Monday, April 3 was snowy, but COGdesign volunteers had a warm visit in New Bedford to discuss a future historic park celebrating abolitionists and New Bedford’s long tradition of interracial, intercultural collaboration. This project is a collaboration of the New Bedford Historical Society and the City of New Bedford‘s department of parks, recreation, and beaches.
This future park site is across the street from the Nathan and Polly Johnson House, an historic site on the New Bedford Underground Railroad walking trail. Frederick Douglass, the great 19th-century writer, orator, abolitionist, and one-time slave, stayed in the Johnsons’ house when he first escaped to freedom in 1838.
The Johnsons were well-known black abolitionists in New Bedford, and both Nathan and Polly Johnson housed and supported fugitive slaves. The site is also diagonally across from the Spring Street Quaker Meeting House, the city’s gathering place for Quakers, who, as the New Bedford Historical Society states, “were – and still are – staunch foes of slavery, war and all forms of oppression and injustice.”
The site itself is a blank slate; two empty former house lots with remnants of granite steps, empty since a fire ravaged the houses there in 2009.
The New Bedford Historical Society seeks to create a site that will tell the story of New Bedford’s proud history of the fight to end slavery, and the story of the men and women who led the fight. The park will also serve a multi-ethnic working-class neighborhood which includes African-Americans, Cape Verdeans, and whites of many ethnic backgrounds.
Thanks to New Bedford Historical Society President Lee Blake and to Mary Rapoza, Director of Parks, Recreation & Beaches for the City of New Bedford for starting this project!