“We fit right into a paradox because of this tower that everyone is looking for as a symbol of freedom and independence,” Nikki Stewart, director of Old North Church & Historic Site told NewsMadura. “That same tower was made possible by the slave trade and Africa.”
On Tuesday, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced that the Old North Church Foundation has been awarded a $75,000 grant. Stewart says the foundation plans to create a program that will reinterpret the church and its congregation with slavery.
A tour of the church grounds currently houses exhibits developed separately and created over a long period of time. “We have a responsibility to tell the complexity of our story and weave it all together,” Stewart says. “There will no longer be a situation where we talk about Paul Revere and then slavery in a separate place on the property,” she says.
Built in 1723, the Old North Church is one of the oldest surviving church buildings in Boston and an important structure during the American Revolution, the Civil War, and the founding of the Union. The church grounds were frequented by wealthy merchants, government officials, and skilled merchants, all of whom were likely involved in Boston’s burgeoning slave trade.
Stewart says the foundation recognizes the Church’s connection to human trafficking and slave labor and wants to build a cohesive historical narrative for its more than 150,000 annual visitors.
“The overarching goal is to create a future where all Americans can see their stories, hopes, and struggles reflected in places like the Old North in a shared American history,” she says.
The foundation began publicly confronting its ties to slavery after investigations in 2019 shed light on how prominent church members were linked to smuggling slaves into Boston. In 2016, Pastor Stephen Ayres, Pastor of the Old North, reached out to Boston College doctoral student Jared Ross Hardesty after reading his book “Unfreedom,” which mentioned a member of the Old North congregation during the colonial period. of the church, as reported by Boston Globe in 2019. At Ayres, Hardesty conducted further research that revealed the church’s extensive ties to slavery, the article said.
“Like many historic sites and institutions, we are grappling with new research into our site’s historical entanglement with slavery, which stands in stark contrast to the Old North Church’s identity as a symbol of freedom and the site of one of the most iconic protest actions in the history of our nation,” reads the summary for the award of the Oude Kerk to NEH.
According to the agency’s website, the Oude Kerk is one of nearly 240 grant recipients awarded by the NEH for humanities projects supporting the preservation of historical collections, documentaries and exhibits on humanities, science books and research, and educational opportunities. for teachers.