Let Ellen Garrison’s legacy chart path to future

April 24, 2024

The past we honor often shapes the future we desire, and so it is with the proposal to name the new middle school in honor of Concord native and civil rights activist Ellen Garrison. 

Born to Jack and Susan (Robbins) Garrison in 1823, this daughter and granddaughter of once enslaved men drew on her upbringing in Concord to forge a lifelong career as an educator and campaigner for civil rights. An abolitionist activist in antebellum Boston and Newport, Rhode Island, she credited “a good Common School and Sabbath School education” in this town for preparing her to teach freed people in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina during Reconstruction and in Black communities in Kansas during the 1880s. In this lifelong commitment to equal rights for all people, she defied racial segregation and initiated what was likely the first prosecution for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. 

Like many fighters for civil rights, Ellen Garrison has been little known until recently. Just as George W. Dugan, the Concord-born soldier in the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of African American troops, who gave his life during the 1863 assault on Fort Wagner, was left off the town’s Civil War memorial — an omission that has now been rectified — so Ellen Garrison has been overlooked among the half-dozen or so Concord women who taught freed men and women in the post-Civil War South. Her service to the cause of liberty and equality deserves recognition as testimony to the ideals she learned and the skills she acquired in this town and that she shared with so many other Concordians. 

Now approaching its 400th anniversary in 2035, the English-founded town of Concord has never been distinguished for its racial diversity. In Ellen Garrison, we can affirm our community’s dedication to the larger American project of inspiring and sustaining the rights and achievements of all our citizens. Let her legacy chart a path to the future.

Robert A. Gross

Main Street