New Hampshire native Dan Billin worked as a newspaper reporter in the Granite State for seventeen years. His nose for a story and years of relentless research have brought to light a wealth of detail about the shocking and long-forgotten tale of Noyes Academy and the extraordinary Black students who dared seek an education in antebellum New Hampshire. He has now applied those same journalistic instincts to illuminating how putting the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” on NH license plates kicked off a battle over the First Ammendment.
Lebanon, NH 03766
Home Phone: 603-276-8450
Available Program Formats: In person or online presentations
Dan Billin's Programs
Abolitionists of Noyes Academy
American slavery divided not just the North from the South, but also northerners from each other. In the mid-1830s, the emergence of an aggressive abolitionist movement provoked fierce blowback—including widespread mob violence in the North. Canaan, N.H., became one of many New England flashpoints after abolitionists there opened a school for all students, regardless of race or gender. Young Black men and women flocked to Noyes Academy but were soon driven away by a voter-sanctioned mob that dragged their school building a half-mile down the main street and threatened them with death. Students who passed through that fire—Julia Williams, Henry Highland Garnet and Alexander Crummell—went on to extraordinary careers in the fight against slavery and for Black civil rights. Historian Dan Billin presents an illustrated lecture that plumbs the depths of anti-abolitionist sentiment in antebellum New Hampshire and the courage of Black students who were destined for greatness.
Live Free or Die: The Tyrannical History of the Words on your License Plate
In 1969, when New Hampshire officials decided to put the state’s motto – “live free or die” -- on its license plates, many citizens viewed the act as an endorsement of the deeply unpopular war being waged in Vietnam and protested by covering up or altering the motto. In response, authorities cracked down hard: arresting, fining, and sometimes even incarcerating those who engaged in duct-tape dissent. People appealed their convictions, sparking a legal contest over the First Ammendment that went all the way to the United States’ Supreme Court. In this multi-media presentation, historian and former newspaper reporter Dan Billin tells a uniquely New Hampshire tale illustrating the genius -- and the fragility -- of the First Amendment.