Charlotte Forten (1837-1914) was an anti-slavery activist, poet, and educator who is celebrated as the first African American woman to teach in Salem Public Schools. Our team views this overall memorialization process as an opportunity to both celebrate a famous Black leader in Salem’s history as well as celebrate the larger narrative of Salem’s strong abolitionist history that often goes untold. We believe this project serves as a crucial intervention to building collective knowledge and empowerment for Salem’s diverse community in the past, present, and future.
This initiative was supported via a Public Art for Spatial Justice grant via the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA).
In 2021, our team of municipal staff, local organizers, artists, and community partners led an outreach process that led to a robust amount of community feedback to inform the memorialization process moving forward. Central to our process was creating an inclusive strategy to harness feedback from the local community to envision a memorialization to Charlotte Forten. This was centered on the development of a multi-lingual digital and print survey, developed in partnership with local partners and stakeholders. The survey was available both online as well as through a mailing initiative, which leveraged city mailing lists. Respondents were incentivized to participate through the inclusion of a public raffle for multiple gifts cards to Black and/or women-owned businesses.
In addition to the survey initiative, our team organized an on-site activation in summer 2021 once COVID conditions lightened, which included artistic panels of Charlotte Forten, a modern reenactor of her poetry, and a pop-up art workshop hosted in partnership with Salem Arts Fest.
In total, our process led to over 300 survey responses from community members, which have been made publicly accessible online via a dashboard on the city website. Currently, our team working on acquiring funding to support the development of a public art call.