CONCORD-CARLISLE HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Annual report from the Chair, 2009-2010
Established in 1978, the Council has a membership of approximately 700, with an Executive Board of 22. Officers, with 2-year terms are:
Chair: Polly Attwood
Vice-Chair: Molly Carocci
Clerk: Kristin Allison
Treasurer: Steve Zippin
Newsletter Editor: Liz Clayton
Webmaster: Lorell Gifford Ambrose
The first of the Council’s annual events was the Human Rights Day Breakfast on December 7th. It was held at the First Parish in Concord, hosted by the Reverend Gary Smith. The speaker that morning was Concord’s Chief of Police, Len Wetherbee. Chief Wetherbee is retiring in February after over thirty years on the police force, and his insights into what makes a community work, and what promotes a climate for freedom in that community was invaluable. He has worked closely with many groups within the Concord community, (the Human Rights Council, Communities for Restorative Justice, Domestic Violence Prevention, to name but a few), and his influence has gone much further than the confines of the Police Department – he will be greatly missed.
The Council also took part the late shopping night and Tree Lighting night in December, showcasing Fair Trade Coffee and ‘Anti-Slavery’ cakes, in the attempt to raise funds for a couple of the ongoing projects of the Council.
In January the Council held the Annual MLK Celebration to a packed house at the Sanborn School, hosting the Willard Chorus, the Boston Children’s Choir, and the Holy Tabernacle Women’s Ministry Choir.
In April, the Council coordinated the 30th Annual Holocaust Memorial Observance on behalf of the Concord Board of Selectmen. Dr. Martina Emme, daughter of Nazi officer, and Dr. Robert Gerzon, son and grandson of survivors, told of their experiences, and of their work in coming to terms with their own history.
Two sub-committees of the Council have been particularly active this year. Danielle Laura is heading up the founding of a METCO Scholarship Fund in memory of Abdirauf Abdullahi. He was a CCHS METCO graduate, who was killed in a random shooting in Boston two months before heading off to college on a full scholarship. The second fundraising event to build the scholarship fund was held in April, featuring local and Boston drumming and dance groups.
The Drinking Gourd Committee, formed to establish an African-American and Abolitionists’ Tour in Concord achieved that primary goal with the production of map guides to the historic places in that part of Concord’s history, together with descriptions of the residents, enslaved and free, who lived and worked here. It also describes the efforts of the abolitionists in the town. Town guides attended a training session with members of the group, and the maps were distributed to the school, libraries, Chamber of Commerce, Museum and Orchard House.
Thanks to the generosity of the husband of a Council member, the committee was able to present a gift, to the Concord School Committee, of three framed exhibits of the Mary Rice/Abraham Lincoln petition. Mary Rice was a schoolteacher in Concord in the 1800’s, and also a stationmaster on the Underground Railroad. It was she who, moved by the story of John Jack’s life, used to plant lilies on his grave. She gathered signatures of the children of Concord, attaching them to a petition to Abraham Lincoln, asking him to ensure that no children be enslaved. President Lincoln wrote back, saying, “Please tell these little people I am very glad their young hearts are so full of just and generous sympathy and that while I have not the power to grant all they ask, I trust that they will remember that God has, and that, as it seems, He will do it.”
The committee obtained archival copies of the petition, the signatures and Lincoln’s reply, having them framed for each of the three Public Elementary Schools in Concord.
In the middle of the year, the Drinking Gourd committee was alerted to the situation of the ‘Peter Hutchinson house’ on Bedford St. The owner had died, and the heirs had put the property on the market, and applied to have the structure demolished. This particular house was on the Town’s ‘Demolition Delay’ list, a bye-law that gives time for town agencies to find ways to save structures of historic importance. A six-month delay was issued, and the committee went to work. It was discovered that the house was originally built by Caesar Robbins after he was given his freedom, only later moved to the Bedford St location.
Robbins and his extended family lived in the house for over one hundred years, and their stories touch on much of the history of Concord. They are mentioned by Thoreau, figure in the history of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society, have connections to the Barrett family, the Emerson-Bliss families, the Old Manse, and Simon Hunt.
In deciding to save the house, hoping to move it to a location closer to its original site, and turn the structure into an interpretive museum of African-American, Abolitionist and Civil Liberties history, the committee began a fundraising campaign.
It transpired that the entire property needed to be purchased, so the Drinking Gourd Committee submitted an application for funding to the Concord Preservation Committee. Town Meeting approved the award of $60,000.00, and the Town Manager was authorized to lease to the DGP a small plot of land by the North Bridge Parking lot for 25 years at $1.00 per year. Funds will become available after July 1st. Generous donations from interested citizens, and a matching funds challenge by a local former business owner, Bill Barber, have done much to help the fundraising goal, and real estate developers, Johanna and John Boynton, very generously bought the property and donated the house itself to the DGP.
In addition to the above activities, the Council has been involved in working with residents about rights violations, hate crimes and issues of discrimination. We are not professional mediators, but act as a resource for the community in finding mediators, sensitivity training, legal advice, etc. We hosted Sunila Thomas George, from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, at one of the monthly meetings, and worked with the police on a neighborhood dispute, as well as an incident of vandalism in the town.
During the year, we also co-sponsored The Homelessness Forum, the Communities for Restorative Justice Howard Zehr event, and the Combatants for Peace speakers at Kerem Shalom.
Thanks to all the hard work of Board members, it has been a busy and successful year