Now Open: Nell Stokes: Stories Education Advocate

December 19, 2023–December 23, 2024

Now Open

When Nell Stokes arrived in Albany in 1963, she set to work finding a community. She moved from Montgomery, Alabama, and brought with her lessons learned from a segregated childhood.  Soon after her arrival, Stokes made inroads with churches, non-profits, and smaller social groups and began advocating for social transformation through education.  This exhibit explores her work through these organizations, her time at the YWCA, and the creation of the Black American History Essay Contest.  


This exhibition showcases the Nell Stokes Manuscript Collection, which includes photographs, scrapbooks, pamphlets, and more that highlight the breadth of her network. The scrapbooks were gifts from a former Teen Action Group member whom Stokes had inspired; the essay collections are filled with sponsorship ads from sororities and fraternities interested in her mission; and the newspaper clippings feature articles Stokes wrote, as well as advertisements purchased for the Black American History Essay Contest (now called the Creative Expressions Contest). As Stokes poured her time and creativity into her new city, the city poured back into her.

YWCA Serving Albany

Stokes flourished working as the Youth Program director. She listened to the needs of the participating teens and created programming for and with them. As programming became more fulfilling, Lorraine Young was inspired to save their memories in scrapbooks filled with photographs. Through the YWCA's program booklets, we can begin to see the wide extent of audiences the YWCA served. The YWCA is “dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.” Stokes heard their mission and helped create and manage programs that educated participants on health, discrimination, employment, and finances.  The collection includes images of the Annual Women's History Month celebration that honored women in the Capital Region for their contributions.

Nell’s Guide to Collaborations

In addition to her work at the YWCA and Creating the Black Expressions contest, she also worked with leaders of the NAACP and Albany Black Women's Association, fundraising for programs and investing in local youth. She organized plays and other art projects at churches and public schools. Through these programs and fundraisers, Stokes stimulated an enthusiasm for history among the young participants.


Black American Essay Contest

Come to learn about how, in the early 1980s Nell created an opportunity to uplift Black History and connect it with young people.  Now called Creative Expressions, this contest continues to invite young people to think critically about Black Art and Black History. Stokes pushed to highlight the importance of education. “Teen Voice” in The South End Scene said they "hope essays will bring out more of the contributions of Black Americans to past and present society of America and other countries." The annual influx of essays and the growth of students voices each year show the need for—and the power of—this program.