Historic American Church Prepared to Integrate Ties to Slavery | Religion

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The great contradiction of the Old North Church in Boston is that a site essential to the nation’s freedom is the same place slave owners and traders once worshiped.

Now, with a $ 75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities announced on Tuesday, the foundation responsible for preserving the church’s campus and visitor experience plans to revamp its educational programming to better reconcile and integrate these connections. with slavery.

The grant is one of $ 28.4 million in grants for approximately 240 projects nationwide.

“We will be able to resolve what I call the Old North Church Paradox,” said Nikki Stewart, executive director of the Old North Foundation, which is separate from the active Episcopal congregation which still uses the site for them. religious services. “People see us as a symbol of freedom and independence, but the reality is that the church has benefited from African slavery.”

For example, the famous bell tower was financed in part by the sale of logwood, the harvest of which depended on slave labor, she said.

The church, built in 1723, is known to generations of schoolchildren as the place where in 1775 two lanterns in the steeple signaled the British were heading for Concord and Lexington “by sea” and put Paul Revere on the journey that started the American Revolution.

Ties to slavery have always been known, but the strength of those ties was revealed several years ago after the foundation launched a program to highlight the ties of several devotees to the colonial manufacturing trade. chocolate.

As it turned out, one of those chocolatiers was Newark Jackson, who was also a ship captain and a smuggler who trafficked in slaves.

“It was really a punch in the stomach of our whole organization,” said Stewart.

Further research revealed that Jackson was killed in a mutiny aboard a ship in 1743 that at the time carried 15 slaves, including 13 children.

Like most cultural organizations, the Old North Foundation suffered greatly during the pandemic. The church received around 150,000 visitors in 2019. It has closed completely for a while, and Stewart estimates that current visits are still only about half of what they used to be.

The grant will help change the educational experience in three ways: through the stories staff tell visitors; through updated exhibits and interpretive panels; and through new online and digital programming designed for kids.

“We hope that through this plan all Americans will be able to see their stories in Old North Church,” said Stewart.


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