Connected \\ June 17, 2022

This June PEM celebrates extraordinary moments in local Black history

Amid mass shootings and the widening political division over our future, on June 19, we will pause to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. At PEM, we are especially excited about an exhibition from our library collection that examines how US schools became integrated. And it happened right here in Salem. The show’s title, Let None Be Excluded: The Origins of Equal School Rights in Salem, comes from an issue of The American Anti Slavery Almanac, on display in the gallery. “As soon as we saw that phrase, we said, ‘That's the one. That's it,’” said Dan Lipcan, PEM’s Ann C. Pingree Director of PEM’s Phillips Library.

Dan Lipcan and Doreen Wade in the gallery. Photo by Ellie Dolan.

Dan Lipcan and Doreen Wade in the gallery. Photo by Ellie Dolan.

Lipcan gave a private tour for Doreen Wade, the president of Salem United, the nonprofit organization responsible for putting on the annual Black Picnic held in July in the Salem Willows. “I've got to get people in here to see this,” said Wade, who partners with local schools, offering lectures and workshops to teach local Black history. While working on an exhibition about the history of the Black Picnic, Wade discovered that she is related to the Remonds, the family of famous abolitionists who lived in historic Hamilton Hall on Chestnut Street. A Remond descendant from Maine visited the exhibition at Salem’s Hamilton Hall and Wade realized that they were cousins. “What basically happened is, she said to me, ‘Doreen, you're standing on the grounds of your family.’ My history is here. You don't have to live here to have a history here."

In the James Duncan Phillips Trust Gallery, featuring exhibitions highlighting the Phillips Library’s extraordinary collections, Let None Be Excluded tells the story of the equal school rights struggle in Salem in the 19th century, focusing on the Black activists that pushed these changes forward and started the national movement for equal school rights. More than 170 white residents of Salem signed a petition in June of 1834 asking the School Committee to create a separate school for Black kids.

Black residents launched a nearly decade-long struggle for the educational rights of children of color. Their valiant efforts convinced the Salem School Committee to abolish racially separate public schools in 1844. Salem was one of the first municipalities in the United States to do so. Ten years later, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a law forbidding school committees from classifying students by race. The arguments were put together by Robert Morris, who was 19 when he wrote the petition to the school committee in 1844. Sarah Remond was 10 when she was expelled from the East School for Girls without good cause and Charlotte Forten was 16 when she collected signatures for the Massachusetts petition.

“We're connecting youth to activism and we're trying to make the point here like many of the exhibitions in the museum that youth can be a powerful force for change,” said Lipcan. “We see that in our Climate Action exhibition, featuring youth artists. We hope that this exhibition will inspire some of the school kids that are in the area to realize that they can make change as well.”

An accompanying response station asks what changes visitors would like to see in education today and how they might successfully petition for change. One plain sentence in upper case letters caught the eye of Lipcan and Wade: PROTECT THE CHILDREN. Lipcan has been giving tours to local teachers, drawing the line from this remarkable local story to its national relevance. A central tenet of the equal school rights movement asserted that all children have a right to a quality education on an equal and inclusive basis regardless of race.

Photos by Ellie Dolan.

Photos by Ellie Dolan.

The history unfolds in the small gallery, featuring the documents like the Morris petition, the seed for this exhibition, discovered by Dr. Kabria Baumgartner of Northeastern University, who was a Malamy Fellow in the Phillips Library at the time, working on Black history of Essex County.

“We think parents and these folks were threatened by the excellence of the Remond family,” said Lipcan. “They were excellent students and perhaps were top of their class. Sarah Remond talks about that a little bit in her autobiography. That was threatening to people. The school committee voted after this petition was submitted to create a separate school for Black children.”

A large book contains the crescendo of the equal school rights debate from 1843–44, where the city clerk documented the increasing dissatisfaction of Black parents, the review of Robert Morris’s petition, and the vote of this momentous decision.

Record from the school committee, 1843–44. Photo by Kathy Tarantola.

“Kabria and I talked about seeing if the school committee had any documentation on these meetings,” said Lipcan. “It was like a shot in the dark. Like, let's just ask them. We'll see what they know. They went through some basement room. They found this volume.”

Meanwhile, the Remond family went on to speak out against slavery internationally, joining up with the likes of Frederick Douglass. Sarah Parker Remond, born free in Massachusetts, which was at the center of the abolitionist movement, wrote a searing essay describing her expulsion at 10 years old from Salem’s East School for Girls.

Photographer in the United States, Sarah Parker Remond, about 1865, Albumen print. Gift of Miss Cecelia R. Babcock. Phillips Library, Salem Streets Collection, PH322. Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.

Photographer in the United States, Sarah Parker Remond, about 1865, Albumen print. Gift of Miss Cecelia R. Babcock. Phillips Library, Salem Streets Collection, PH322. Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum.

“I appeal on behalf of four million men, women and children who are chattels in the Southern States of America,” she declared to an audience in Liverpool, England in 1859, two years before the outbreak of the American Civil War. “…Not because they are identical with my race and color, though I am proud of that identity, but because they are men and women.”

Though Wade lives in Cambridge, like many who have descended from historic figures in Salem, she feels invested here, therefore taking over the historic Negro Election Day, now called The Black Picnic, an event nearly 300 years old, which celebrates the one day Black people could take off to meet and discuss issues of the day, elect their own Black governor, and celebrate. It has changed over the years but basically served as a family-oriented social gathering and reunion, often coordinated by churches.

“They wanted the right to read. They wanted the right to go to school. They fought for that,” said Wade. “I can tell you that their work with Negro Election Day was surrounding all of this, whether it was education, the right to have businesses, the right to freedom. This is all related in Salem.”

Black community members would come to Salem from Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett and Lynn to celebrate. The picnic, on July 16 this year, and held every third Saturday in July, is expecting thousands, said Wade.

At the conclusion of the gallery tour, Lipcan showed Wade a photo of a poster recently discovered in the Phillips Library, promoting Salem’s Negro Election Day. The library is working to have the piece of ephemera conserved.

“There's so much to this history,” said Wade. “You don't realize it until things come out. You have a thirst and a hunger to just completely find out, what is the rest? What does it mean?”

Knowing this history, said Wade, helps to forge the path for a robust Black community in Salem today.

TOP IMAGE: Plan of the City of Salem, 1836, in The Salem Directory, and City Register (detail), 1837, Phillips Library, gift of Henry Wheatland.


Juneteenth Flag Posters
Sunday, June 19, and Monday, June 20 | 1-3 pm
Included with admission

Also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, this nationwide holiday commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States. Join us in creating a celebratory poster to showcase Juneteenth’s beautiful flag.

The exhibition is on view until April 15, 2024. PEM has teamed up with Quartex to share digital archival collections that celebrate and commemorate unique chapters in the history of Salem, MA. Concurrent to the opening of Let None Be Excluded, PEM has launched a collection of digitized exhibition documents and related materials for visitors to dig more deeply into the topic at the following link: Share your impressions on social media using #PEMLetNone

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