Visit The Robbins House

June, July & August: 11-4
(Closed Tuesdays)
September, October: 11-4
(Open Fri-Sun + Columbus Day)

320 Monument Street
Concord MA
(Located opposite the Old North Bridge)

(978) 254-1745
“What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?” Communal Reading

“What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Communal Reading

He had Lincoln’s ear, now lend him yours.

Join us for a public reading of Frederick Douglass’ famous Fourth of July address. Emma Hodgdon, our wonderful Tufts Summer Intern, will be representing the Robbins House.

Mass Humanities coordinates annual public readings of Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” with communities and organizations around the state. A group of people take turns reading parts of the speech until they have read all of it. These events open up discourse on race relations and citizenship, and raise awareness of the influential role slavery continues to play in our history and national discourse.

This event takes place on Boston Common and is our flagship Reading Frederick Douglass gathering.

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A Hidden Treasure At The Robbins House

A hidden treasure at the Robbins House

Robbins House board member Jayne Gordon is talking to a crowd of about 20 people attending one of Freedom’s Way’s Hidden Treasures event at the house on May 13 when a sharp rap on the front door causes her to pause. Moments later Peter Robbins, aka Joe Zellner, strides into the room wearing a top hat and coat and carrying a long walking stick.

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Robbins House Advisory Board Member Joe Zellner – Better Than A Time Machine

Robbins House Advisory Board Member Joe Zellner – Better than a time machine

Until they perfect a time machine that can take you back across the centuries, Joe Zellner might be the next best thing.

As a character interpreter trained and certified by the National Association for Interpretation, Joe brings viewers and listeners back hundreds of years with an engaging, thoughtful and provocative persona that not only captures the person he’s portraying but also the time period they are living in. He can move from Peter Robbins, the son of a formerly enslaved Revolutionary War veteran; to JB Sanderson, a teacher, preacher, abolitionist, and trans-continental pioneer; and then on to Solomon Pierce, father of four and a private in the 54th MVI during the Civil War.

Joe finds out what he can about the individuals he’s impersonating as well as the historical landscape, but cautions that interpreters should avoid conjecture. “Our true selves know what happens afterward,” he says, “but the person we’re impersonating doesn’t. We have to avoid going beyond that line.”

When he’s not interpreting, Joe is a historical re-enactor with the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, Company A, and serves as the president of the Board of Directors of that nonprofit organization.

The Company provides historical reenactment and interpretation of the regiment, as well as portrayals of selected officers and enlisted men. It also takes part in Making History on the Common, sponsored by The Friends of the Public Garden for Boston public schools, which features about 20 organizations that recreate people and occurrences that have occupied the Boston Common over the centuries – from the first Native Americans at the site, to livestock grazing on the Common, to numerous protest events.

The Glorious Fifty-Fourth
The 54th MVI was mustered and paraded from the Common in May 1863. Joe will portray Solomon Pierce of the 54th Massachusetts regiment on June 5th in Making History on the Common to tell the story of the “Glorious Fifty-Fourth.”

In 1863, the Governor of Massachusetts authorized the recruitment of an infantry regiment composed of African American enlisted men, commanded by white officers: the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was the first regiment of African American soldiers to be raised in the North. They were greatly heralded for their valor in their first major engagement in the assault on Ft Wagner in Charleston Harbor, SC, July 1863. Their valiant performance in that battle changed the opinion of the Federal government about the ability and willingness of black Americans to fight for the Union and freedom. In 1897, a memorial to the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw was dedicated on the Boston Common and is prominently located across from the State House.

Recently, Joe portrayed Peter Robbins at the Robbins House as part of Freedom’s Way’s Hidden Treasures event, which explores “treasures” hidden in plain sight throughout 45 communities in Massachusetts during the month of May.

And when not interpreting or reenacting, how does Joe spend some of his time? Reading about people – past and present – and visiting, of course, other historical sites to hone his craft!

Joe Zellner portrays Solomon Pierce, father of four and a private in the Civil War 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

Concord Academy students visit the monument on the Boston Common dedicated to the 54th Regiment of African American soldiers and Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

What Were They Fighting For? The Robbins House And The North Bridge

What Were They Fighting For? The Robbins House and the North Bridge

Meet Peter Robbins; hear a story that infuriated Thoreau; make startling new discoveries about how Concord’s African American experiences connect to the nation’s history.

Date: Saturday, May 6, 2017 and Saturday, May 13, 2017

Time: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM

Location: The Robbins House, 320 Monument Street, Concord, MA 01742

Directions & Parking: The house is opposite the North Bridge and the Old Manse, one mile from Concord Center. Park in the National Park Service’s North Bridge parking lot.

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What Were They Fighting For? The Robbins House And The North Bridge

What Were They Fighting For? The Robbins House and the North Bridge

Meet Peter Robbins; hear a story that infuriated Thoreau; make startling new discoveries about how Concord’s African American experiences connect to the nation’s history.

Date: Saturday, May 6, 2017 and Saturday, May 13, 2017

Time: 1:00 PM-3:00 PM

Location: The Robbins House, 320 Monument Street, Concord, MA 01742

Directions & Parking: The house is opposite the North Bridge and the Old Manse, one mile from Concord Center. Park in the National Park Service’s North Bridge parking lot.

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The Transformative Power Of Place…

The transformative power of place…

The Concord Historical Collaborative coordinates efforts and activities in Concord to present its rich history through diverse educational opportunities and fosters an appreciation and stewardship for Concord’s historical resources.

Many museums and historic sites are engaged in meaningful public service, often pushing us beyond our comfort zones, toward the hard stuff.

Last year I went rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park. Trepidation hit me as I clutched the rocks like a salamander. With an expert guide yelling, “lift your butt!” and my own curiosity, I clawed my way to the top.

Trepidation hit me again at Rwanda’s Kigali Genocide Memorial (KGM) last week, where I was visiting while on a break from a work assignment. “Genocide” is defined by the 1948 United Nations Convention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

A dread welled up inside, asking why? Why visit this painful history?  Similar to dangling on the side of a rock, no one was telling me that I had to experience pain to achieve some deeper appreciation of life.

As I entered the KGM, I was greeted by large text, “Ubuzima,” alongside statues in a circle. Ubuzima is Kinyarwandan for “life” but also means “health,” as if the two are synonymous. In fact, it seems this is the goal of today’s Rwanda with the Presidential decree to “wipe out poverty in 2017” – to transform the country to a level of cleanliness modeled after, and in partnership with, Singapore. The country presents a public face of transformation through remembrance and radical cleanliness. So “Ubuzima” seems a fitting starting point to the KGM, which hosts the annual assembly of citizens sharing their stories, regardless of which side they were on in 1994 when over 800,000 people were killed in the Rwandan genocide in 100 days.

After the greeting of Ubuzima, the journey gets more complicated. As you wind your way through the dark hallway’s “passages of history,” you begin with the stories “Before the Genocide” and “Our Rwanda,” reminders of the centuries of peace among a multiethnic population living side by side. That was before 1994….

Next the KGM exhibits focus on the impact of colonialism, the introduction of eugenics by the occupying powers, theories full of pseudoscience pitting ethnicities against each other. The result of this imposed ignorance and fracturing is captured in the remaining two-thirds of the KGM. The long, winding hallway captures the ethnic cleansing encouraged by the Belgian colonialists, followed by civil war, then the “Path to a Final Solution,” genocide and atrocities against children, women, and men, in churches, schools, and streets, and into the throngs of papyrus hideouts. Graves surround the exterior of the building. With no place to hide, millions were tortured, murdered, or worse, while the world paid scant attention. Official cables to UN Headquarters in New York asking for help went unanswered.  By the end it was estimated that over two-thirds of the population of Rwanda was displaced, fleeing out of guilt, fear or confusion, or held hostage. “The Refugee Crisis,” tribunals, and societal remembrance continue today.

I used to hear that [one of the Rwandan tribes] were the cause of the genocide. But after learning and discussing, I decided that what I had heard was not true. Now I look for my own truth.”
—Callixte, Peace Dialogue Club, Ecole Secondaire, Rwanda

The final passage at KGM, through the children’s room, states, “We will never forget these innocent lives that were taken. They died because they lacked a peaceful society in which to grow and flourish. We, who were also children then and have our own children now, must ask ourselves, ‘‘What kind of Rwanda do we want for our children?’’ Whatever we do, whatever sadness we have, whatever anger we have, we must promote peace.”

In this age of “fake news,” museums and historic places can help us find truths.  What we do with that knowledge is truly an open and important question.

By Maria Madison, president and founder, The Robbins House – Concord’s African American History

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