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Charlotte Forten Honored with Building Renaming

Forten is SSU's first African American graduate, class of 1856

Salem, Mass. – Salem State University today dedicated and renamed its newest residence hall after its first African American graduate, Charlotte Forten, a member of the class of 1856. Forten Hall is the first time a campus building has been dedicated to an African American woman.  

Viking Hall, which houses 350 residents, will now be known as Charlotte Forten Hall, honoring the abolitionist, educator, writer, poet, translator, and women’s rights activist. The designation was announced during a campus ceremony.

For 65 years Charlotte was a tireless advocate for the end of slavery; equality for women and people of color; and education for all. Her life embodied activism and social justice. Her story starts in Philadelphia where she was brought up in a prominent abolitionist family. She traveled to Salem for equal education and graduated from the Salem Normal School now Salem State University. She faced inequality due to her race and gender throughout her life and used her pen to express her outrage and advocate for solutions.

“I am honored to rename Viking Hall after Charlotte Forten,” said President John Keenan. “Charlotte is celebrated on our campus and her passion for social justice is woven into our curriculum and campus life today. I am grateful to Michael Corley for raising this matter and for the Board of Trustees support of this naming in recognition of this important alumna.”

The idea to rename Viking Hall after Charlotte was spearheaded by then-student and student trustee Michael Corley ’23, now a constituent services and special projects assistant in the Office of Salem Mayor Dominick Pangallo. Corley first learned about Charlotte in a first-year seminar class.

It was later as president of the Student Government Association in 2022 that he decided to advocate for her name to be attached to a building on campus. After meeting with Keenan and submitting a formal letter outlining his request, Corley learned that Viking Hall would be renamed after Charlotte.

“I’m most excited about people getting a chance to know who she was and what her story is. I’m extremely proud that Salem State has chosen to recognize her in this way,” said Corley.

Charlotte, who was raised in a prominent abolitionist family in Philadelphia, traveled to Salem for equal education, enrolling in Salem Normal School, the forebear of Salem State, and became a teacher. She was the first African American teacher in Salem public schools.

“As I scour through the Journals of Charlotte Forten Grimke and reflect on being introduced to who she was when I attended Salem State University years ago, I am extremely proud the university is honoring her by renaming the residence hall,” said Shawn A. Newton, associate vice president and dean of students. “Celebrating the achievements and contributions of trailblazing individuals like her is an important step toward fostering a more inclusive and diverse community, a value that is important to SSU.”  

A prolific and talented writer, she wrote poems and essays while still a student, publishing some in Garrison’s “Liberator” and in the “Salem Register” and was mentored by John Greenleaf Whittier.

In October 1862, Charlotte sailed for St. Helena Island to help teach hundreds of formerly enslaved young and old to read. During Reconstruction, she served as secretary of the Teachers Committee of the New England Freedmen’s Union Commission and in 1871-72 she returned to South Carolina to teach at Charleston’s Robert Gould Shaw Memorial School.

In 1878, Charlotte married Rev. Francis Grimké, son of a South Carolina planter and Nancy Weston, an enslaved woman in his household. He would go on to co-found the NAACP and she’d help establish the National Association of Colored Women.


Image caption: Trustee Samanda E. Morales ’98, Terrence Jean Charles ’26, representing the student group The Brotherhood, Michael Corley ’23, English Professor Lucinda Damon-Bach, Salem State President John D. Keenan, JD, and Vice President for Student Success Nate Bryant, ’87, ‘93G, EdD

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