Walking down the street, one cannot possibly fathom the centuries of rich history that took place in your surroundings. Sheree Brown, Cummings Collections Fellow at the Royall House & Slave Quarters in Medford, MA and University Alumna has first hand experience with this. 

At the University, Brown originally studied Spanish and hoped to be a sociology major. But after a study abroad trip to England, she found a new passion. “Getting to see the castles and all the buildings, I was like, ‘wow, this is a really awesome way to have history literally in your face…’ What I learned in England, with all of the museums and all of the historical spaces you can be in is that immersion is an awesome way to teach people about history in a way that is experiential. So, I thought, this is what I must do!”

After combining her lifelong interest in African American and African Studies with her newfound curiosity in museum and material culture, Brown earned her Bachelor’s in History and Afroamerican and African Studies from the University of Michigan — and she didn’t stop there. She studied History and Museum Studies at Tufts University, which then landed her in Key West, Florida. 

“I went to a museum that had a transatlantic slave trade collection — they have some slave shipwrecks, and they’re some of the only ones of their type... I did a fifth-grade program on the slave trade and the Key West museum had a lot of shackles, but they also had children’s shackles which was heartwrenching. So we would take these objects into classrooms and teach young people about the slave trade, and the reaction people have to objects, I thought, ‘this is really the only way to do history as far as I’m concerned.’”

Brown was drawn back to Boston, her hometown, where she reconnected with the Tufts Museum program and discovered some shocking news. 

“I got (the Tufts Museum) newsletter and I was just going through it and they needed a collections person at the Royall House and Slave Quarters, and I was like… ‘what?’ Let me read more about this — suddenly there’s a slave quarters in Medford? My mom is from Medford and my grandparents lived in Medford and I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’”

“I did some more research about the Royall house, which everyone on the planet has seen — it’s this really, really gorgeous light blue Georgian building with a pretty park in the front. I had walked by it a million times, and I’d always thought to myself, ‘who lives in this beautiful house?’ It turns out it was actually a plantation, and the little brick building on the other side of it was a slave quarters.”
For Brown, Medford and Boston were known to her as home. While most people know the vague history of slavery in the United States, nobody really anticipates that historical sites that held enslaved people would be on the very places you walk by daily as a resident of the city.

“I have always known about slavery in New England so that part didn't surprise me, and this is the thing about Boston, that is, you know, you have kind of a love-hate relationship with it because it is actually one of the most racist cities in the country. They actually released a study a couple years ago on racism in Boston and basically concluded that the city is the most racist place in the universe,” she said. “There’s that, but then there’s this really amazing Black history here and there were all of these Black Revolutionary War heroes.”