Alongside our Black neighbors, members, visitors, colleagues, and all people of like mind, we grieve the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and their countless predecessors who fell victim to the systemic racism that has been endemic in American life since before our nation’s founding. With them, we affirm: Black Lives Matter.
We also acknowledge that the preservation movement in which historic sites like Cherry Hill are embedded has recurrently failed to embody the assertion, “Black Lives Matter.” Favoring the homes of the wealthy and politically powerful, often obliterating the spaces occupied, even built, by enslaved people and servants, early preservationists delivered us a rendering of the American past that was not only markedly white, but shamefully sanitized of the truth. What is more, this selective depiction of the past was motivated, at least in part, by the desire to define a “true” image of America against the influx of immigrants who arrived on American shores at the turn of the 20th century and were seen by the established elite as threats to American culture and values. To the extent that this false image of America has been perpetuated rather than scrutinized, historic sites, intentionally or unintentionally, have been agents of cultural hegemony.
At Historic Cherry Hill, we firmly believe in the power of historical inquiry to ground us in the truth of who we are and to equip us to make sound decisions for today and tomorrow. In our interpretation of Cherry Hill’s history, we confront the racial and ethnic bias implicit in the early preservation movement, and we speak honestly about the fallibility of the house’s historical occupants. We strive to make our interpretation inclusive of all members of the Cherry Hill household—not only the white members. In so doing, we believe that the past can be instructive, provoking thought and action that can benefit American society today.
But we believe we can do more.
In keeping with our commitment to the assertion that Black Lives Matter, we continue working on the following initiatives:
- We are forging plans for a reinterpretation project that will more strongly emphasize the experiences and perspectives of enslaved people, servants, and historical members of Cherry Hill’s surrounding community during our period of interpretation.
- We are planning a digitization project focused on enslaved people and African American servants at Cherry Hill. This includes the testimony of Dinah Jackson, an enslaved woman who gained her freedom on July 4, 1827, and became the star witness in the case against Jesse Strang, a white hired hand; and the Knapp children, three African American siblings who were raised as wards and servants of the Van Rensselaers. These digital packages will be made available to teachers—along with guidance on their use—to support teachers’ efforts to discuss slavery and its vestiges using local history resources.
- We are scrutinizing our existing education programs for the implicit bias that can result from prejudiced and uneven primary source materials.
- We have developed a Community Advisory Board in order to bring more diverse perspectives to Historic Cherry Hill’s decision-making and to help us to respond to our community’s needs. We invite interested community members to reach out.
As individuals and as institutions, we can only become agents of change through critical and continued self-examination. Historic Cherry Hill is committed to that endeavor.