This is Unbound, the newsletter of The Emancipator. In each issue, I examine some of the most urgent conversations on racial justice infused with context, news, and perspective. My goal is to bring fresh voices, new research, and bold ideas from The Emancipator’s editors, columnists, and contributors straight to your inbox.

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Race, place and space: Bringing history into full context 

Shirley Place, Roxbury. 1860. Digital Commonwealth.

In Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, the stately Shirley-Eustis Place — one of the  few remaining Colonial governor’s mansions in the nation — long held a secret. 

On the estate, built in 1747 by William Shirley, the royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and which once was home to former Gov. William Eustis in the 19th century, stands an outbuilding that may be one of the only remaining slave quarters in the North. Historians say Africans, enslaved by Shirley, may have been housed there.

At a recent event designating the site as an official landmark, Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey noted the importance of recognizing the brutal truth behind even the most beloved monuments.

“My daughter got married here, right up in the garden,” Janey said. “People have gathered on these grounds to see the apple orchards, the rose gardens, and to host weddings like my daughter’s among other celebratory events without knowing that the last remaining free-standing slave quarters in the Northeastern United States exist here. That is why today and every day we must lift up the enslaved people who contributed to the advancement of Boston.”

This is the latest in a series of recent occasions in Boston and across the country where communities are speaking truth to our monuments, erecting new markers to fully tell our story, and dismantling the symbols honoring and perpetuating tyranny and terror.

Bronze Group commemorating Emancipation. 1879. Boston Public Library,

In December, the Emancipation Group statue — a duplicate of a Washington, D.C., sculpture featuring Abraham Lincoln with a benevolent hand extended over a kneeling enslaved person — was removed from Boston’s Park Square, where it had stood since 1879.

In August, Boston’s Old North Church — whose steeple served as the signal to Paul Revere that the British were heading to Concord and Lexington “by sea” — recognized its own roots in slavery. Several human traffickers and enslavers once sat in its pews as congregants, and its famous steeple was financed in part by the sale of slave-harvested logwood. Now, with the help of a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the church’s charitable foundation is overhauling its educational programming to include those facts.

Jay’dha Rackard and her fellow members of the Girlz of Imani Dance Troupe threw carnations into Boston Harbor as the names of enslaved members of Boston’s oldest churches were read during the dedication of the Middle Passage marker. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

And just days after Janey’s remarks at Shirley-Eustis Place, a new monument was dedicated in Boston’s Long Wharf marking the city’s role in the Middle Passage.

The monument is part of an ongoing national reckoning over our national symbols, including the recent removal of a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its pedestal in Richmond, Virginia. Despite divisive and false rhetoric from some who proclaim Lee a hero and the monument’s removal a travesty, the truth remains: Lee’s fight against the Union was traitorous, and the Confederate monuments erected in the decades since were less about honoring generals than about terrorizing Black Americans.

“With all the talk of dismantling systems of white supremacy, people recognize that that cannot be done without a full and complete telling of history,” Lecia Brooks, chief of staff for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me of the importance of speaking truth about monuments. “You can’t dismantle what you don’t know.” You can read more from Brooks in my Globe opinion column.

As Phillipe Copeland, Boston University Center for Antiracist Research assistant director, writes in his POV essay in BU Today, such clear thinking will allow us to “out-organize the forces organized against antiracism.”

“Disinformation goes hand in hand with miseducation,” Copeland writes. “Racism works through people not understanding how it works. Miseducation is part of the second way the forces behind the Jan. 6 Capitol attack have adapted.” Read his piece here.

Globe Staff

Event alert

You won’t want to miss the inaugural Globe Summit, happening virtually September 22-24. This event will bring more than 50 thought leaders together for critical conversations on the topics of economy, innovation, health, and sustainability. One headlining session features Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, co-founder of The Emancipator, in conversation with Amber Payne, co-editor in chief of The Emancipator, exploring what must be done to build a more equitable, anti-racist society. Register for free at

Culture in context

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
“It was important to me to hold a book much like the statue's with a line from the poem at the base of Lady Liberty, as well as to wear a laurel crown to symbolize my experience as a laureate,” National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman told Vogue magazine of her Statue of Liberty-inspired Met gala look. Gorman co-hosted the event.

What I'm reading 

The audiobook of Farah Jasmine Griffin’s “Read Until You Understand,” a stirring ode to both her father and the works of Black literature that inspired her, brought me to tears before I made it through the first chapter. 

I don’t read much fiction, but Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’s novel “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois,” whose characters are woven with real-life greats like Zora Neale Hurston and the famed scholar in its title, is a page turner.

Finally, thinking so much about how much — or how little — Americans understand about the history of slavery in our nation made me recall the “Ask A Slave” YouTube series from 2013. Azie Dungey, an actress who’d worked as a re-enactor at Mount Vernon portraying a slave, based the series on actual questions she’d been asked by visitors to the estate — to both hilarious and heartbreaking effect. 

Until next time,

Kimberly Atkins Stohr
Senior opinion writer and columnist, The Boston Globe

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Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research and The Boston Globe's Opinion team are collaborating to resurrect and reimagine The Emancipator, the first abolitionist newspaper in the United States, founded more than 200 years ago. The Emancipator is a collaboration between Boston University and The Boston Globe that is provided without a paywall.