Press \\ Press Release
PEM spotlights the ongoing fight for educational equality with its new exhibition
Released April 7, 2022
Let None Be Excluded: The Origins of Equal School Rights in Salem
On view April 23, 2022 through April 23, 2023
SALEM, MA – The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents an exhibition drawn from its Phillips Library collection that explores how the 19th century struggle for educational rights began in Salem and led to equal education advocacy and reform across America. Thanks to the heroic effort by Black youth activists, students and parents, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state to outlaw school committees from classifying and dividing students by race. Through petitions, letters, newspaper clippings and court documents that capture the impassioned activism of Sarah Parker Remond, Robert Morris and other important youth leaders, visitors can experience firsthand the words and actions that changed the course of our school systems and our nation and understand how this fight continues today. Let None Be Excluded: The Origins of Equal School Rights in Salem is on view at PEM from April 23, 2022 through April 23, 2023, and is co-curated by Dan Lipcan, PEM’s Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library, and Dr. Kabria Baumgartner, Northeastern University’s Dean's Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies and Associate Director of Public History.
In 19th-century Salem, the public school system was considered the city's crown jewel and a point of pride for many residents. Despite the system’s success, in 1834 the Salem school committee suddenly began to separate children by race and to confine Black students to the newly established Colored School. In response, a vocal and organized activist movement arose, advocating for equal and inclusive education. “As agents in their own education, these young leaders used spirited words and actions to spark the national equal school rights movement by tethering education rights to democracy and racial equality, a position that still holds strong to this day,” said Lipcan. “This exhibition empathetically demonstrates how young people can be a force of powerful and lasting change in society.”
The first section of the exhibition, called Activists and Allies, looks at the key figures who authored editorials and petitions, spoke at organizational meetings and circulated petitions to local school committees and, eventually, to the Massachusetts state legislature. Another section looks at Black students and their teachers, orienting visitors to the equal school rights movement of Salem in the 1820s–1840s. Supporting documents espouse opinions from both opponents and proponents.
The exhibition benefited from a strong partnership with faculty and graduate students – Clare Nelson and Paul Martin – from Northeastern University’s Public History program, made possible by the generous support of the Spencer Foundation. Co-curator Kabria Baumgartner, who was a Malamy Fellow at the Phillips Library in 2018, wrote about the equal school rights movement in her recent book, In Pursuit of Knowledge: Black Women and Educational Activism in Antebellum (New York University Press, 2019). “This moment of protest in Salem changed the course of history in the United States forever,” said Dr. Baumgartner. “Because of the brave and outspoken Black youth activists in the past who worked consistently to make sure they were not excluded from opportunities afforded white children, there is active, ongoing work on equitable education policy in Massachusetts today.”