Plattsburgh State’s 45-year-old literary magazine ZPlatt has unanimously decided to disband the name ZPlatt after a staff member discovered the publication’s namesake, Zephaniah Platt, founder of Plattsburgh, was a slave owner.
“It was shocking for sure, and [associate English professor] Elizabeth Cohen really spearheaded for us to change the name,” ZPlatt social media editor Kavita Singh said. “More than ever, it’s important to denounce any sort of discriminatory behavior, including the former namesake of our magazine,”
In his book “Slavery and Freedom in the Mid-Hudson Valley,” Michael E. Groth wrote: “In 1795, Zephaniah Platt…manumitted his slave Tone ‘Agreeably to the Republican Spirit of the Constitution of our country.’”
Platt, based on developing ideologies concerning ownership of other human beings, emancipated his slave Tone.
“However, some masters who expressed such convictions when liberating individual slaves saw no contradiction in retaining ownership of other bondmen and women,” Groth said in his book.
Although Zephaniah Platt is not explicitly used as an example by Groth, local historian Jerry Bates discovered that Platt owned a second slave, Cato.
Cato, however, wasn’t liberated until four months after Platt’s death in 1807, contradicting Zephaniah’s seemingly ethical reasoning for his liberation of Tone.
In 1808, 13 years after Tone’s emancipation, Jonas Platt, Zephaniah’s son, wrote, “I Jonas Platt acting Executor of the Estate of Zephaniah Platt Esquire deceased do hereby manumit and liberate Cato a negro Slave belonging to said Estate…”
“Our magazine is meant to be a voice for all students to share their work and express themselves and their ideas through writing and art. We want our magazine and its name to be meaningful to all students,” ZPlatt editor-in-chief Sara Ransom said.
On Wednesday night, the publication officially rebranded as North Star.
The discovery of Platt’s past and the decision to change the publication’s name came before the recent racist social media post that circulated PSUC’s campus in the past two weeks.
On Jan. 26, freshman Maria Gates posted a Snapchat, featuring herself and an unidentified male friend, captioned “lynching n*****s tonight.”
“[The name change] just reinforced the idea that we need to stand up and say collectively that this is not OK,” Singh said. We’re better than this. And if we don’t do anything, then that’s just contributing to the problem.”
Although the administration’s response to the Snapchat post has been widely protested by students, PSUC President Dr. John Ettling wrote in a campus-wide email on Feb. 15: “… every available amount of our energy must be and will be spent on efforts to not only fight these fires but prevent them from starting.”
“We hope that by being public with our name change that more people will realize that being passive about discrimination is unacceptable, as it only allows for discrimination to continue and to grow,” Ransom said.
Submissions for the 2018 edition of North Star will be accepted until March 10.
Email Lukas Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org