Hidden no more: New book from Free Soil Arts Collective tells the stories of Lowell’s Black

Cover of the book “Hidden in Plain Sight: Stories of Black Lowell”. PHOTO: HENRY MARTE, MARTE MEDIA

Free Soil Arts Collective has launched a book of interviews with black residents of Lowell. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Stories of Black Lowell,” released December 13, delves into the town’s history that is often overlooked in archives and dialogue. Using interviews with current Lowell residents, the book weaves a transcribed oral history of the diverse city.

“Hidden in Plain Sight” debuts in tandem with an exhibit at the Lowell National Historic Park Visitor Center, titled “Destruction + Resilience”. The exhibit adds a much needed dose of black history to the most common accounts of the Lowell factory. The exhibition focuses on historically black neighborhoods where gentrification has forced families and the black community found the strength to rebuild.

Group portrait of the participants in the narration of the book. PHOTO: Kevin Harkin Photography

“It gave people a richer idea of ​​what Lowell is,” says Christa Brown, founder of Free Soil Arts Collective. “The Visitor Center is sometimes the first place visitors go when they want to explore this place, and now when you go there you learn about the Mill Girls, you learn about the immigrant experience – and you also learn about black people.

Starting in 2020, with help from a regional equity grant from the Greater Lowell Community Foundation, Brown and the Free Soil team interviewed 27 residents, all of whose stories are included in the book. Brown says she was blown away by the number of historical milestones tucked away in the personal stories of these community members. Enid Rocha was Lowell’s first black teacher, and the Chapman family were one of the first black families to settle in the Centerville neighborhood.

A view of the “Destruction + Resilience” exhibition PHOTO: ANI VONG

Conversations focused on the personal experience of each resident but also touched on black history and its preservation in the city.

Brown hopes this will be the first of many changes to Lowell’s black history visibility. “We have over 30 stops here on the Underground Railroad that are not permanently marked,” she said. “Part of this work allowed us to discuss with the city council how to make this story permanent. We need to talk. If we don’t, it will be as if these things never happened.

Hours of audio from the Soil Arts team’s interviews will likely help advance the archive of black history in the city. Brown is studying adding a soundscape to the National Historic Park exhibit and preserving that oral history in other ways as well.

“Hidden in Plain Sight” can be purchased online at the Free Soil website, with local delivery available to residents of Lowell, as well as at El Taller Bookstore in Lawrence and Lala Books in Lowell. Proceeds are donated to the Free Soil Arts Collective to support their ongoing efforts to tell various stories at Lowell.

“I hope it will bring a bigger warity of the contributions black people have made here for generations, ”says Brown. “I hope this will further push the need for us to have a permanent signage marking the Black son.here, and I hope it inspires other communities that might looks like Lowell.

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