Newburyport Black History Initiative

Founded in 2022, the Newburyport Black History Initiative (NBHI) aims to highlight and incorporate Newburyport’s Black history into the public landscape.

Newburyport Black History Initiative
A sign unveiling in February 2024 about Black antislavery activists in Newburyport. Here I am pictured with Mayor Sean Reardon. (Photo by Geordie Vining)

The Newburyport Black History Initiative (NBHI) aims to highlight and incorporate Newburyport’s Black history into the public landscape. At the core of our work is the creation and installation of a dozen interpretive historical signs, covering the Revolutionary era to the mid-twentieth century. The organization includes me, Geordie Vining, and Cyd Raschke; we coauthor all of the sign texts, which are available here in digital form. In addition to these historical signs, we also host public events and lectures, write articles and op-eds, and lead community conversations.

Three key principles guide our work.

  1. We center the experiences and stories of African Americans, both enslaved and free, who lived and worked in Newburyport.
  2. We cast light on broader forces, patterns, and currents impacting African Americans during these historical eras.
  3. We weave individual stories from the past to capture the richness of Black experiences that resonate in the present.

Producing high-quality interpretive signs that display early Black history poses research challenges, is time-intensive, and carries a high cost to design and install in the Newburyport’s National Historic District. Our project deploys a rigorous approach to historical research, interpretation, review, and dissemination. Before drafting each sign, we embark upon months of careful archival research, combing through letters, photographs, petitions, and other materials as well as data such as census, birth, death, and marriage records. We consult recent scholarship, from monographs to peer-reviewed journal articles. From these sources, we draft the text and layout of the sign over multiple meetings. Each sign undergoes a thorough review by a diverse group of seven community members, including university professors, archivists, and writers. We discuss their feedback before sending the draft to our editor. We then finalize the sign text and layout with our graphic design team and then the sign goes into production (and installation).

A ribbon cutting ceremony for our very first sign -- A Black Neighborhood in Historic Newburyport -- unveiled in February 2023. Left to Right: Kabria Baumgartner, Cyd Raschke, Mayor Sean Reardon, and Geordie Vining (Photo by Mike Springer)

On the first day of Black History Month in 2023, we unveiled our first of twelve interpretive signs commemorating a once-thriving Black neighborhood in nineteenth-century Newburyport. This ceremony attracted community members, state representatives, local teachers, and children. We were buoyed by the community’s enthusiastic response, including from Newburyport’s mayor Sean Reardon who noted that this unveiling marked “an opportunity to tell that story [of the city’s Black residents] and to reflect on what it means for our continued efforts for racial justice today.”[1]

To date, five signs have been installed in the downtown area of Newburyport. The rest will be installed in late 2024.

These signs have helped facilitate community conversations about racial justice as we work toward making Newburyport a more inclusive community. Wonderful work is also being led by local historians like Ghlee Woodworth, activists like Eddie Carson, and organizations like the Peg Center for Art and Activism.


[1] Jim Sullivan, “Newburyport celebrates Black history with new sign,” Newburyport Daily News, February 2, 2023.