Special to Times
Wandering the narrow streets of Beacon Hill, and using a little imagination, it’s possible to hear the voices of Bostonians-past who worked, loved, and lived here long before us. And in doing so, it is easy to recall the names of the privileged few that remain present in our everyday vernacular.
After all, their names are memorialized on buildings, streets, parks, monuments, and schools. But step into one of the shadows cast by Beacon Hill’s iconic Federal or Greek Revival townhouses, listen a little closer, and the voices of others—long forgotten, marginalized, and relegated to the murky depths of history by censure or by circumstance—begin to emerge. Tragically, their efforts, aspirations, and hard-fought battles that shaped our history remain in those shadows as well. Count among their numbers Susan Paul.
Paul (1809-1841), a schoolteacher at Abiel Smith School, was the daughter of Rev. Thomas Paul, the first pastor of a Black Baptist congregation housed in a two-story brick building on Belknap (now Joy) Street. Along with two Salem men, John Remond and Prince Farmer, she went on to become one of the first African American (and the first female) members of The New England Anti-Slavery Society (NEASS). After the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society (BFASS) was formed, she was invited to become one of the first African American members. In the 19th century, a time when it was both controversial and unvirtuous for women of any race to be outspoken, this carried a great amount of risk.
Alongside notables such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, Paul changed antislavery discourse by challenging the often presumptuous if not dictatorial methodology of white activists of the time. But among these giants of the abolitionist cause Paul remains unique. She, like her contemporaries, challenged the status quo of white abolitionism with activism, but not through fiery speech, marches, or demonstrations. Instead, Paul used music; and more specifically, a children’s choir.
Throughout the 1830s, Paul’s “juvenile choir” publicly performed political, patriotic, and anti-slavery songs to sold out crowds at abolitionist events across Boston. The choir was successful in accomplishing two of Paul’s primary objectives: to prevent white reformers from holding dominion over the anti-slavery struggle and to instill in her students a commitment to social justice and change.
On October 15, at 3 p.m., Susan Paul will triumphantly emerge from the shadows of history as the voices of children will resound in the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. “Let the Children Sing” will be presented by the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Museum of African American History, a site that authentically carries meaning for both Paul and her abolitionist message. The program of joyous music will feature some of Boston’s premiere youth enrichment groups, including the Hamilton Garrett-Youth Choir, the Eastern Mass Children’s Choir, and City Strings, who will perform alongside literary performer and educator Regie Gibson and other notable speakers.
The program is generously sponsored by F.H. Perry Builder, Suffolk University, Florina Pizza and Paninoteca, Blackstones of Beacon Hill, and The Whaley Ring Team/Coldwell Banker. Tickets range from $10-$25 and are available at Eventbrite or crescendoproductions.com.