Monday, February 5, 2024

Racism in rural Vermont: 1890s

Vermont Public published a great story a couple of weeks ago regarding the 1890 disappearance of a Black preacher, John Harrison, in Norwich, Vermont and the failure to charge the man who confessed to his murder. It also details a place name with racist origins that may have derived from his presence in the community. You can read (or listen) to the story here. It serves a nice follow up to my previous piece on racism in North Carolina during the same period and a good reminder that racism wasn't the exclusive province of the South. 

This piece touches on a few interesting artifacts of history:

  1. The outmigration of people from rural New England in the 19th century. I've touched on this in previous writings but this article does a great job of illustrating the opportunities created by the holes that are left when people leave. In this story, Mr. Harrison ends up in Norwich to serve as a preacher, a job which had become less coveted because of the declining population. It is unfortunate that racial prejudice prevented him from fully taking advantage of the opportunity. 
  2. The racism that people of color faced outside of the rural South. The heart of the Abolitionist movement was in New England, but that doesn't mean that Black people were welcome in those communities. People wanted them to be free, but free elsewhere. 
  3. The erasure of records, which is a national problem for people of color and historically lower-income people. 
As a student at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, I spent four years living across the Connecticut River from Norwich. The Upper Valley (as the area is known locally) is a beautiful community with an interesting history. I'm happy to see my former Sociology of Law professor, Deborah King, quoted in this piece and I am excited to see her research into Dartmouth's role in the transatlantic slave trade. 

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