Last weekend, a historic Nantucket building where African Americans once learned and prayed was vandalized with racist graffiti. As locals come together to express their dismay and solidarity, the police are still looking for leads.
The African Meeting House on Nantucket, which once functioned as a schoolhouse and a church on the Massachusetts island, was erected in the 1820s by the African Baptist Society. It once was a gathering place for the black community that lived, thanks to segregation, south of Nantucket Town, and it was also open to escaped slaves, Native Americans, Quakers, and educators and abolitionists of any race.
Today, it’s Nantucket’s only remaining 19th-century public building constructed and occupied by African-Americans. Now owned by the Museum of African American History, the space hosts film screenings, talks, and other museum events.
On either Saturday evening or Sunday morning, the building was vandalized with crude black spray paint. The words “N—– LEAVE” were painted on the door, with a phallic symbol to the left. The image is boorish, made by a wobbly hand. It’s easy to attribute the act to casual immaturity, but the ramifications of racist cruelty are never casual.
In an interview with The Inquirer and Mirror, African Meeting House manager Charity Grace-Mofsen said, “I broke down, I was hysterical. I cried.” She added that Nantucket’s history of racial diversity brought her to the island in the first place: “So to see that once again, we have people coming together when they see that something is wrong and hateful, we get together and say, ‘This is not what we stand for, this is not what our island is about.’” Neighbors and friends helped Mofsen scrub the building clean.
The Nantucket Police Department said in a press release that they’re “investigating what appears to be an act of hate directed at persons of color on the island.” They asked anyone with information to call a confidential tips line at 508-228-1212. The statement continued: “Crimes such as this are not what Nantucket is about. Nantucket is known for its diverse population and celebrates the diversity of cultures that make up this island community.”
In the wake of the incident, residents of Nantucket have responded with support and optimism. Mofsen told The Inquirer and Mirror that she wishes she could tell the perpetrator: “We are your neighbors, we are your friends, and this is our home, too.”