The Marblehead Racial Justice Team teamed up with guest speaker, Doneeca Thurston Executive Director of Lynn Museum/Lynn Arts, Board member, Iris Kimber, and Lynn resident, Tara Agaba on Monday, Jan. 23, for a discussion on the importance of showcasing diverse stories in the Lynn Community.
The discussion included a recent exhibition “Untold Stories: A History of Black People in Lynn, at the Lynn Museum, ” which explored the history of Black people in Lynn from the colonial period to the present day. There are many stories of people of color who have contributed to the wealth and prosperity of our nation that many are unaware of but Thurston along with Kimber highlights that this history is important in understanding who we are today as a community in Lynn.
“In part of telling this story, we wanted to be very transparent about when Black people first started showing up in Lynn and for many of those folks it was as enslaved peoples,” said Thurston.
“I know that Marblehead Museum is doing a lot of this work as many others across North Shore and a country as a whole to reclaim these histories for what they are and to incorporate these histories into our overall history because Black history is American history and we felt it very important to be transparent about not only the enslaved community but those who benefited from enslavement here within Lynn,” added Thurston.
The Lynn Museum has obtained Manumission documents as well as proceeds of the sale of enslaved peoples in Lynn being displayed at the Museum.
Kimber, highlighted the Blacks who came from the south, the Caribbean Islands, and Nova Scotia and established several churches that evolved into one church focused mostly on activism. “When we looked at records and looked in newspaper articles, we discovered that through these churches, we had Blacks in the 1800s who were voting. They were voting, they were deciding which candidates they would support, and using that power (which seemed to have gotten lost somewhere along the way) but initially, there are many articles about how the church members gathered to determine which candidate would be the best one to serve their needs in Lynn,” said Kimber.
“In the 1900s and certainly the 1930s and 40s there were some very strong, dynamic, charismatic ministers in these Black churches, who led people to take a bigger and stronger role in determining their fate within the community. They also I mean, the Brotherhood credit union, it’s one of those things where they started a credit union because they realize that banks were not going to lend to black folk. So they started a credit union so they could support black people in getting loans and buying homes,” added Kimber.
Kimber asserts that a lot of the blacks from Nova Scotia who were black loyalists ended up migrating back to land in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts because of the jobs available. When researching her family history, Kimber discovered that her fourth great-grandfather was the founder of one of the first black communities in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“Nova Scotia was not a haven for Blacks. There were a lot of the same prejudices and that’s why they were not able to stay there and get land grants that they gave to, let’s say settlers from Scotland or Ireland, or whatever they had promised them to the blacks who were in Nova Scotia. But, they never gave it to them!” said Kimber.
During the discussion, Kimber along with Thurston agreed that Black History shouldn’t be relegated to a month such as Black History Month, “No, it should not be. It was because that was a way of compartmentalizing, and recognition. You know, and having, you know, I don’t know Native American History Month and this history month, stop compartmentalizing and just celebrate the history if we could. Just stop doing that and celebrate the history of everyone as it is and as it comes up,” said Kimber.
A historic program shouldn’t be displayed on February- Black History Month but rather any time of the year simply because it is informative.
“Black History Month is also the shortest month of the year, which I don’t think was coincidental, but black history happens every day, so we should celebrate it every day,” added Thurston.
“I think that what needs to happen is that that basically, folks need to recognize that Black History is American history and that it’s part of those stories. Just like you have the story of the original settlers, you know, and you have the story of, you know, all of the immigrant groups that came here. You have the story of black immigrants who came here, you have the story of black slaves who were brought here. It’s all part of the country’s history. It’s not, it shouldn’t be perceived as separate. It’s not, it’s not separate. We are people in the fabric of our cities and towns and schools and whatever,” said Kimber.
Kimber along with Thurston are making a true effort as an organization to share more stories and be more inclusive of the stories they share within the Lynn community, highlighting the Cambodian community in Lynn and exploring what it might mean to be Cambodian or Cambodian American in today’s climate, and highlight contemporary combined voices within Lynn and across the country.