Sepia photograph of Sarah Parker Remond, seated with her hands crossed in her lap and a smile on her faceNineteenth-century Salem residents celebrated the city's early public school system for welcoming and educating children. Despite the system's success, the Salem school committee moved to establish separate schools for Black children in 1834.

The sudden decision angered Black residents who launched a nearly decade-long struggle for the educational rights of children of color. Their valiant efforts convinced the Salem School Committee to abolish racially separate public schools in 1844. Salem was one of the first municipalities in the United States to do so. Ten years later, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to pass a law forbidding school committees from classifying students by race.

This exhibition features documents reflecting the impassioned activism of young Black leaders, including Sarah Parker Remond and Robert Morris. These youth, as agents in their own education, sparked the national equal school rights movement by tethering educational rights to democracy and racial equality. These Salem voices and their spirited words and actions changed the course of our schools and our nation.


Exhibitions owe a debt of gratitude to many, many people. We are unable to list them all!

The core project team:

  • Kabria Baumgartner, Dean's Associate Professor of History and Africana Studies, Associate Director of Public History at Northeastern University and Co-curator
  • Rebecca Bednarz, Editor for Curatorial Initiatives
  • Karen Moreau Ceballos, Exhibition Design Manager
  • Mollie Denhard, Exhibition Preparator
  • Sam Dinnie, Editorial Intern, Curatorial Department
  • Amanda Fowler, Assistant Digitization Librarian
  • Dan Lipcan, The Ann C. Pingree Director of the Phillips Library and Co-curator
  • Paul Martin, Northeastern University Public History program graduate student
  • Rachel Miller, Associate Registrar
  • Clare Nelson, Northeastern University Public History program graduate student
  • Hannah Silbert, Associate Director of Exhibition Planning

Community advisors:

  • Beth Bower
  • Dane Morrison 

Institutions that generously loaned materials for exhibition:

  • Boston Athenæum
  • The Canton Historical Society
  • City of Salem, Massachusetts, Salem School Committee