Moving Thoughts to Action

By Susan Evans McClure, Executive Director

As we grapple with systemic racism, police violence, and the legacy of slavery unfolding before our eyes, the work of a Maritime Museum on the shores of Lake Champlain can sometimes feel disconnected. But it is just at these moments that the core of our work as a history museum, to understand the past and connect it to the future, is the most necessary. History is more than memorizing dates and names, and museums are more than collections of stuff. We study history to learn something new about ourselves and how we each fit into the broader arc of our nation and our world. We visit museums and historic sites to feel connected to our community and our past. Lake Champlain Maritime Museum is committed to using the skills we have learned as historians to turn our thoughts to action during this time of crisis. And we encourage our community to do the same. We will continue to:

  1. Ask More Questions: At the foundation of research is questions. Historians start with the “Who, what, where, when, and how?” and then launch into more layers of research and meaning. Each question reveals another question, which leads to another question. As we read the shocking news of yet another act of violence against a person of color by the police, we will ask, “How did this happen?” And after “How did this happen?” we can ask, “How do we know what we know about this story?”
  2. Find the Evidence: History is our understanding of what happened based on the evidence we have. Primary sources are key. To understand more about the world around us today, we will find the evidence and collect the data. COVID-19 is disproportionally affecting communities of color. That is evidence. Newspaper reports are chronicling protests in the streets, riots, and violent responses from the police. That is evidence. And people of color are speaking out. All evidence.  
  3. Engage the Community: Good historians engage the community. They listen. At a time when it is easy to make statements, the most powerful way to move forward is to listen and amplify non-white voices.

Black lives matter and black history is the history of the Champlain Valley. There are several local organizations who center the experience of black, indigenous, and people of color at the core of their work. I hope that you’ll visit them online now and in person in the future:

  • Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vermont, lives its mission to “connect visitors with the human experience of the Underground Railroad.” A National Historic Landmark, the museum serves as a center for exploration and discussion of contemporary social justice issues.
  • Clemmons Family Farm in Charlotte, Vermont, is one of the largest African American owned historic farms in Vermont and offers experiences for visitors to connect to the history, culture, arts, and sciences of African Americans and the African diaspora.
  • Vermont Abenaki Artists Association promotes Indigenous arts, artists, culture, and creative ideas.
  • John Brown Farm State Historic Site in North Elba, New York, shares the complicated story of John Brown’s life and death as he advocated to end slavery.
  • North Star Underground Railroad Museum in Ausable Chasm, New York, shares stories of slavery, freedom, and the abolition movement in the North Country.

We have more to do in Vermont, at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and as individuals. And we will do more. We will think like historians and move our thoughts to action. We will learn together with our community. We will challenge our own biases and actively seek to dismantle the systems that reinforce inequality. And we will create space for the voices and stories of black, indigenous, and people of color in the Champlain Valley. The work of history and the work of building community is never done, but we remain more committed to it now than ever.