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Uncovering The Past

Uncovering The PastWhile many may not know the history of slavery in the town of Medford, Mass., a new exhibit created by Tufts historians and students re-examines the role slaves played in the city’s past. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.04.03] Founded in 1630, Medford, Massachusetts is among the oldest cities in the United States. But one part of the city's long history may come as a surprise to many locals. Slavery, say two Tufts experts, was an institution in the early days of Medford - an issue they explore in a new exhibit designed in part by Tufts students.

"It's overlooked because slavery is an evil most people in the country associate with the South," Jay B. Griffin - a historian at Tufts and in Medford's public schools - told The Boston Globe.

Griffin - a Medford native - told the Globe it is time to revisit the city's obscure past. In a new exhibit on display in Medford, Griffin and his Tufts colleague Rosalind Shaw do just that.

"[It's an exhibit] about the slaves who lived and worked here, who they were, what they and other slaves and free blacks in Medford achieved, so we can get a sense of them as people," said Shaw, an anthropologist at Tufts who worked with Griffin on the project.

That theme is taking hold around the country.

"[Griffin said] the exhibit is important because it comes at a time when there is much discussion and interest on a national level in the origins of slavery and the contributions slaves and free African-Americans have made in the communities of their servitude," reported the Globe.

Historians, scholars and journalists, especially those of African-American heritage, say Griffin - who is president of the Medford Historical Society - are adding momentum to the discussion.

The conversation is taking shape in a new exhibit in Medford due in part to Tufts experts, students, and community members - including representatives of the Royall House Association, Medford High School students and members of Medford's African American community.

"With Tufts associate professor Rosalind Shaw, [Griffin and] the Medford Historical Society will display and discuss artifacts uncovered from slave quarters located on the estate of Isaac Royall, an Englishman and rum merchant who arrived in Medford from Antigua with 27 slaves in 1737," reported the Globe. "Royall, who fled Medford with his family at the start of the American Revolution, left behind his estate and the Georgian-style home on what is now George Street."

One of the last remaining slave-housing structures in the northeast, The Royall House in Medford is a main feature of the exhibit.

"The Royall House Slave Quarters is a very special place on our doorstep," said Shaw.

The Royall House exhibit is partially the product of a course Shaw and Griffin co-taught a in the anthropology department at Tufts. Entitled "Memories of the Slave Trade: Remembering the Forgotten Royalls" the class gave Tufts students the opportunity to discuss what should be included in the exhibit. Their ideas, which were incorporated in the discussion with community members, included what subjects would be covered, which artifacts would be integrated and how they would be presented.

"This was a community partnership course," said Shaw of the collaborative effort. "It's not just our vision of this particular history."

The exhibit will be open Sundays from 2-4 PM from Feb. 9 until the end of the month at the Medford Historical Society, 10 Governor's Ave. in Medford.

 

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