Nantucket residents woke up Sunday morning to find a racist slur spray-painted across the door of the town’s Museum of African American History, but officials said the island has a history of healthy relationships among diverse racial and ethnic communities.
“I was totally shocked,” said Michael R. Harrison, chief curator at the Nantucket Historical Society
Harrison claimed Nantucket is generally one of the most diverse counties in Massachusetts, made up of not only white and African-American communities, but also strong Eastern European, Central American, and South American populations.
“Even early on, the community was pretty tight-knit and close,” said Charity-Grace Mofsen, the associate director of Nantucket’s Museum of African American History. “We knew that in order to survive you have to work together. It’s pretty incredible that they were able to realize so early on that weakening any part of your community is weakening the whole community.”
Here’s more information on the story behind the Museum of African American History’s meeting house.
■ African slaves arrived in Nantucket with the first white settlers in the 1600s, and in 1764, the first official record of the black population counted 44 people, according to the island’s African Meeting House. Nine years later, the town abolished slavery, and African-Americans worked as tradespeople, laborers, whalers, and mariners. By 1820, Nantucket’s black population had grown to 274 people.
■ In the early 1820s, the African Meeting House was established as a school, church, and meeting spot for the black community, and served as an important piece in the story of integrated education. Nantucket public schools were officially desegregated in 1846, 108 years before the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs. Board of Education that segregation in schools was unconstitutional.
■ The African Meeting House closed in 1911, but 80 years later, the Museum of African American History restored it and reopened it to the public as a museum. It’s currently the only identifiable public structure remaining on the island central to the history of the African community of the 18th and 19th centuries, according to the museum. The meeting house is now open as part of the Museum of African American History, along with a black heritage trail and a historic African burial ground.
■ The meeting house was built in the town’s Five Corners plot, a place almost everyone is familiar with.Elise Takahama can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @elisetakahama.