Category Archives: News

John D. Keenan inaugurated as 14th Salem State University president.

On Friday, John D Keenan, a native of Salem and a descendant of Rebecca Nurse, one of the women convicted and hanged for witchcraft in 1692, was inaugurated as the 14th president of Salem State University. In his remarks, President Keenan referenced his heritage and it’s influence on his life and career.

“As a descendent of Rebecca Nurse, one of the women convicted and hanged for witchcraft in 1692, and being trained as a lawyer, I am sensitive to the need to provide adequate due process and to fight for social justice. I have dedicated my life to public service in many instances fighting for social justice – whether for marriage equality, transgender rights, or in-state tuition for “dreamers”.

I think of people like Rebecca Nurse and find it is my duty to be the voice of those who cannot speak out for themselves and to advocate for those who need someone in their corner. I brought this commitment with me to Salem State where I promise to do the same for our students.”

Full text of speech here:

Free Audio Tour Highlights Salem’s African American History

September 14, 2017, Salem, MA    The many contributions of Salem’s black community and its advocates are being recognized in a new audio tour sponsored by the Salem Award Foundation for Human Rights and Social Justice (SAF). “Salem’s Black Heritage” identifies sites throughout the city associated with people or events related to black history from the 17th century to the 21st.

Unlike a structured, timed tour, the 24 stories can be listened to in any order, from any location. They range from sites connected with the remarkable Remond family to Captain Luis Emilio of Robert Gould Shaw’s renowned all black 54th regiment, from Tituba to contemporary author Stephen Hemingway. There are narrations about black mariners, Derby family slaves and the radical abolitionist president of what is today Salem State University (SSU), who lived on Federal Street and adopted two black daughters.

The tour is available through UniGuide, a free smartphone app offering hundreds of audio tours across the United States. To get the app go to and follow the easy instructions. After downloading, choose “Salem’s Black Heritage.”  A companion rack card is available at the Salem Visitor Center. The tour is also featured in Essex National Heritage’s 2017 Trails and Sails program.

The project began as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, when the SAF established a confronting racism task force, which has since been incorporated into the city’s inclusion committee. One of the original initiatives of that group was to find a way to recognize the contributions of Salem’s African American community. UniGuide, which has produced audio tours for other Salem organizations, offered a no-cost way of publicizing Salem’s black history.

From the beginning, “Salem’s Black Heritage” was a community-wide project involving people from many Salem civic, educational, and non-profit organizations as well as interested private citizens. The logo was derived from a poster created by Salem Academy Charter School (SACS) students and refined through the generosity of George Courage Creative.

“This has been an incredibly rewarding experience, both in terms of the amazing stories we learned and as an exercise in cross-city collaboration,” said Shelby Hypes, the SAF board member who spearheaded the project. “If funds ever become available, we would love to do a website—there’s a wealth of material available.”

The working group included Lori Boudo (Salem State University); Ryan Conary (The House of the Seven Gables); Annie Harris (Essex National Heritage); Shelby Hypes (Salem Award Foundation) Patti Kelleher (City of Salem Planning Department), attorneys and interested citizens Tyson Lynch and Francis Mayo; local historian Jim McAllister; Elizabeth Peterson (The Witch House); Salem Academy Charter School students Ruby Cheresnowsky, Sia-Linda Lebbie, and Kelvin Bencosme; and Maryann Zujewski (Salem Maritime National Historic Site). In addition, the Salem State University History Department helped tremendously. Dr. Donna Seger provided an initial outline; Dr. Bethany Jay and her graduate students reviewed the tour in detail.