
Access and Use
- Conditions Governing Access:
Access to the original newspapers is not available. Researchers may access preservation copies of The Albany Liberator in Box 2.
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- Scope and Content:
The bulk of the collection was compiled or created by Gordon Van Ness and contains copies of newspaper clippings, original writings, memos and correspondence. The collection includes no formal minutes or correspondence to record the activities of the Brothers. There are, however, papers dated 1970-1972 documenting the efforts of the Albany Medical Center and the Northside Advisory Council to develop and operate a community health facility in the Arbor Hill section of Albany. The majority of the clippings covers the years from 1966 to 1968 and primarily document the activities of the Brothers, the vote-buying controversy, the arrests and subsequent legal proceedings against individual Brothers, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, and articles of interest to the African-American community. Miscellaneous clippings from 1969 to 1999 document issues relevant to the African-American community in Albany, activities of Gordon Van Ness and the deaths of Samuel McDowell and Ronald Brooks. The collection includes a report (unidentified) documenting the disagreement surrounding the arrest of 20 pickets demonstrating outside two polling places in 1966.
There are also original copies, as well as photocopies, of The Albany Liberator published between 1967 and 1971. Peter Pollak, who served as editor of The Albany Liberator, also donated the publication's mailing list and related financials.
Of particular note in the collection are original writings by Gordon Van Ness, most of them undated. Included is a description of the organizational structure of the Brothers, poetry, speeches and highlights of black history and civilization.
- Biographical / Historical:
The Brothers was a civil rights group that was active in Albany, New York for several years beginning in 1966. While picketing a worksite to protest discrimination in hiring practices, Leon Van Dyke was joined by several African-American men from Albany's South End and Arbor Hill neighborhoods. Believing that it was the responsibility of the African-American community to address its own problems, the group took on issues faced by the residents of Arbor Hill, the South End and the North Side: poverty, poor access to health care, slum housing conditions, inadequate public schools and lack of political power. They pressured landlords to clean up their buildings, offered free classes in black history, ran voter registration drives and a breakfast program for poor children. They led rent strikes and protested against discrimination and alleged police brutality. The first action that brought them notoriety was their attempt in November 1966 to expose the alleged vote-buying practice of the Albany Democratic political machine. Considered enemies of the political machine, Mayor Erastus Corning 2nd kept secret police surveillance files on the members.  At the height of their prominence the Brothers unsuccessfully fielded African-American candidates for mayor, alderman and county legislator. The Brothers maintained the non-violent philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, but indicated that they would react with force if necessary. While not as militant as the Black Panthers, they were viewed with suspicion by many in the African-American community. However, they had the support of many activists in Albany, including lawyers, religious leaders, college students and professors.
Some of the founding members of the group included: Gordon Van Ness, Leon Van Dyke, Clarence Williams, James McBride, John Williams, Sam McDowell, Robert Gene Dobbs, William Gibson, Peter Jones and Herman Washington.  There were 15-20 core members of the Brothers. There was no permanent president or chairman. Instead, each week a different Brother took the leadership role so that, according to Gordon Van Ness, ".society can not buy out the Brothers."  There were two permanent officers, a treasurer and a secretary. There were seven committees with permanent chairmen: Labor, Welfare, Housing, Political Action, Youth and Drugs, Education and Draft Committees.  The Brothers published a newspaper, The Albany Liberator, between 1967 and 1971. It covered news from Albany's Arbor Hill and South End, as well as reprinting articles of interest from all over the country.
The group dissolved in the early 1970s as its members turned their attention to other matters. Some continued their community involvement in less visible ways. After a reunion in April 1990, several former members attempted to revitalize the group. Gordon Van Ness and Clarence Newton opened a community referral center in October 1990 on Clinton Avenue to help advocate for local residents. Shortly after, Van Ness died. Lacking community and financial support, the center closed at the end of 1993. 
1. Grondahl, Paul, Albany Times Union, August 22, 1999, p. A32. Gaikowski, Richard, Knickerbocker News, October 20, 1963. Van Ness, Gordon, Original document circa 1964. Ibid 5. LeBrun, Fred, Albany Times Union, December 24, 1993, p.B1
- Acquisition information:
The Albany Liberator newspapers in this manuscript group were donated to the University Libraries, M.E. Grenander Department of Special Collections and Archives, by Barbara Shields in November 1992, Dennis Mosley in 1995, Peter Pollak in 2017, and Dave Michelson in 2019. Other items in this record group were donated by Gordon Van Ness, 1992-1995, and Peter Pollak in 2017.
The collection is arranged alphabetically. It has no series.
- Processing information:
Processed in 2000 by Joan Seidman.
- Northside Community Health Center. Northside Advisory Council.
African Americans -- Civil rights -- New York (State).
African Americans -- Civil rights -- New York (State) -- Albany.
Albany (N.Y.) -- Politics and government.
African Americans and Civil Rights Organizations
Albany, New York
Neighborhood and Community Associations
Social Activists and Public Advocates
- Van Ness, Gordon, 1940-
Brothers (Albany, N.Y.)