Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

In association with the Smithsonian Institution


Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives

Board Message on Diversity and Inclusion

As the pandemic continues to swirl around us and there is so much sadness from all the Covid-19 deaths, we are confronted with another crisis in our land. The growing protests against racial discrimination and senseless deaths have challenged us all to examine ourselves and our institutions. Our hearts reach out to all who have lost family and friends. Our hearts reach out to those who do not feel safe in their own homes and neighborhoods. We at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites respect every individual and celebrate the rich diversity of Bethlehem and the United States. Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites will not tolerate discrimination or racism in any form.

Bethlehem was founded by the Moravians who were known for their inclusiveness and peacefulness as well as their commitment to education for men and women alike. The Moravians built the Sun Inn to cater to visitors, and during the French and Indian War, Bethlehem took in and protected refugees regardless of their race. In the old Moravian cemetery, God's Acre, the bodies of African, Native American, and European Moravians lie side by side, reminding us today that we share a common humanity.

As Bethlehem works toward becoming a World Heritage site, we are reminded that we are part of a world-wide community of diversity - in race, faith, and heritage. We want all people on the streets of our cities and around the world to be respected and valued as human beings. Like the founders of Bethlehem, we stand opposed to injustice and abuse. The Moravian motto is “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love”. In these times of physical and emotional distress, we must reach out and love our neighbors – all of them. All are welcome at Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites.

The Board of Trustees of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites

HBMS Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives

We pledge to take the following steps:


  • Identify current programming and exhibitions during the past five years that speak to diversity and people of color to develop HBMS baseline.


  • Provide Diversity and Inclusion Training for HBMS employees, volunteers, and board members


  • Identify and apply for grant opportunities that can fund education, special exhibits, and training for diversity and inclusion.


  • Research current tours to ensure engagement with multi-faceted history of race and diversity in Bethlehem.


  • Expand collaborator, artist, and consignor partnerships with people of color


  • Research, collect, and document the artifacts and history of people of color in Bethlehem and share with the community.


  • Expand programming to provide increased opportunities for people of color - artists, designers, musicians, educators, business leaders, and historians.


  • Make meeting space available for public to have discourse on current topics.


  • Mount exhibitions with guest curators to expand perspectives and support critical discourse.


  • Solicit input from the public through surveys and focus groups on an annual basis regarding HBMS programming.
Burnside Plantation in the summer
Moravian Museum Gemeinhaus (c) Paul S.Bartholomew

Slavery in Early Bethlehem

Early Bethlehem was a culturally and ethnically diverse community in which European immigrants lived together with native born whites, Native Americans, and African Americans. These African Americans were both enslaved and free.

After 1742, some newly-converted Moravian Africans traveled to Bethlehem, many as slaves. Bethlehem was composed of a large German population, and generally speaking, Germans in America were not interested in owning slaves. They preferred to use their own skills to make their livelihoods in the new world rather than profit from the slave trade. Some of the settlers of Bethlehem, however, began to sense a need for slaves to help with the work of the growing community.

During the next 20 years, the Moravians brought at least three dozen enslaved laborers to Bethlehem to supplement the work forces. About two-thirds of these people were men who worked as butchers, tanners, oil millers, farmers, tavern servants, and in other positions. Some received wages and more than two dozen converted to Christianity. African Americans in Bethlehem were not segregated but fraternized freely with the rest of the congregation; they did not stand out from whites in the details of their everyday lives. They would have been raised in the nursery, gone through the school system, taken the Moravian religious journey, and found some type of useful work in the community. When they died, they were buried along with the other congregation members in God’s Acre.

By the late 1700s, no more slaves are known to have been held by Pennsylvania Moravians. Pennsylvania passed a gradual emancipation act in 1780 and as the nation moved into the 19th century, a division on the issue of slavery began to be felt in the Moravian Church. Various Moravian leaders began to discuss the issue openly and there was outrage among some Moravians that the church had remained silent about the subject for so long. The division in Moravian communities mirrored that of the rest of the nation as churches in the Northern Province now shunned the institution, while Moravians in the Southern Province churches continued to embrace slavery and segregation. The only resolution ultimately would be the Civil War.

The 1748-1848 Burnside Plantation was a large farm in Bethlehem owned by James and Mary Burnside. After James died in the 1750s, Mary sold the land to the Moravian Church and it became Plantation #4 in the Moravian farming system. The Moravian use of the word plantation stems from a German word meaning "plantings." A Moravian plantation was a working farm that produced crops for the entire community. There were four large Moravian farms in Bethlehem including Burnside Plantation. We know that these farms were very different than a plantation in the southern United States. There were no slaves listed in James Burnside’s will.


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