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January 20, 2014

Salem abolitionist honored in Rome cemetery

SALEM — A memorial plaque was installed last month at the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome, one of the world’s most famous burial grounds.

The Irish writer Oscar Wilde called the Protestant Cemetery, as it is widely known, “the holiest place in Rome.” This is where the poets Shelley and Keats are buried, and where many come to see the haunting sculpture “Angel of Grief,” by William Wetmore Story, son of the Salem jurist Joseph Story.

The simple wall plaque erected in December reads: “Sarah Parker Remond...African American Abolitionist & Physician...Salem MA 1824...Rome 1894.”

Although a portrait of Remond hangs in the Statehouse in Boston, there are no plaques or memorials in her hometown of Salem, and, until a few weeks ago, nothing to mark her final resting place in Rome.

That all changed thanks to the interest and persistence of Marilyn Richardson, a retired professor at MIT, and Salem attorney Francis Mayo, former president of the Salem Athenaeum.

Both have spent years researching Remond and felt strongly that something should be done to memorialize a woman who, after being barred from school in Salem because of her color, went on to become a leading abolitionist speaker and medical doctor in Italy.

“I just became so interested in her and admired her that I thought, ‘Good lord, there should be something at the hospital where she worked in Florence to commemorate this amazing woman,’” said Mayo, a Marblehead resident.

He wrote to the hospital in Italy several years ago and got a letter back saying he should contact Richardson, former curator of the Museum of African American History on Beacon Hill, who was lobbying to get a plaque in the Rome cemetery.

Mayo joined forces with Richardson and invited her to speak at the Salem Athenaeum, a membership library on Essex Street. After her talk, a campaign was launched to raise $5,000 for the plaque. A notice was posted on a Sarah Remond website that Richardson maintains.

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