Concord250 celebrates the life of Ellen Garrison

By Betsy Levinson
April 20, 2023

With a thundering voice, Catia Ramos brought the crowd inside Holy Family Parish to its feet as she read from the letters of Civil War-era heroine Ellen Garrison, a Concord-born anti-slavery activist, teacher and granddaughter of freed slave Caesar Robbins.

Following Ramos’ stirring words, the Hamilton Garrett Drumline rocked the crowd with its syncopated drumming, leading the crowd from the church to the Town House for a reception. 

Included in the program, a celebration of the birth of Garrison 200 years ago, were readings from “a young Frederick Douglas,” portrayed by Olamide Oladitan, a student at Concord Academy; music from the Hamilton Garrett Youth Choir; and welcome remarks from Nikki Turrpin, president of Robbins House.

The event was the kickoff for Concord250, an organization designed to celebrate the 250th anniversary of April 19, 1775. Over the next two years, the town will host other events to highlight the importance of Concord’s role in the Revolutionary War.

But the town is marking its role in the abolitionist movement as well, with tributes to Robbins, his son, Jack Garrison, and Jack’s daughter, Ellen. The Select Board issued a proclamation “honoring April 14th as Ellen Garrison Day.”

“Tonight we celebrate you,” said Joe Zellner as Jack Garrison in a tribute to his daughter.

Select Board member Henry Dane, chairman of the executive committee, said Garrison, born in 1823, was educated in the Concord schools, and in 1835 at the age of 12 marched in the Patriots Day parade hand in hand with a white schoolmate “beneath the gaze of curiosity, surprise, ridicule and admiration.”

Later, Garrison tested the nation’s first Civil Rights Act in court. “I feel as though I ought to strive to maintain my rights,” she wrote. “We contend against outrage and oppression wherever we find it.” 

“It’s high time Ellen Garrison (Jackson) takes her place alongside other revered Concordians,” said Rob Munro, a member of the Concord250 executive committee.