J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dedication of the African Burying Ground Memorial Park in Portsmouth

I was planning to post about something else today, but discussions at last night’s seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society reminded me of an important commemoration taking place this week in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

From today through Saturday, 23 May, the city is honoring the completion of the new African Burying Ground Memorial Park.

In the eighteenth century, the town’s black inhabitants were buried at a site on the town’s outskirts. Eventually Portsmouth grew over that location. Early in this century, construction on Chestnut Street unearthed the remains of thirteen burials, out of up to two hundred that might have taken place at the site. That history explains why this park has a subtitle: We Stand in Honor of Those Forgotten. It’s the only known African burying ground from the era in New England.

On Saturday, those remains will be reburied at the site within a series of commemorative events.

Wednesday, 20 May, 9:00 A.M.
Unveiling of Ceramic Tiles
Sculptor Jerome B. Meadows and students from Portsmouth Middle School will reveal the ceramic they designed to be installed in the decorative railing at the site.

9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
Petition of 1779 on Display
On 12 Nov 1779 twenty black men signed a petition to the Revolutionary New Hampshire government seeking relief from slavery. That document from the state archives is on display at the Seacoast African American Cultural Center at 10 Middle Street. (The cultural center is also hosting a show of art by middle-school students about the African Burying Ground.)

6:30 P.M.
Public Art & Portsmouth: A Community Forum
A discussion of the value of public art with sculptor Jerome Meadows and local arts figures at 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughn Street.

Friday, 22 May, 7:00 P.M. on
African Burying Ground Ancestral Vigil
As part of the reburial celebration, members of the community will hold an all-night vigil at the New Hope Baptist Church, 263 Peverly Hill Road. Services of remembrance are scheduled at 7:00 P.M., midnight, and 6:00 A.M. Saturday morning. The hours between services are open for anyone wanting to pay homage in their own way: sitting quietly, reciting a poem, saying a prayer, singing a song, playing the piano or other instrument, or otherwise. Those wishing to participate should contact JerriAnne Boggis or Kelvin Edwards with details.

Saturday, 23 May, 8:30 A.M.
Reburial Ceremony
Nine caskets will be placed in the vault constructed as part of the Memorial. The ceremony includes traditional African burial customs and the unveiling of the work of sculptor Jerome B. Meadows.

10:30 A.M.
Public Celebration of the Park
Following the reburial ceremony, a public celebration with food, music, and inspirational voices will take place at the Portsmouth Middle School Auditorium.

1:30 P.M.
Site Walk with Artist and Construction Team
Members of the construction team and sculptor Edwards will return to the African Burying Ground Park to answer questions about the Memorial installation.

5:00 P.M.
Burial Vault Lid Placement
At the close of the day, the burial vault lid will be placed on the vault. Members of the public will be invited to witness from a safe distance.

7:00 P.M.
Blind Boys of Alabama Concert
The gospel singing group formed in 1939 will offer a concert of traditional gospel songs and contemporary spirituals in celebration of the African Burying Ground Memorial at the Music Hall, 28 Chestnut Street.

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