After a few years, I realized that I had been walking my dog past William Lloyd Garrison’s birthplace at 3-5 School Street without knowing it. I was motivated to learn more about Garrison beyond the statue and signage at Brown Square. I started by reading Henry Mayer’s biography of Garrison, entitled All on Fire, to understand hisunmatched commitment to and sacrifice for the abolition of slavery. I also learned that Garrison was the first prominent man to support women suffragists, long before the Civil War.
The more I learned, the more I felt that Newburyport needed to celebrate this native son, far more. His career took him out of Newburyport as an adult (he was pushed), but we are fortunate that his birthplace still stands. To augment the brass plaques on the house itself, I volunteered to help the Newburyport Preservation Trust obtain funding for detailed information to be posted within Garrison Gardens, directly across the street. With a generous donation from the Newburyport Bank and a grant out of the City of Newburyport’s Community Preservation Act funds, these signs should be installed by spring of 2022.
When I spoke to a young woman about the project, she asked why I would want to honor a “white, male, savior figure”. This only pushed me harder. There are black American heroes, like Frederick Douglass, who also worked tirelessly to end slavery, at great personal risk. Yet, those stories, told or untold, do not make Garrison’s life any less significant, even given his imperfect views on race.
Without regard to his unpopularity, which was great, Garrison told his country that it was utterly immoral to view or treat black people any differently than white. Garrison was ostracized, and almost lynched by mobs, more than once. He was morally right when all around him was wrong. As Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, stated during a recent talk, Garrison and his small group of allies “gave people hope and hope is the beginning of change.”
The City of Newburyport and its residents need to celebrate that bravery, determination, and, ultimately, success. It is a message as relevant today as it was in 1850, or 1865. The annual Garrison Lecture is an important reminder to us all of the single Newburyporter deserving the greatest honor and respect of any who has lived.