Black Lives Matter Sign Thefts Vex Underground Railroad History Center

A Vermont history museum repeatedly targeted by thieves pilfering its Black Lives Matter signs has found a bit of encouragement following an unrelated case of sign vandalism.

The Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh has had eight signs stolen or destroyed this summer, according to director Jane Williamson. Some were on metal stakes in the ground, some were wired to a fence.

"We certainly wanted to call attention to the issue and the movement," Williamson said of Black Lives Matter.

Supporting Black Lives Matter makes perfect sense, Williamson said, because the Rokeby Museum tells the story of Vermont's early anti-slavery activists and the property's place on the Underground Railroad, where families would help fugitives from slavery find freedom.

Williamson noted that at the Route 7 landmark, black lives have mattered for some 200 years, long before the contemporary civil rights activism movement was formed.

"When you think of radical abolitionists, they started in the early 1830s," Williamson said, describing the kinds of families like the Robinsons, who ran a successful merino sheep farm on the Rokeby property and employed fugitives from slavery. "Those slaves weren't freed until 1865. [Activists] spent three decades trying to beat down that door. Should we give up because eight signs have been removed? Probably not."

Additionally, the museum said it has heard complaints from some citizens who expressed disappointment that the site is supporting Black Lives Matter, with some of those people arguing law enforcement has gotten a bad rap in high-profile cases of alleged police brutality against minority communities.

Williamson said she is planning a panel discussion for next year on racial justice issues, and plans to invite members of the law enforcement community to participate.

Williamson did express some encouragement she took from an unrelated Black Lives Matter sign vandalism case in Essex.

"I felt a sense of violation," said Essex homeowner Bruce Post, who has a Black Lives Matter sign in his lawn. "First I thought, 'Who would do that?'"

Vandals altered Post's sign with paint, tape, and markers to say "All Lives Matter," and added the web address of a pornographic website.

"Then, shortly thereafter, my doorbell rang," Post recalled, a smile forming on his face.

Post told necn he was pleasantly surprised to greet someone who came to inform him about who was behind defacing his sign.

Post recounted how a neighbor arrived at his door in tears, with her hand on her heart, and revealed a houseguest's teenagers were behind the prank.

Post said the unexpected encounter all comes back to Rokeby, because he suggested the best way those teen boys could apologize would be to visit the museum and learn how long and difficult the march toward equality has been.

"It may have just been a lark or a prank, but out of that, maybe some good will come," Post said of the neighbor's pledge to organize a trip to Rokeby following the Essex sign vandalism. "That's the story that had a bad beginning, and I think, a happy ending."

The museum did have a Black Lives Matter sign on its front lawn Thursday, but Williamson said after all the previous sign thefts, staffers now take the sign in at night.

Learn more about the Rokeby Museum on their website

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