'N----r Leave!': 200-Year-Old African-American Historical Site Defaced with Hateful Graffiti in New England

An unknown person or group defaced a historic 19th-century African-American historic site in Nantucket, Massachusetts, writing the words “N----r leave!” along the entrance of the door.

The act of vandalism is significant largely because of the historical importance of the building, which is now called the African Meeting House on Nantucket. The meeting house was constructed around 1827 by the black community of the island, and many similar 19th-century African-American buildings that once served this purpose have been bulldozed, making this site notably rare, according to Executive Director Marita Rivero.

unnamed “N----r leave!” was written along the entrance of the door at the African Meeting House on Nantucket. Nantucket Police

Nantucket Police told Newsweek that they are actively investigating the incident, which was discovered on the morning of March 11. Lieutenant Angus MacVicar of the Nantucket Police told Newsweek that he had not encountered cases of racist vandalism like this one on the island before.

The African Meeting House on Nantucket serves as a museum in 2018, but it once was of critical importance to the black community there, Rivero told Newsweek. There, men and women discussed politics related to the goal of ending slavery in America. They also discussed work in the whaling industry, which was critical to their survival at that time. The building also served as a school, which was segregated from Nantucket's white population.

Rivero said that the community of Nantucket came together quickly to offer help in restoring the building, but that the vandalism was painful news for black people living in the New England area. She said she felt “heartbroken and saddened” when she heard news of the vandalism on Sunday but has started to see it in a new light.

“Once you think about it for a while, it’s a reminder to stand up and say that we’re opposed to this sort of hatred in our community,” Rivero said. “We’re not going to tolerate this and we are going to speak up about it.”

Christopher Petrella, who works at The Antiracist Research and Policy Center in Washington D.C. and is writing a book about the legacy of white supremacy in New England, told Newsweek that people living in the northeastern community wrongly prefer to imagine racism as being someone else’s problem.

“The historical record makes quite clear that white supremacy in the United States is a transregional and bipartisan project,” Petrella said. “That's why it's so intractable. The fact that this vile incident in Nantucket comes as a surprise to some people—namely white folk—is evidence of how successfully white New England has narrated itself as an imagined community of racial piety over and against the ‘racist’ South.”

Petrella noted that Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery in its 1641 Body of Liberties, and in 1675, the Massachusetts General Court enacted a law called the Indian Imprisonment Act that prohibited members of indigenous nations from entering the city of Boston. The statue wasn't even repealed until 2005, Petrella said.

“These are the histories we need to be talking about,” Petrella said. “These are the histories that help us to make sense of the present.”

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