CATO

READING REMEMBRANCE TOUR - CATO tour guide Karen Gleason (r), a local history educator, shows visitors the grave of the late Sharper Freeman, one of two former slaves whose graves can be found in Reading today. In photo at left, (l to r), Select Board Chair Karen Herrick, State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), Reading Schools Superintendent Dr. Thomas Milaschewski, and Reading METCO Director Kurtis Martin listen to tour directors as they visit historical sites across the community.

READING - Organizers couldn’t have picked a nicer morning when CATO (The Coalition of Us) hosted their Reading Remembrance Tour for school and local officials on Sunday. School principals, Metro Director Kurtis Martin, School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Milaschewski as well as State Senator Jason Lewis and Select Board members Mark Dockser and Karen Herrick and numerous others came, some with their families to participate in the tour which teaches about the lives and locations of black and enslaved residents of Colonial era Reading.

Educators Megan Howie and Karen Gleason led two groups to four locations including the Reading Public Library, where the group met to talk about the history of slavery in Reading and Massachusetts and to personalize it with stories of Reading enslaved people including Cato Eaton, who inspired the groups name. The tour also took the groups to the Town Common and Laurel Hill Cemetery, where they were shown the resting place of former slave Sharper Freeman, one of only two known graves of enslaved people in Reading.

Howie and Gleason taught freshman history at the high school for years. Gleason said, they were “long cognizant” of needing to “expand the diversity of the curriculum.” When Gleason took a summer class in historic Deerfield called, “African America in Colonial New England,” that “sparked” her interest and gave her ideas on how to research the topic.

According to Howie they used primary sources such as census, marriage, death, church and probate records, as well as runaway slave ads. The two wrote a two-part article for The Chronicle during the town’s 375th anniversary celebration and still continue to research the history of the town’s black and enslaved people.

Founder of CATO and a RMHS alumnus Philmore Philip, who is also a former METCO program graduate, said he started the coalition at the height of the black and brown protests when he was disappointed by his friends and their “hateful” social media posts. He was so disappointed by people he not only shared a lunch table with but frequently was a dinner guest of in their homes, who were “spewing hateful things.” “I realized I had to do something,” Philip said.

Philip stared speaking at rallies and then when he saw the Howie/Gleason articles, he asked them to put together a tour for CATO. At this year’s Fall Street Faire, Philip met Milaschewski, who said he had become familiar with CATO before applying to become superintendent in Reading. Philip and Milaschewski then planned Sunday’s tour for school staff.

Milaschewski said that it is important for school staff to learn more about the town’s history, “as we try to be a more inclusive community.”

Philip implored the school staff for help. “I can’t do this alone. You’re all decision makers at the school. We all have to come together, to come to a resolution to things I went through as a black kid. Nothing has changed. We have to work together.”

CATO member Sherilla Lestrade who has been involved in Reading for 16 years as a Metco parent, school employee and now as a Reading resident said that there has only been a little bit of change in that time. “It took a long time to get us here. It’s going to take a long time to undo all the hurt and pain.”

CATO plans to offer the tour to the general public in the spring.

Senator Lewis said he thought the tour “could really be a model for other communities.”

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