Preserving Concord’s Black History

Associate Dean Maria Madison, director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, brings her restorative justice expertise to The Robbins House.

February 01, 2022

Maria Madison
Maria Madison stands in front of The Robbins House.
Photo of documents and the name "E. Garrison Jackson"
Letter and signature from Ellen Garrison Jackson, granddaughter of Caesar Robbins. In 1866, after being “forcibly ejected” from a Baltimore train station, Garrison tested the nation’s first Civil Rights Act in court almost a century before the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Her case was summarily dismissed despite the law.
Robbins House exterior
The exterior of the 544-square-foot Robbins House, built in the early 1820s. It was originally located on a farm overlooking the Great Meadows along the Concord River, and is now located opposite the Old North Bridge.
Photo of shackles
A set of shackles at The Robbins House is symbolic of the ones used to enslave African Americans.

Photos by Mike Lovett

Associate Dean Maria Madison, director of the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity, is also the founder and co-president of The Robbins House, a nonprofit focused on raising awareness of Concord’s African, African American, and antislavery history from the 17th through 19th centuries and its national relevance. The Robbins House was once inhabited by the descendants of formerly enslaved Revolutionary War veteran Caesar Robbins and by “fugitive” enslaved man Jack Garrison.

Madison is trained in ethical interpretation of American history, including the centrality of Black history, through the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Too often, she says, historic sites and museums omit the Black history of the U.S. “Concord’s Black history is America’s history,” says Madison, noting that Concord was the location of the first successful battle against British forces.

Madison’s work at Heller overlaps with her work at The Robbins House in restorative justice practice and identifying the root causes of racial inequity. Along with Peter Dixon, a research scientist in the Master’s in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence Program, and Chris Reynolds, MA COEX’21, Madison and The Robbins House staff have been working to research a historic bell from a slaveholding sugar plantation in Cuba. The bell will be installed as part of a new reflection area at The Robbins House in spring 2022.