MetroWest Writers’ Guild

Expanding Experience: Why Black History Museums Should Be Essential Visits for Writers

As part of our Inspiration Series, the Guild visited The Robbins House in Concord, Massachusetts to learn about local Black History in Concord. The Robbins House is open to visitors weekdays in June through August, and weekends September and October 11am-4pm.

In every community, every time, every place, from the past and into the future, there are Black people.

When we write, we write from our worldview and that has often reflected a very narrow scope of who we are, where we are, and who we are with. If someone was to read past and contemporary literature without a critical eye, they might believe that our communities, families, and individual lives are fully and utterly segregated–somehow never welcoming in members of other races, religions, abilities, or languages. But anyone who knows better, who actually lives in our worlds, knows that this isn’t actually true. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what family you’re part of, there is diversity and there is difference.

This is a good and joyful thing.

So why don’t we reflect it in our literature? How can we expand and challenge in our individual stories?

Here in MetroWest Massachusetts, we have a unique little museum that chronicles the history of as local Black family living in Concord in the 1800s. Theirs is a story of emancipation (both earned and self-). Theirs is a story of creating wealth earnestly and then, unfortunately, losing ultimately it by the unscrupulous actions of others. It’s also a story of rising in stature and spreading the gospel of abolition and civil rights here in the North and down to the South. The Robbins/Garrison family was both a fixture in the Concord community and also a forgotten bit of history. Contemporaneous to their lives in Concord, Black people also lived in the Walden Pond area, though their community would not survive more than a single generation.

The tiny house sits in the shadow of the famous Old Manse, just across a busy street from the Old North Bridge. As the interpreters who work at the Robbins House will tell you–there is a lot to be learned about legacy, inheritance, and power by experiencing the House and then visiting the other places. As we recall from Hamilton, “who lives, who dies, who tells your story” really is everything in the history we know, remember, and then repeat in the stories that we tell.

And so–visiting The Robbins House or any local Black History spot in local towns here in Massachusetts and all over the country is really important for writers of all races to do. When our writers visited the house in June, they learned about the individual stories of the Robbins/Garrison family and placed them at the intersections of stories we’re telling: about freedom, power, relationship, growth, and the rise and fall of influence. There was a lot of history that the writers learned for the first time or got a more in-depth understanding of during the visit. It was a great field trip that we hope to make an annual tradition.

If you don’t live in Massachusetts, but want to do this for yourself, do some local research or start with a university in your area (the History Department or Africana Studies Department can likely push you in a great direction). The National Museum of African American History and Culture could also be a good resource to help you get started.

If you are local to Massachusetts and you want to learn about our next upcoming field trips, sign up for our monthly newsletter today!

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