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Salem Witch Trials Memorial

by Jen Ratliff on 2023-09-26T09:16:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

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The Salem Witchcraft Tercentenary Committee began as an ad-hoc advisory committee established by Mayor Anthony Salvo. The committee first met on April 22, 1986, and focused on developing historically accurate programming and selecting a memorial design to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Selected from 246 entries, the winning design was unveiled in November 1991 by playwright Arthur Miller. The proposal by James Cutler and Maggie Smith featured twenty granite benches projecting from a stone wall.

The committee’s final report describes the winning design as “Striking in its simplicity, the memorial is surrounded on three sides by a handcrafted granite wall. Inscribed in the stone threshold entering the memorial are the victims’ protests of innocence. These protests are interrupted mid-sentence by the wall, symbolizing society’s indifference to injustice. Cantilevered stone benches within the memorial perimeter bear the names and execution dates of each of the 20 victims, creating a quiet contemplative environment in which to evoke the spirit and strength of those people who chose to die rather than compromise their personal truths. An enduring tribute to the victims, the Memorial also serves as a reminder that unless we speak out against injustice, the outcome can be tragic.”

The Salem Witch Trials Memorial was dedicated in August 1992 by Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. He stated, "The key word, I’ve found, that is part of the vocabulary of the drama of tragedy, is fanaticism. It is because people were fanatic that Salem was possible. It is because a fanatic has it easy. It is so easy to believe that the children really saw the demon in the witch. It is so easy to believe that the chief justice spoke on behalf of justice. I believe fanaticism is there for the worst evil that existed then for it produced more evil. And fanaticism is the greatest evil that faces us today. For today, too, there are Salems."

That same day, the first Salem Award for Human Rights and Social Justice was presented to Gregory Allan Williams, known for his heroism during the Rodney King race riots in Los Angeles, California. Although the Salem Witchcraft Tercentenary Committee held its final meeting in May 1993, their work continued as the Salem Awards Foundation, which maintained the memorial and held annual award ceremonies.

An estimated six million visitors viewed the memorial within the first twenty years. After comprehensive repairs to the structure and grounds, a rededication ceremony was held on September 12, 2012.

In 2018, the Salem Awards Foundation changed its name to Voices Against Injustice to reflect its mission of promoting awareness of social injustice issues, while reflecting on the lessons of the Salem Witchcraft Trials. They continue to steward the memorial in partnership with the City of Salem and Peabody Essex Museum.

Digitized Archives
Salem Witchcraft Tercentenary Committee Records Finding Aid
Salem Witchcraft Tercentenary Committee Records Photographs and Ephemera 

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