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February 26, 2013 (Times Union)

Exhibit unveils dichotomy

More than a century ago, land near Lake Placid, New York was donated to freed slaves so they could vote. Today, the land is home to a state prison in which nearly half the residents are black.

On Monday, inmates of nearby Adirondack Correctional Facility, learned about the region's history in the fight for black equality.

A traveling exhibit, "Dreaming of Timbuctoo," reveals the story of former slaves who moved upstate to establish farms and gain voting rights in the years before the Civil War. Because at least $250 worth of property was required to vote, abolitionist Gerrit Smith gave away 120,000 acres of upstate wilderness to more than 3,000 black men.

Today, many of the inmates who learned about this little-known history are unable to cast a ballot. State law prohibits anyone convicted of a felony from voting while behind bars and for the duration of their parole.

According to The Sentencing Project more than 108,000 New Yorkers cannot vote due to felony convictions, 47 percent of whom are black. Blacks make up only 17.5 percent of New York's population.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Incarceration, Felony Disenfranchisement, Collateral Consequences