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For 65 years, Salem State University graduate, abolitionist, writer, and educator Charlotte Forten was a tireless advocate for the end of slavery, equality for women and people of color, and education for all. In a ceremony last month, the university honored her legacy by renaming a residential hall for her, the first time a campus building has been dedicated to an African American woman.

The renaming campaign was spearheaded by Michael Corley, a 2023 Salem State graduate, now a constituent services and special projects assistant for Salem Mayor Dominick Pangallo. Corley first learned about Forten, who graduated in 1856, in a first-year seminar class, then later, as president of the Student Government Association, decided to advocate for her name to be attached to a building on campus.

“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,” Corley says.

Formerly known as Viking Hall, Charlotte Forten Hall houses 350 residents.

Vice President for Student Success Nate Bryant; Trustee Samanda E. Morales; Michael Corley; Terrence Jean Charles; and Salem State President John D. Keenan

Forten was brought up in Philadelphia as part of a prominent abolitionist family. She traveled to Salem for equal education and graduated from the Salem Normal School, one of the early incarnations of Salem State University. After graduation, she became a teacher – the first African American to hold that job in Salem public schools. 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, Forten traveled to St. Helena Island in South Carolina 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 she later returned to South Carolina to teach at Charleston’s Robert Gould Shaw Memorial School.

“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,” says 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.”