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Historical Old North Church in Boston reconciles with its ties to slavery

Old Town Church
Posted at 8:10 AM, Sep 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-16 10:10:01-04

When Paul Revere took one of the most famous rides in American history to alert troops that, "The British were coming," he did so by hanging two lanterns in the bell tower of the Old North Church in Boston.

But the Old North Church so synonymous with its ties to the American Revolution and American freedom had many members back in the 1700s who were connected directly to the slave trade.

As the executive director of the Old North Church Foundation, Nikki Stewart knows it is that famous ride that brings visitors from all over the world here. At more nearly 300 years old, this place is steeped in history. But it turns out the history taught at the Old North Church is not a completely accurate portrayal of the church's past.

"We started learning about our connections to the slave trade in 2019," Stewart explained.

The church recently received a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. That money will be used to overhaul educationally programming here to better reconcile and integrate the church’s ties to slavery.

Another 240 other organizations nationwide also received grants under the new program.

"As a country, we’ve made mistakes. People have made mistakes. Institutions have made mistakes. But I think to be relevant in the present day, we have to have an open dialogue about our country’s ongoing struggles for equity," Stewart said.

The church is hoping to use this opportunity to engage younger people who may not know the story of Paul Revere or reeducate those who thought they knew the whole history of the Old North Church.

And while none of this will change Paul Revere’s famous ride, it will perhaps give this place a more accurate chance to portray its history.