As slavery ended across New England during the late eighteenth century, African descended people from across the new American Republic migrated to Boston and its surrounding towns. By the 1780s, these migrants, including Barbados native Prince Hall, and Revolutionary War veterans George Middleton and Louis Glapion, founded black institutions that sustained the community throughout the century. Prince Hall’s African Masonic Lodge, founded in Boston in 1787, eventually spread to free black communities across the country, while Middleton and Glapion’s Free African Society (est. 1796) supported some of the first black schools and mutual aid societies. In Boston, this black community was concentrated on the North Slope of Beacon Hill and in the West End, but black communities also existed in Cambridge, Salem, New Bedford, Lynn, and other towns. By 1850, when Boston was home to five black churches, a publicly funded school, and an internationally renowned abolitionist community, the African American community supported the radicalism of David Walker and Maria Stewart, as well as the resistance of William Apess, a Pequot man who collaborated with local black Bostonians prior to the infamous Mashpee Revolt in 1833. This community also expanded its cultural and political ties to Africans across the diaspora. Through Massachusetts’ commercial ties to the global maritime and whaling industries, black people from Cape Verde, the West Indies, and South America lived, worked, and intermarried with black people from New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia. By the start of the Civil War, over 10% of Boston’s African Americans were foreign born, a proportion higher than New York and New Orleans. With the collapse of slavery in the South, and the rise of Radical Reconstruction (1863 - 1877), this community elected two representatives to the State Legislature - Edwin G. Walker and Charles L. Mitchell in 1866 - and produced some of the most successful black entrepreneurs of the post-Reconstruction Era. Chelsea native, Lewis Latimer, the son of escaped slaves who fled to Boston in the 1840s, became an inventor and businessman who co-patented an improved toilet system for railroad cars. Jan Ernst Matzeliger, a native of Suriname and a resident of Lynn, patented a shoe-lasting machine in 1883 that revolutionized the industry across the country. And Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, a Boston native whose family descended from a community of African and Native people in Taunton, became the first black woman editor of a national newspaper when she founded Woman’s Era, the first national newspaper by and for black women, in 1894. By 1900, when W.E.B. Du Bois, himself a Massachusetts native and Harvard graduate, compiled statistics for his paper "The Black North: A Social Study" (1901), blacks across greater Boston had the highest literacy rates in the country, and one of the highest proportions of black professionals.
Beacon and Park Sts., Boston, MA
The 54th Massachusetts Regiment Memorial was designed by nineteenth century sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens to commemorate the first all-African American regiment, recruited in the north, to fight for the Union Army during the Civil War. The project began in 1883 and was completed in 1897. Composed of free African-American men from across the country, and as far away as the Caribbean, the 54th Regiment, led by a white Colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, fought valiantly at the Battle of Fort Wagner in South Carolina during the summer of 1863. Their contributions, including the bravery of the first Congressional medal of honor winner, Sargent William H. Carney, influenced the enlistment of over 185,000 African-American soldiers in the Union Army.
111 Arlington St., Medford, MA
Prior to the Civil War, free black families with roots in the eighteenth century lived in West Medford along the Mystic River. In the decades after the Civil War, black migrants from the American South and the Caribbean moved to the West Medford neighborhood, where they purchased homes and built community institutions. This expanding community was defined by the river to the south, Boston Avenue to the northeast, and High Street to the northwest. In 1933, black residents built the West Medford Community Center. One of these residents, Walter Isaac, carried pieces of a World War One army barrack to city property on Arlington Street. Over several generations, the Community Center has served many of the social, cultural, and educational needs of the community.
320 Monument Street, Concord, MA
The Robbins House is one of the oldest extant structures in which free African Americans lived in Concord, Massachusetts in the early days of the American Republic. Caesar Robbins (b. 1745), the family patriarch, was enslaved in Chelmsford and served in both the French and Indian, and the Revolutionary War. Two of his six children, Susan and Peter, were the first residents of the house. His granddaughter, Ellen Garrison Jackson, was born in the house in 1823, supported abolitionist and women’s rights in Boston, and worked as a teacher in Freedmen’s Schools in the U.S. South during the early days of Reconstruction.
W.E.B. Du Bois c. 1900
20 Flagg St., Cambridge, MA
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868 - 1963) was one of the most significant intellectuals of the twentieth century. Following his earlier degrees at Fisk and Harvard Universities, in 1895, Du Bois became the first African American to be awarded a Doctorate in History from Harvard. Born in Great Barrington to a family with deep roots in New England and in Haiti, Du Bois formed lifelong intellectual and personal ties to greater Boston’s African descended community, including the first black Assistant Attorney General, William Henry Lewis, and Guardian editor William Monroe Trotter. He resided at this Flagg Street address while attending Harvard.
Tremont Street and Winter Street, Boston, MA
Parkman Bandstand (est. 1912) has been the site of civil rights protests and political rallies by the region's African descended people since 1915, when newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter (1872 - 1934) led at this site the local campaign against D.W. Griffith's racist film "Birth of a Nation." In 2007, America's first African-American president, Barack Obama, held a political rally at the bandstand with Massachusetts' first African American Governor, Deval Patrick. Most famously, on April 23, 1965, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke from the bandstand to a crowd of over 22,000 people involved in city-wide protests against segregated housing, unequal public schools, and deeply entrenched economic inequality across greater Boston.
“Church of the Fugitive Slave in Boston” c. 1854
43-47 Phillips St., Boston, MA
Twelfth Baptist Church was founded in 1840 by a group of African-American Baptists who split from the African Meeting House congregation on Joy Street (then Belknap Street). In the decades before the Civil War, the congregation was known as the “Fugitive Slaves’ Church” for its support of enslaved men and women. Some of the more famous fugitives who used the Twelfth Baptist on their escape to freedom were William and Ellen Craft, Shadrach Minkins, and Thomas Sims.
46 Joy Street, Boston, MA
The African Meeting House was established in 1806 and is the oldest extant African American church building in the United States. Constructed through the labor and financial support of the city’s African-American community and others, the Meeting House was the site of the African Baptist Church under abolitionist preacher Thomas Paul. The building is currently part of the Museum of African American History (MAAH) and Boston’s Black Heritage Trail.
The Abiel Smith School (est. 1833) was the first public building constructed for the express purpose of educating African-American children. The school was originally located in the basement of the adjacent African Meeting House, but transferred to this building in 1835 after years of pressure from African-American parents and abolitionists. Before the Boston public schools formally desegregated in 1855, the Abiel Smith School supported well known abolitionist teachers Prince Saunders and Susan Paul.
Originally located on Beacon Hill, the Charles Street AME Church began in 1818, when a small group of free men and women created the First African Methodist Episcopal Society. After the Civil War, the Church moved to Charles Street at the base of Beacon Hill, where it continued its important role in African-American history. During the 1890s, for instance, local black feminist and equal rights activist, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 - 1924) founded the National Federation of Afro-American Women in the Charles Street Church. In 1939, the church moved to Roxbury, where it remains today a vibrant institution within Boston’s African American community.
David Walker (c. 1796 - 1830) was one of the most radical black abolitionists of his time, publishing his “Appeal” (1829) as a rallying cry for enslaved resistance, free black community organization, and an immediate end to slavery. Born free in Wilmington, North Carolina, Walker moved to Boston around 1825, opened a used clothing shop, and resided in the heart of black abolitionist Boston at this site, then known as 4 Belknap Street. Although Walker lived here only briefly (1827 - 1829), he supported black-led abolition in Boston until his death in 1830, including the Massachusetts General Colored Association (predecessor to William Lloyd Garrison’s New England Anti-Slavery Society), and the early black feminism of fellow abolitionist, Maria Stewart (1803 - 1879). Stewart - the first woman in the United States to deliver a public speech on a political subject - resided here after Walker’s death, during the early 1830s.
Maria Baldwin c. 1900
196 Prospect St., Cambridge, MA
Maria Baldwin (1856 -1922) was born to Haitian immigrants in Cambridge, and became the first black woman in America appointed principal of a predominantly white public school when she headed the Agassiz School in 1889. During the 1890s, black Harvard students, including W.E.B. Du Bois, spent time in Baldwin’s personal library, which included works by writers of African descent from around the world. Baldwin helped her friend, the feminist Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 - 1924) found the National Federation of Afro-American Women in 1895, and co-founded Boston’s League of Women for Community Service in 1919. The Agassiz School was renamed the Maria Baldwin School in 2004.
37 Bishop Richard Allen Dr., Cambridge, MA
During the 1870s, African Americans from the South, and West Indians from across the Caribbean, migrated to Cambridge, where they settled in the area around Central Square. In 1870, many of these migrants joined native African-American residents to create their own church. In 1873, they formally opened St. Paul’s, originally located at the corner of Portland and Hasting Streets. Today, the Church remains one of the largest and most significant African American congregations in the region.
Boston Latin School c. 1930
78 Avenue Louis Pasteur, Boston, MA
Boston Latin (est. 1635) is the oldest and first public school in the United States. Although the school was once located on School Street in downtown Boston, it moved to its present location in 1922. Founded in the seventeenth century to educate the city’s Protestant male elite - including Samuel Adams and Ralph Waldo Emerson - in 1877, Parker Bailey became the first African American to graduate from the prestigious school.