Crystal Haynes CopithorneCrystal Haynes CopithorneUPDATED Feb. 23: To call attention to African Americans' achievements in the United States, Arlington is observing Black History Month – a federal holiday since 1976 – in several ways.

All month long, the Arlington Human Rights Commission, including Crystal Haynes Copithorne, a veteran, Emmy-award-winning journalist who lives in town, is inviting community members to post on Facebook what the observance means to them and to use the tag @arlingtonhumanrights when they do so.

"Black History is American history, Arlington's history and everyone's history. It is important to elevate the deeds and voices of those left out of textbooks and the local and national narrative and create a base understanding of the past that binds us all," Haynes Copithorne said via email Feb. 22. "We are living in a period of extreme divisiveness and relative ignorance that we must remedy through a collective will to educate ourselves and celebrate the contributions of our neighbors of African American heritage. It is my hope that this year's programming  -- a collective effort between the town of Arlington, the Human Rights Commission and local businesses -- will help us do that."

The commission hosted a free screening at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, of the 2023 film version of “The Color Purple” a musical interpretation based on Alice Walker’s acclaimed 1982 novel. The event was held in partnership with its venue, the Capitol Theatre on Mass. Ave. in East Arlington. The film follows the protagonist, Celie, portrayed by Fantasia Barrino, as she survives abuse, bigotry and other challenges over four decades and struggles for empowerment in the Deep South during the first half of the 20th century.

The town has also placed colorful banners honoring important historical figures along Mass. Ave. through month's end.

It is important for all Arlington residents, regardless of their backgrounds, to learn about African Americans’ vital role in the town’s history, according to Richard A. Duffy, author and local historian.

He noted that that many distinguished residents have lived in Arlington throughout the years. In a recent interview, he mentioned soldiers Cuff Whittemore and David Lamson; Dr. George Grant, one of the first Black graduates of Harvard Dental School; William Stanley Braithwaite, journalist, author and poet; and Pearl P. Morrison, a current activist and educator.

Acknowledging a painful pastRichard Duffy with the memorial monument on Juneteenth 2023.  

Sadly, not all of the history is happy.

Slavery did exist in Arlington and other places in New England, which Duffy says people are often surprised to learn.  Slavery in Massachusetts began in the 1630s and was abolished in 1783 following legal cases brought by people of color. One of the most prominent of the plaintiffs was Quock Walker, who is commemorated in nearby Lexington  on what was in 2022 designated by the state government as Massachusetts Emancipation Day.

On June 19, 2023 – Juneteenth – the Arlington Historical Society dedicated a monument placed in an area where the otherwise unmarked graves of both free and enslaved people are known to be. That memorial now serves as the only permanent educational marker of the existence of slavery in Arlington. 

“By putting the monument there, not only does it honor those who lived, worked and died in Arlington who were resting in unmarked graves,” said Duffy, who composed the marker's wording. “But it also serves to include them in the broader story of telling the history of Arlington and to remind people of the fact that these were lives that were lived.”

The observance of Juneteenth as a national holiday provides another day of focus and reflection for Black history in Arlington and other places around the country. Duffy argues that an essential purpose of these designated times is to take a more critical look at the struggles of African Americans in the past – and to recognize that the fight for equality continues.

Not just January, February and JuneJillian Harvey, head of DEI

“I believe that Black history is everyone’s history and should not just be celebrated or acknowledged during one month of the year, but uplifted year round and truly integrated into American history,” wrote Jillian Harvey, the Town of Arlington’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion, in a recent email to YourArlington.

This month’s purpose is to honor and celebrate the lives of African Americans accurately and to encourage people to become more informed about Black history in the U.S., she said.

“For centuries, African Americans have been contributing to the United States and should be included in the telling of this country’s history,” wrote Harvey. “Everyone should welcome learning about and celebrating one another.” To learn more, go here>>

Watch this video produced last summer by YourArlington

media partner ACMi local cable television station. 

Feb. 18, 2022: State Senate passes Friedman's Quock Walker Day bill

This news feature by YourArlington freelancer Jessie Castellano was published Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, and updated most recently Feb. 23 for time references and other minor wordsmithing.