N.H.'s Hidden Black History: A Closer Look at Neglected Stories
With its 'lily-white' reputation, the Granite State doesn't often highlight the role that people of color have played throughout its history. A new documentary aims to reveal those hidden stories though, and their importance to the state's history.
- JerriAnne Boggis, director of the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail, founder and director of the Harriet Wilson Project, and director of diversity education and community outreach at the University of New Hampshire.
- David Watters, English professor at the University of New Hampshire, where his teaching interests include Black New England writers.
- Check out Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail's Juneteenth events, taking place on June 18, 2016.
JerriAnne Boggis on what it takes to teach N.H.’s black history, and why it’s important:
We’ve never been able to mourn slavery, and we’ve never been able to heal from it. So in coming up with the language we use to teach about it, Wilson’s book offers that opportunity as a tool about our story. But we have to be willing to embrace it and to get dirty - it’s a dirty history. We have to be willing to say the wrong words, and learn how to correct them. We have to be willing to get really deep and dirty - it’s not a pretty history; there’s no way to make it pretty. So we may as well face that, and look at the ugliness, and see how we heal from that.
Valerie Cunningham (in a clip from the film) on how even after slavery ended, black people didn’t have a place in New England’s economy:
If you were hiring somebody, you would hire a white person. So most of the black people who were still living here were older people who, perhaps, would not be so inclined to move and start life anew someplace else - and they were self-employed. And there was no motivation for younger people to stay here. They would leave, they would go to someplace where they could find work, and where they could find a more vibrant social life - not unlike today.
Nancy Vawter on the lack of familiarity with the N.H.’s black history:
I’d say, "Well, we’re doing a documentary on black history in New Hampshire.” And probably ten out of ten people would laugh and say, “What black history?” And I would always follow it up with, “Exactly." ...We want to keep asking the question, Why don’t you know about this history? Why aren’t we teaching our kids about this history? And why does it literally continually to be paved over and forgotten?
David Watters on why we need to change our understanding of the meaning of NH:
We can’t understand freedom and the fight for freedom without seeing it as an African American fight for freedom at a time when there’s both freedom and slavery. Without slavery, I don’t think you could have built Portsmouth, the economy of colonial NH; almost every elite family, particularly ministers, couldn’t do their jobs unless they had slaves doing their jobs. ... I think we have to re-imagine New Hampshire not as a white place: New Hampshire has imagined itself as a white place without a black history. That was false in the past; that’s false now.