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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Amendment to Clarify Vermont's Slavery Ban Draws Support at Hearing

Posted By on Thu, Jan 20, 2022 at 9:29 PM

The Vermont Statehouse - DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
  • The Vermont Statehouse
A proposed amendment to clarify the prohibition of slavery in the Vermont Constitution earned unanimous support during a public hearing in the legislature Thursday night, with speakers painting it as an important step in the fight for racial equality.

"This is going to serve as the foundation for addressing systemic racism in our state laws and institutions," said Mark Hughes, executive director of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, which has pushed hard for the amendment.

Vermont is often credited with being the first state in the U.S. to ban slavery. But the prohibition, enshrined in its constitution in 1777, was a partial one, applying only to people over age 21 while not protecting those "bound by law for the payment of debts, damages, fines, costs, or the like.”

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Database Reveals Vermont Congressman Was a Slave Owner

Posted By on Tue, Jan 11, 2022 at 6:18 PM

Matthew Lyon's portrait in the Vermont Statehouse - JEB WALLACE BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace Brodeur
  • Matthew Lyon's portrait in the Vermont Statehouse
Matthew Lyon fought in the Battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War. He founded the Town of Fair Haven, whose post office is named after him.
And he championed free speech, winning reelection to Congress from the Vergennes jail cell where he was imprisoned for criticizing President John Adams.

The businessman, soldier, printer and newspaper publisher was also a slaveholder.

Census records from 1810 show that after moving from Vermont to Kentucky, Lyon owned 10 slaves, a fact that complicates his legacy and calls into question whether his portrait ought to continue hanging in the Statehouse.

“He was quite a rabble rouser,” said Paul Carnahan, a librarian at the Vermont Historical Society. “I wouldn’t put it past to him to own slaves.”

Lyon’s history as slaveholder came to light this week when the Washington Post published a database listing more than 1,700 members of Congress known to have owned slaves. The paper built the database by examining thousands of pages of Census records for all known members of Congress during the 18th and 19th centuries, and reviewed other records, too.

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Monday, August 16, 2021

A Historic Synagogue in Burlington’s Old North End Is For Sale

Posted By on Mon, Aug 16, 2021 at 4:39 PM

Interior of the synagogue - RABBI JAN SALZMAN
  • Rabbi Jan Salzman
  • Interior of the synagogue
The historic building that served as Burlington’s first synagogue is for sale. Pomerleau Real Estate listed the Gothic Revival building at 168 Archibald Street last week for $650,000, describing it as “charming.”

The listing went on: “This property has so much potential and is in an outstanding location! The opportunities are endless!”

The structure’s brick façade is lined with pointed arch windows and small circular openings known as oculi. A larger oculus, inscribed with a Star of David, is set above the large, white arched doorway. The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1978, and is also on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places.

The congregation of Ahavath Gerim owns the 3,374-square-foot building. Board member Shimmy Cohen said the group has been diminishing, lacks a spiritual leader and has stopped meeting for services. Its board decided to put the building on the market because it needs money to maintain its cemetery in South Burlington.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Rock Point School Removes Portrait of Bishop Who Supported Slavery

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2021 at 7:39 PM

Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown speaking with students in front of the portrait of John Henry Hopkins that has been removed - COURTESY OF ROCK POINT SCHOOL
  • Courtesy of Rock Point School
  • Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown speaking with students in front of the portrait of John Henry Hopkins that has been removed
Rock Point School, a small independent day and boarding high school located on Burlington property owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, is reckoning with the racism of one of the church’s former leaders. Last week, students and faculty removed a large portrait of John Henry Hopkins, who in 1832 became the first Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, from the school's front hall because of his writings defending slavery.

Hopkins’ son built the school building in the late 1800s as a tribute to his father. It's on a large scenic parcel that includes Lake Champlain shoreline.

In 1861, the elder Hopkins penned A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical and Historical View of Slavery, a pamphlet in which he criticized abolitionists and argued that slavery was not a sin.

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Vermont Panel Formed to Plan Semiquincentennial Celebrations

Posted By on Thu, Mar 25, 2021 at 10:40 AM

  • Courtesy of Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site ©️ Seven Days
  • A Battle of Hubbardton reenactment
It’s never too early to start planning for a semiquincentennial.

That would be July 4, 2026 — the 250th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Gov. Phil Scott's administration has included $25,000 in its budget to put together a 15-member commission to plan events around that date.

Finalized this week, the commission includes Susan McClure, the executive director of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and Jim Lockridge, executive director of the Big Heavy World music nonprofit in Burlington.

Also on the commission is Jonah Spivak, who is hoping to raise the profile of the upcoming 250th anniversary of Bennington Battle Day on August 16, 2027.

Although Vermont didn’t become a state until 1791, there was a lot of energy expended in 1776 in what was then a part of New Hampshire and New York to fight the British on Lake Champlain. Among other notable clashes was the Battle of Valcour Island, where the Americans suffered heavy casualties to the British in one of the first naval battles of the American Revolution.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Fire Destroys Historic Methodist Church in Middlesex

Posted By and on Wed, Feb 24, 2021 at 2:22 PM

Firefighters by the smoking ruins of the church - JEFF BARON ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Jeff Baron ©️ Seven Days
  • Firefighters by the smoking ruins of the church
A fire swept through the historic Middlesex United Methodist Church on Wednesday morning, destroying a picturesque house of worship that was more than a century old.

The flames spread quickly through the wooden structure, according to Waterbury Fire Chief Gary Dillon, whose department was one of several that responded. Around noontime, the bell tower collapsed.

Sharon Merchant was there to see it.

"I've been going there since I was born, and I'm 60 years old," she said. "I was baptized there, married there, buried my father there, the whole shebang. I talked to my 93-year-old mother today, and she's like, 'I'm supposed to be buried there.'"

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Friday, May 3, 2019

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award to Be Renamed

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 6:29 PM

Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award will be renamed next year in response to critics who said the author's legacy is tainted by ties to the Vermont eugenics movement in the 1920s and '30s.

Vermont State Librarian Jason Broughton made the decision, which was announced Friday at the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Conference in Barre. 

Vermont children will be asked to help choose a new name, Broughton told Seven Days in a telephone interview after the conference. Vermont Public Radio first reported news of the renaming.

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

UVM's Kake Walk Featured Blackface Performers for Decades

Posted By on Sun, Feb 10, 2019 at 10:51 PM

  • University of Vermont Special Collections
  • Kake Walk competitors
Updated February 12, 2019

When “Meet the Press” needed a guest to counter Alabama governor George Wallace’s segregationist views in 1964, the NBC show called on a progressive leader from Vermont. The late governor Phil Hoff delivered, supporting the new Civil Rights Act “while projecting Vermont’s self-image as a racially enlightened society,” according to the 2011 biography Philip Hoff: How Red Turned Blue in the Green Mountain State.

Yet the governor also appeared more than once before thousands of people gathered at the University of Vermont to watch a popular annual blackface show called “A-Walkin-’Fo-De-Kake,” or Kake Walk. The event was so significant — and accepted — that local and state elected officials handed out trophies and cake to the fraternity brothers who performed best.

The 1963 Kake Walk program listed Hoff, lieutenant governor Ralph Foote, Burlington mayor Robert Bing and UVM president John Fey among the dignitaries scheduled to present awards.

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Library Board Pushes to Rename Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award

Posted By on Thu, Jan 11, 2018 at 1:03 PM

Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher
The Vermont Library Board is recommending that state librarian Scott Murphy remove author Dorothy Canfield Fisher's name from a children's book award created in her honor long ago.

The board voted 7-0 Tuesday on the recommendation after board president Bruce Post cited concerns including Fisher's association with the eugenics movement, which pushed for "better breeding."

"I felt honor bound to bring up this subject of eugenics," Post told Seven Days Thursday.

Murphy has not taken action in response to the vote. He did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.

The board has been discussing the matter since April.  Fisher's defenders say the famed author, who died in 1958, stood up for prison reform, adult education and war relief. They say she is being judged unfairly over a minor association with the now-vilified eugenics movement.

Meanwhile, critics contend that she stereotyped Native Americans and French Canadians in her work and quietly endorsed the "better breeding" goals of eugenics.

Fisher was a member of the Vermont Commission on Country Life, an outgrowth of the Vermont Eugenics Survey directed by University of Vermont professor Henry Perkins in the 1920s and early 1930s.

The survey championed Vermont's original Anglo-Protestant "seedbed" and targeted French Canadians, Native Americans and "gypsy" families in pedigree studies that were designed to identify "degenerate" and "feeble-minded" Vermont residents.

The Library Board passed a resolution Tuesday that urged the state librarian to rename the award in a way that recognizes and encourages authors of children's literature, especially those with a Vermont connection.

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Monday, October 9, 2017

Burlington Activist Takes Aim at 'White Supremacist' Mural

Posted By on Mon, Oct 9, 2017 at 7:09 PM

The graffiti - SADIE WILLIAMS
  • Sadie Williams
  • The graffiti
Updated on October 11, 2017.

A Burlington activist said he used graffiti Monday to make a political statement about a mural off Church Street.

Albert Petrarca, who describes himself as a member of the Off the Wall coalition, said in a press release that he and other members of the group defaced an identification plaque that accompanies the “Everyone Loves a Parade!” mural downtown. Petrarca described the public art, which is 124 feet by 16 feet, as a “white supremacist symbol” that obliterates “First Nation peoples’ lives and history.”

The goal? “To reset the debate on why an undeniably racist piece of ‘art’ and ‘history’ occupies our town square,” wrote Petrarca, an activist who is outspoken on a variety of Burlington issues.

“Colorful and hyperrealistic,” Seven Days reported in 2012, “the mural unspools an eclectic cast of major and minor Vermont celebrities.” It’s located on the side of a building that houses Banana Republic along the pedestrian-only Leahy Way, which leads to the Marketplace parking garage. And yes, for those wondering, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is also depicted in the mural.

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