What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
Building on our seacoast successes … successes that include … the installation of 25 markers in Portsmouth that visibly honors the town’s 400-year Black history; the preservation of two major building, the Pearl and Rock Rest; and the return of the African Burying Ground to sacred space … the BHTNH’s work at this exciting juncture is the creation and full development of a robust statewide network of trails that will include Black history stories from all seven regions of the state, scaffolded by rigorous research, interpretive and educational materials, dynamic public partnerships and engaging public programming starting with Milford and Warner.
BHTNH’s work is about showing the history of race as a social construction developed when this nation was forming an ideology to justify slavery, to create wealth and to maintain power for the elite, and about creating space for difficult dialogue. Our programs, exhibits, guided tours, and curriculum development programs connect the dots between the past and the present to reveal the intersectionality of racism and other forms of oppression on systems of education, property, economic development, and politics. As such, these shared stories not only offer opportunities for historical and cultural study, but also self-analysis. This approach defuses what can be the divisiveness of discussion in contemporary American discourse by seeing “undoing race” as a shared endeavor.
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
A major part of the BHTNH's strategic statewide expansion plan (see attached document) is the development of partnerships with specific institutions in the towns slated for expansion. In Milford, in 2006 we worked with the Historical Society and the town's Board of Selectmen to erect a statue in honor of Harriet Wilson, the first African American woman to publish a novel in English. Today we are working with the Historical Society to create an exhibit, Journey to Freedom, which will chronicle the Town's early Black history, and with we are working with teachers and students in the high school to assist with curriculum development.
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
One tool the BHTNH has used for its statewide expansion is an expansion of our signature Portsmouth Tea Talk programs in three new locations around the state. These intentional and participatory dialogues act as a catalyst for deeper excavating of local Black history. An expansion of Tea Talks aligns with BHTNH’s overarching, four-phase expansion plan to develop and support a truly statewide network of trails with historic markers, online maps and narrative, as well as K-12 supplemental curricula. Tea Talks facilitate intellectual and communal connections between racism’s grip on our past and its contemporary manifestations. The program goal is to move participants into deeper thinking and action to make their towns places where true and full history is acknowledged, as one way to make our state’s future one where everyone thrives. In Warner, we will be working with the historical society to develop the town's Black Heritage Trail. Since our relationships in Milford are well established our expansion to Warner will serve as a model for how we work with researcher and institutions in towns where our organization is just developing a footprint.
During Phase One, we are focused on building partnerships with local researchers, historical societies and educational institutions in towns where there are documented Black histories, so we can collaboratively excavate and communicate them to local residents. As nationally-renowned experts in contested history, BHTNH provides guidance and training to partners to ensure excellence in research, documentation, presentation and interpretation. The BHTNH strives to be a standard-bearer and when it comes to historical interpretation and research in this area, conveying our state’s full histories with care and a critical eye. From the rich soil of these collaborative relationships, BHTNH will: develop and publish online histories and resources accessible to all; initiate development of educational curricula for use by local educators; and host a workshop session for historical societies and independent researchers on researching & documenting contested histories in their hometowns.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
The creation of the Portsmouth African Burying Ground Memorial, which was a successful collaborative effort lead by an individual researcher (Valerie Cunningham), embraced by town officials (Mayor's Blue Ribbon Committee), championed by the community and recognized by the country was our inspiration for the statewide Trail. The installation of a visible memorial honoring a town's hidden and contested history has created a space for the community and visitors to talk about the country's history of enslavement and its aftermath that continues to be felt today.