Summer Newsletter

Boston African American National Historic Site Welcomes Stephanie LeBris

Recently, BOAF had the pleasure of welcoming Stephanie LeBris as a visiting tour guide from the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in France. The cemetery, which is run by the American Battle Monuments Commission, was established on June 8, 1944 as the first American cemetery on European soil during the Second World War. It is home to the graves of 9,387 American military personnel, most of whom lost their lives during D-Day landings and operations.

As part of developing a new English language interpretive program in the cemetery, Stephanie was selected to come to the U.S. and work with NPS to learn more about becoming an interpretive guide. During her first week of training, Stephanie focused on learning different techniques for developing interpretive programs, including how to construct tours around main ideas and organizing outlines based on themes. She says it was great to know how to use established practices to convey specific ideas and emotions to visitors.

For her second week with the program, Stephanie chose to come to BOAF to see how we develop and present interpretive programs to the public. She requested to come to this site, partly because of the role that African Americans played in the Battles at Normandy. As part of her work there she has had the opportunity to acquaint herself with the experiences of the one hundred black men who are buried at that site and she wanted to know more about black history in the U.S.

During her week with BOAF, Stephanie had the opportunity to develop her own tour of the Black Heritage Trail®. Stephanie says that it was great to learn about the free black abolitionists and what they thought was important. While she found she was very nervous to give her tour, it turned out to be a great experience. She reports that people were very interested in the presentation. She hopes that if she has the opportunity to return, she would be able to learn more about the history at BOAF and develop a longer and more detailed tour of the site.


BOAF's Interview with Chandra Harrington

According to Chandra Harrington, the Museum of African American History has a unique opportunity to teach history, especially to young people. "Every ethnic group should know their history," she says and she hopes that a visit to the Museum will aid young people in their future.

In her sixteen years with the Museum, Ms. Harrington has worked in a variety of different capacities. Starting as a part time development associate, she has since contributed to different aspects of the Museum's mission, including preservation, operations, and visitor services. Now as the Senior Director of Collections and Interpretation, she works to create exhibits that connect the public to the vital history that is preserved both in the Museum and the surrounding neighborhood. The African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School both played huge roles in Boston's 19th century black community. The Museum welcomes visitors to experience the places where prominent citizens like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison made significant contributions to the abolitionist movement. "You can feel the spirits when you walk in," she says.

Recently, the Museum of African American History opened its newest exhibit, "The Color of Baseball in Boston" to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park. The National Park Service spoke to Ms. Harrington about the exhibit and the significance of baseball for African American history in Boston.

How did this exhibit come about and why do you think the public will appreciate it?

The anniversary of Fenway Park made this the perfect time to open this exhibit about Boston's black baseball history. A highlight of the exhibit is an item from the Museum's collection, the baseball uniform of Will "Cannonball" Jackman. Jackman was one of the best pitchers of his time, though little known to the general public. Research has revealed that African Americans were a part of organized baseball in New England since the 19th century. The exhibit describes their roles as players, managers, and team owners.

What was the role of baseball in the black community?

Boston never hosted a major Negro League team, but there were many amateur and semi-professional teams that played throughout the greater Boston area in neighborhood fields and city parks. The games provided a source of income for the players and the team owners as well as a gathering place for appreciative fans. After the games, fans would support nearby black-owned clubs and restaurants as they gathered for continued social engagement.

What parallels do you see between blacks in baseball and their work in the abolitionist movement?

A major parallel between blacks in baseball and the abolitionist movement is the powerful relationship between black and white allies. Right here in Boston, in 1945, City Councilor Isadore Muchnick threatened to take away Sunday training privileges if the Red Sox manager did not allow black players to tryout for the team. During the abolitionist movement, the black community worked with many white allies who contributed to the fight for equal rights, including William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner.

How did black baseball players help enact change?

As a group they all flourished in their pursuit for playing excellent baseball and, by doing so, showed how blacks could achieve things in different areas of society.


"We Must and Shall Be Free."
David Walker Held to "Certain Truths" in His Appeal


Visitors to the north slope of Beacon Hill may notice a plaque at 81 Joy Street marking the home of black Bostonian David Walker (1796/7?-1830), but many are unaware of his radical abolitionist activities in the struggle against slavery and for racial equality. The David Walker Memorial Project-spearheaded by Community Change, Inc.-seeks to rectify this by bringing public awareness to the remarkable life and work of Walker and establishing a public memorial in Boston.

Walker was born in Wilmington, NC to a free black mother and enslaved father. Arriving in Boston in 1825, Walker opened a used clothing shop, joined the Prince Hall Masons, and assisted in the founding of the Massachusetts General Colored Association. His devout religion, combined with his experiences living within "free" and enslaved communities, helped form his argument in his 1829 published Appeal to the Colored Citizens of the World.

In his Appeal, Walker brilliantly exposed the hypocrisy of slavery in a self-professed egalitarian Republic, using the same natural rights rhetoric Jefferson and the founders articulated in 1776. Referring to slave owners repeatedly as tyrants, Walker furiously charged, "See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? 'We hold these truths to be self-evident-that ALL men are created EQUAL!! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!!' Compare your own language…with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers…" And Patrick Henry's oft quoted, "Give me liberty or give me death," resounds in Walker's own declaration, "Yea, would I meet death with avidity far! far!! in preference to such servile submission to the murderous hands of tyrants."

Walker's pamphlet shook the revered foundations of America to its core, but its 'certain truths' could not be denied. Found dead in 1830 near his Boston home, Walker died most likely of tuberculosis, although the black community maintained he had been murdered. While the cause of his death remains an interpretive challenge for historians, Walker's truths ring on. For more information on Walker and other notable black Bostonians, visit the BOAF website at www.nps.gov/BOAF/.

- Alison T. Mann, Ph.D.

 
 

Last updated: February 26, 2015

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