Civil Rights and Art in New Hampshire:
Three Stories

PORTSMOUTH, NH − Three New Hampshire residents working for the beauty of the world are Valerie Cunningham, historic preservationist, community activist, and founder of Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail; Dr. Arthur L. Hilson, civil rights activist, Baptist minister, educator, and a commissioner of Human Rights for NH; and Rebecca Ronstadt, publisher of Journal of the Print World and artist, who unearthed and helped preserve a rare edition of original prints by John James Audubon.
      Their interviews for the oral history project, "The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights," are sponsored by the not-for-profit Alliance of Ethics & Art based in New York City. Joining Alice Bernstein, who conducted the interviews, were photographer/videographer David Bernstein and project manager Steve Weiner. For six years, Ms. Bernstein has been traveling around the country and interviewing men and women — over 170 to date — whose work for civil rights have helped to make for greater justice in America and who deserve to be known. Her interviews have also included people in the sciences, education, and the arts whose work has added to kindness, beauty, and greater interest in the world and whose lives are evidence of what Eli Siegel, founder of the education Aesthetic Realism, explained: "Ethics is a force like electricity, steam, the atom—and will have its way."

Rev. Arthur Hilson and Alice BernsteinDr. Arthur L. Hilson:
Intensity and Reflection

     Dr. Hilson's rich, various work includes having marched with Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in the South. He has taught at the Universities of Massachusetts and New Hampshire, is pastor (for 21 years) of New Hope Baptist Church, and founding president of the Portsmouth Chapter of SCLC and of Amherst NAACP. The interview took place at Portsmouth High School where he teaches history, world religion, the 1960s, and classes called Another View—with a broadranging curriculum centered on diversity. The need for and popularity of his classes are notable, given the fact that New Hampshire ranks 48th in diversity in the United States.
     Before the interview, he invited Bernstein to address his junior class (ages 16-17), about what brought her to Portsmouth. In a spirited interactive discussion with the students, Bernstein and her colleagues described the oral history project and what Aesthetic Realism explains is the cause of racism and all injustice, contempt: "the addition to self through the lessening of something else," and the answer: criticizing contempt, including in oneself, and seeing the feelings of other people are as real and deep as our own. In the videotaped interview, Dr. Hilson spoke of the racism he witnessed and which he himself endured over the years, and he also reflected on the courageous efforts of many people to bring about change.
Valerie Cunningham:
Large Feeling About the Past

Valerie Cunningham     Valerie Cunningham is co-author with Mark Sammons of the landmark Black Portsmouth (UNH Press, 2004) with original research on Africans and African Americans in New England and Portsmouth, beginning over 350 years ago with the arrival of enslaved people in 1645.
     Cunningham's work is notable for her precision about dates, people, and places, and is immensely moving because of her large feeling about the past and desire to see meaning in it. For example, she spoke of finding this 1807 entry in a church record: "To Venus—a Black— $1," and her quest to find documents that could help bring this unknown enslaved woman to life with the humanity and dignity Venus was denied all these years. She also discussed how the local NAACP in 1964 tested the Civil Rights Act, which mandated integration in public accommodations, at the Rockingham Hotel and Wentworth-by-the-sea, and described a reunion 40 years later to celebrate their success.
This interview took place Gov. Langdon Housein the Governor John Langdon House (photo by David Bohl). It is one of 24 sites on the Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail. An African American man, Cyrus Bruce, was emancipated by John Langdon, an arrangement that was underway by 1783, when Langdon was building this mansion on Pleasant Street.