Dear Salem faculty, staff and students,
As we prepare to celebrate the rich legacy and long-standing contributions of African Americans during Black History Month, I first want to acknowledge the pain, trauma and outrage so many people in our community and the nation are experiencing due to the horrific and senseless death of Tyre Nichols. My heart goes out to Mr. Nichols’ family and to all who knew and loved him. I encourage you to read the statements shared with the campus community by the Academy and College earlier this week.
Salem Academy and College proudly recognizes Black History Month and celebrates Salem’s Black alumnae, students, faculty, and staff. We also acknowledge with reverence and respect the work of Black individuals, both free and enslaved, that has allowed our institution to prosper and grow for 250 years.
Our Moravian founders believed that all people had the right to education and learning. This conviction sparked the founding of Salem, a school for girls, at a time when such an endeavor was highly unusual. In keeping with the Moravian belief in spiritual equality, enslaved Black girls were allowed to enroll in the school during the 18th century. One of these students, Anna Maria Samuel, attended the girls’ school in the girls’ school in Salem from 1793 to 1795, and is recognized today through the naming of The Anna Maria Samuel Project: Race, Remembrance, and Reconciliation.
Unfortunately, in the 19th century, Moravian attitudes about race shifted, and while Salem continued to educate young white and Cherokee girls, Black students were no longer welcome to attend Salem. Additionally, during this time period, at least 17 enslaved people labored at Salem — these individuals were rented or owned outright by the institution. While it may be difficult to grapple with the fact that our beloved Salem was complicit in the horrors of slavery, we must acknowledge this piece of our history and let it guide our commitments to the future.
By the late 1960s, Salem, along with many other schools and colleges, went through an intentional process of integration. The College’s first African American graduate, Rev. Alma Boyd, graduated in 1973. Caryle Blakeney Bennet, the first African American Academy student from the modern era, graduated in the same year. In the 50 years since, we have had hundreds more Black students pass through the halls of the Academy and College and go out to do great things in the world. I encourage you to learn more about our rich and complicated history through the Anna Maria Samuel Project’s timeline, as well as through the exhibits in the Single Sisters House Museum.
Today, we are proud to celebrate and support the Black students on our campus. Today, 17% of our Academy Students and 21% of our College students identify as Black or African American. Salem’s diverse student body and commitment to economic access and social mobility are a testament to our founding principles of equity in education. With a commitment to diversity, Salem recently created the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI). OEDI will provide additional support and resources to our African American students. Our focus on health leadership at the College also gives us the opportunity to prepare students personally, professionally and academically to create a better, healthier and more equitable place.
In honor of Black History Month, I invite the Salem community to hear Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Dr. Marcia Chatelain deliver an Ethics and Equity lecture about her book, Franchise: The Golden Arches and Black America, on Thursday, February 23, 2023, at 4:30 p.m. in Shirley Auditorium. Additionally, for College students on campus, the Black Student Union has a month of daily programming planned.
I encourage you to lift up African American voices and also reflect on the joy and progress that exists within the African American community during Black History Month.