In Salem, honoring an abolitionist legacy
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In this age of racial anxiety, visitors to Salem's newly named Remond Park overlooking Beverly Harbor should know this: One of its namesakes, Sarah Parker Remond, was forced out of a Salem district high school in the 1830s after 176 whites protested the presence of black children. Two of her siblings were expelled, as well.
Remond would go on to become an internationally sought-after antislavery lecturer and activist, as well as a physician. But she never forgot the degradation of that day.
In 1861 she wrote, "We had been expelled from the school on the sole ground of our complexion," according to Rebecca R. Noel, writing in the 2004 compilation "Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory.''
Acting on white demands, Salem's powers-that-were in 1834 herded black students of all ages into an upstairs chamber of the rundown Centre English School, wrote Noel, "reversing two centuries of development in Salem's public-school system."
In response, Remond's father, the prominent entrepreneur John Remond, moved the family from Salem, where they had lived for decades, to Newport, R.I., where the children attended an all-black private school. They returned six years later, around the time Salem's schools became permanently integrated.
Nearly two centuries later, Mayor Kimberley Driscoll has honored Salem-born abolitionists Sarah and her older brother, Charles Lenox Remond, by naming the small park after them. On Monday, Aug. 8, the city will host a neighborhood celebration from 6 to 7:30 p.m. A fitting location, the portion of the Bridge Street Neck near the park was home to a large population of African-Americans, sailors, and others active in the maritime trades. The Remond family lived on Summer Street.
Francis Mayo, a Salem attorney and local historian, is grateful that Driscoll provided the impetus for honoring the siblings, and the entire Remond family, which included matriarch Nancy Lenox Remond and eight children.
"The whole family — all were abolitionists," Mayo said. "They have been unacknowledged for so long."
He said that North Shore schools have not sufficiently emphasized "the hugely important" role that Essex County played in the abolition movement. "William Lloyd Garrison from Newburyport, John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry Ingersoll Bowditch — many of the leading people, white and black — were abolitionists. It's an inspiring history."
Charles Lenox Remond, one of the original 17 members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1833, was an orator, friend, and supporter of Garrison. When Frederick Douglass, with his brilliant narrative gifts and experience of having been born into slavery, came to the North Shore, it was said that Charles Remond had met his oratorical match.
"By all accounts, both men were brilliant intellects," Mayo said.
"This was really the first civil rights movement, predating [the movement of] the 1960s by 100 years," he continued. "Essex County in particular was a strong source of fervent abolitionism.
"The history of the women's movement is also tied to the movement. Women were there from the beginning," said Mayo, citing research from the Female Anti-Slavery Society documents at the Peabody Essex Museum.
After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that all escaped slaves be returned to their masters upon capture, Garrison famously lighted a copy of the act and the US Constitution on fire. "Even while Garrison was widely condemned,'' Mayo said, "Charles Remond supported him."
Lecturing on both sides of the Atlantic, Sarah and Charles Remond were aware that slavery was "tangled up with the cotton trade," a tremendous source of revenue for the North, Mayo said. "They educated people about the economic forces that were leading to the horrible institution."
From 1859 until the end of the Civil War in 1865, Sarah lectured in England. "Her talks attracted a many as 2,000, most of them white, and often led to important resolutions, press articles," and financial contributions to the abolitionist movement, wrote Salem historian Jim McAllister in a 1999 article.
She returned to America after the war but went back to England in 1866 and then to Florence, Italy, where she studied and became a physician in her 40s. She had a short-lived marriage to Lazzaro Pintor of Sardinia and was on her own within three years. She died in 1894 and is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, according to historian Marilyn Richardson, who with Mayo raised funds to place a memorial plaque at her gravesite in 2013.
Charles, along with other family members, is buried at Salem's Harmony Grove Cemetery.
In her letter to the Salem City Council on renaming the park, Driscoll, Salem's mayor, included a quote from Charles Remond:
"When the world shall learn that 'mind makes the man, that goodness, moral worth, and integrity of soul are the true tests of character, then prejudice against caste and color will cease to be."