Dear Members, Supporters, and Friends,
As we think about the families, loved ones, and neighbors of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, whose senseless murders have sparked a nationwide call for justice and a renewed call to address systemic racism and inequalities in America, we here at HSI have taken this time to quiet our own presence on social media so that we could reflect on the power of historic preservation, the traditional practices of protecting our past, and the dynamics of power and economics that determine who writes history.
We’ve been asking ourselves, as a 75-year-old organization, what has our part been in perpetuating injustices, inequalities, and cultural erasure in seeking to protect that which we have helped to define as “the historic resources of Salem?” What have we done to bring greater awareness to the true breadth of cultural and economic variety and diverse populace of almost 400 years of life and commerce in Salem, Massachusetts?
Recently, we have been working to expand Local Historic Districts and Neighborhood Conservation Districts to more neighborhoods, and to offer more inclusive house histories and plaques, but those efforts have not been done with current and past inequalities and injustices at the very forefront of our efforts. We commit to dig deeper into the stories we tell, the research we conduct, and to expand our educational programming; we must increase our support and promotion of the work of others who are elevating a more inclusive telling of Salem’s storied past which includes the lives of many Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
We want to acknowledge that HSI, as its own institution with privilege and position in Salem’s community, likely participated in exclusionary practices by focusing protections on some but not all of Salem’s neighborhoods, perpetuating the white privilege inherent in the retelling of America’s history and through what has been deemed “significant” in defining our city’s historic character. As an organization, we must come to terms with this and commit to work diligently to dismantle racism and exclusionary practices in historic preservation when we see them. We acknowledge and support the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement now motivates us at HSI to include the telling of the lives and history and living experience of Black people in Salem and beyond from those enslaved here in the 17th century through today’s residents.
It is HSI’s mission to, “ensure that the historic resources of Salem, Massachusetts, which are the key to its identity, its quality of life, and its economic vitality, are preserved for future generations and that new development complements the historic character of the city.” We recognize that we must work to expand our understanding of what Salem’s identity and character have included and therefore work to preserve more stories, buildings and cultures.
Moving forward with increased self awareness and a commitment for change, we will share the resources that we’re using to educate ourselves; we’ll share the work of other organizations that highlights the lives and stories of People of Color and Indigenous people from Salem’s history, and we will elevate work being done in the preservation community nationwide that could give us direction for how we might do similar inclusivity work in our own community. It is our goal to acknowledge the experiences of our neighbors who are still marginalized today, and those from our collective past, in the hopes that together, we might help to build a more inclusive community and a more equitable future. It has been said before by others, and we now adopt and commit to the belief that historic preservation is not, and can not be, a neutral or exclusionary act.
Below is a list of resources to check out - preservation advocates, history lovers, neighbors, let’s get to work.
Historic Salem, Incorporated
Read: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi
Read: Black Lives, Native Lands, White Worlds: A History of Slavery in New England by Jared Ross Hardesty
Follow and Support: Not Your Momma's History, Cheyney McKnight
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