In 1901, when William Monroe Trotter (1872 - 1934) founded the Guardian newspaper, Boston was affectionately referred to as the “mecca of the negro” by South Carolina migrant, and former Harvard student, Edgar P. Benjamin. Compared to many African descended communities during the long nadir of American racial violence, segregation, and disfranchisement, this was certainly true. Unlike elsewhere, after the Civil War, African Americans were never legally denied the right to vote in Massachusetts, and black women were able to vote in local school department elections as early as 1870. “An Act to Punish Persons Making Discrimination in Public Places on Account of Race or Color” became law in 1885, and schools, desegregated since 1855, provided local African descended people with some of the best public education in the country. Unlike other States, Massachusetts never witnessed a local lynching, and black people continued to serve on the City Council and the School Board through the early decades of the century. However, economic and racial inequality grew despite Boston’s liberal reputation. In the 1920s, the Great Migration of southern African Americans to the North, which transformed cities like New York, Detroit, and Chicago, seemed to bypass Boston, where the black population increased much more slowly. African descended people from the West Indies, South America, and Cape Verde continued to migrate to eastern Massachusetts throughout the 1920s, but with passage of a National Immigration Restriction law in 1924, this source of black migration also waned. In the 1930s and 40s, as New Deal programs supported Massachusetts residents, and Federal housing policies catalyzed the growth of white suburbs along what eventually became Route 128, black and brown people were prevented from purchasing property outside of certain districts. Still, African Americans across the Commonwealth, in cooperation with their family and kin across the diaspora, continued to fight for racial and economic justice. In the 1960s, black parents organized the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) to counteract the negative effects of poorly funded, overcrowded, and inadequate neighborhood schools; it is the country’s first and longest running voluntary public school integration program. In the same decade, Edward W. Brooke (1919 - 2015) became the first popularly-elected black Congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1967. As a region that nurtured both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Deval Patrick and Barack Obama, greater Boston attracted African descended immigrants from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cape Verde. By the dawn of the twenty first century, greater Boston was home to one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse black populations in the country, with over one third of all African descended residents in the area born outside of the country.
George Alexander McGuire c. 1920
137 Allston St., Cambridge, MA
Antigua native George A. McGuire (1866 - 1934) founded the African Orthodox Church (AOC) in 1921, upon appointment as Bishop by the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Located at this site in Cambridge, St. Augustine’s Church held AOC services that supported the pan-Africanist philosophy of Marcus Garvey. McGuire had moved to the area in the early 1900s to study medicine at the Boston College of Physicians and Surgeons. Although McGuire was ordained in the Episcopal Church, soon after his arrival in the U.S., he became disenchanted with the racism of the predominantly white denomination and founded the predominantly West Indian St. Bartholomew’s Church in Cambridge, MA. Although the relationship between McGuire and Garvey ultimately ended in the 1920s, McGuire continued to lead local African descended people, both West Indian and native born, as the AOC expanded to thirty churches, fifty clergy, and 30,000 members across the Americas and Africa.
2385 Washington St., Roxbury, MA
“Faces of Dudley” (Mike Womble, 1995)
After the Civil War, as migrants of African descent from the American South, the Caribbean, and Canada arrived in Boston, the community shifted from its antebellum location on Beacon Hill to the South End and lower Roxbury. In 1901, when the elevated streetcar opened in Dudley Square, the area became a hub of commercial, cultural, and political activity in the racially mixed, yet increasingly black, section of Roxbury. The 1995 mural, “Faces of Dudley,” was painted by Mike Womble and a group of teen artists, and was rehabbed by Womble in 2015. In addition to images of renowned residents such as Malcolm X (1925-1965) and Melnea Cass (1896-1978), every other portrait in the mural is a portrait of a neighborhood resident.
5 Crawford Street, Dorchester, MA
In 1949, social workers Otto P. and Muriel S. Snowden founded Freedom House at 151 Humboldt Street in Roxbury. The goal was to create an interracial, interfaith center to fight for neighborhood improvement, better schools, and racial cooperation. In 1952, Freedom House moved to 14 Crawford Street in Grove Hall, although a devastating fire forced it to its “new” facility at 5 Crawford Street in 1961. Since then, Freedom House has been the site of countless political and civil rights struggles, including the fight for “racially balanced” public schools in the 1960s and 1970s.
160 Causeway St., Boston, MA; now 100 Legends Way, Boston, MA
Opened in 1928 as the city’s premiere sports arena, the Boston Garden (located in the present-day TD Bank North Garden) was home to two of the city’s athletic dynasties - the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins, and the National Basketball Association’s Celtics. The Garden’s place in Boston’s African American history is significant. In 1950, Charles Henry “Chuck” Cooper (1926 - 1984) became one of the first African-American players for the NBA when he joined the Boston Celtics at the Garden. In 1966, Bill Russell (b. 1934) became the first African-American head coach in the NBA when as a player-coach, he replaced Red Auerbach as leader of the team.
“Eternal Presence” by John Wilson, National Center for Afro-American Artists
300 Walnut St., Roxbury, MA
Elma Ina Lewis (1921 - 2004) was a leading arts educator, activist, and community leader in Boston. In 1950, she founded The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. Born in Boston to Caribbean immigrant parents, and raised in a household that followed the black nationalist philosophy of Marcus Garvey, Lewis attended Emerson College and Boston University. The school she founded in 1950 provided arts education for black and brown children across Roxbury and the South End. In 1968, she created the National Center of Afro-American Artists as an institution “committed to preserving and fostering the cultural arts heritage of black peoples worldwide.” The adjoining museum, which was established at a later date, “is dedicated to the celebration, exhibition, collection, and criticism of black visual arts heritage worldwide.” The center currently operates the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists which displays and supports work by artists across the global African diaspora.
1073 Tremont St., Roxbury, MA
St. Cyprian’s Church was one of the most important social and religious institutions for West Indians in Boston. The congregation was established in 1910 after recent migrants from Barbados and Jamaica faced discrimination from local white Episcopalians; it met in several temporary locations before congregants purchased their own site for worship in 1921. Although congregants were primarily from the Caribbean, the church also served African Americans and foreign born people of African descent. Services began in the building in 1924; the congregation was named after Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage in North Africa.
Tent City, Boston Globe c. 1969
100 Dartmouth St., Boston, MA
In 1968, Boston racial justice activist, Mel King (b. 1928), led a group of community organizers in a four day occupation to protest the city’s urban renewal policy. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) planned to transform a lot that had been cleared by the city into a parking garage; as many as 100 families were displaced in the initial clearing and there was still great need for affordable housing in the working-class, predominantly black neighborhood. The Tent City occupation attracted support from activists and celebrities, including Celtics player and coach, Bill Russell, who fed the activists as they set up small tents on the lot. Despite multiple arrests, organizers formed the Tent City Task Force (later named the Tent City Corporation), which eventually forced the city to create the Tent City Housing Complex in 1988. Presently, the Tent City Housing Complex is a mixed income development.
175 Tremont St., Boston, MA
Established in 1888, Tremont Theater was a major playhouse in Boston until a fire destroyed the original building at 175 Tremont Street in 1983. Most famously, in 1915, newspaper editor and activist William Monroe Trotter (1872 - 1934) led protests against D.W. Griffiths’ "Birth of a Nation," the popular film that glorified the southern Ku Klux Klan. During the protests, many black activists, including Trotter, were arrested after the city’s Mayor, James Michael Curley (1874 - 1958), initially refused to censor the film. Trotter’s public protest inspired similar NAACP-led demonstrations across the country.
Tremont and Winter Sts., 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.
55 Malcolm X Blvd., Roxbury, MA
John D. O’Bryant (1931 - 1992) was born and raised in Boston. In 1977, amidst the struggle to desegregate Boston Public Schools, O’Bryant became the first African American elected to the Boston School Committee in the 20th Century. The John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science has carried its namesake’s commitment to public education into the twenty first century from its roots as Boston’s Mechanic Arts High School (est. 1893). From 1944, when the school changed its name to Boston Technical High School through its collaboration with Mario Umana Technical High School in 1989, John D. O’Bryant has educated generations of young people across Roxbury.
72 Dale St., Roxbury, MA
As a teenager and young adult, Malcolm X (1925 - 1965) lived in Roxbury on and off from 1941 to 1946, the year that he was incarcerated. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, he lived at this Dale Street home with his sister, Ella Little Collins. Collins was a civil rights activist; as a young woman she served as secretary for Adam Clayton Powell. In the 1950s, she joined the Nation of Islam and established a mosque and day-care center in the community. By 1959, Collins had left the Nation of Islam and converted to Sunni Islam. After her brother’s assassination in 1965, Ella Collins took over Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity and continued to play an active role in the city, by working on initiatives such as creating the Sarah A. Little School of Preparatory Arts.
5 Crawford St., Dorchester, MA
In 1949, social workers Otto P. and Muriel S. Snowden founded Freedom House at 151 Humboldt Street in Roxbury. The goal was to create an interracial, interfaith center to fight for neighborhood improvement, better schools, and racial cooperation. In 1952, Freedom House moved to 14 Crawford Street in Grove Hall, although a devastating fire forced it to a new facility at 5 Crawford Street in 1961. Since then, Freedom House has been the site of countless political and civil rights struggles, including the fight for “racially balanced” public schools in the 1960s and 1970s.
Howard Thurman c. 1945
735 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, MA
In 1953, Florida native Howard Washington Thurman (1899 - 1981) became Dean of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel; he served in this position until 1965. As the first African-American theologian appointed dean of a predominantly white institution, Thurman introduced non-violent theology to the Boston University community, including doctoral candidate Martin Luther King Jr. As a mentor to Dr. King and a committed civil rights activist in his own right, Thurman studied Quaker, Hindu, and Christian theology, and published over twenty books on philosophy and Christian theology, including the popular Jesus and the Disinherited (1949).
15 Court Sq., Boston, MA
Established in 2009 to foster collaboration among community development professionals, the Mel King Institute reflects the decades’ long community advocacy of its namesake, Melvin H. King (b. 1928). The son of a Guyanese father and Bajan mother, King was born in Boston’s South End, graduated from Claflin College, and received his master’s degree in education from Boston State College. In addition to his work with at-risk youth at Lincoln House in the 1950s and his mobilization of Tent City in 1968, King was a representative in the Massachusetts State Legislature from 1973-1982 and ran for Mayor of Boston in 1983. Currently, the Mel King Institute works with King’s South End Technology Center, which King founded to improve community access to technology.
145 Dartmouth St., Boston, MA
When Back Bay Station opened in 1899, African Americans represented nearly a third of the population surrounding Columbus Avenue and Dartmouth Street on the Albany Railroad. This population concentration was a result of the black community’s migration from Beacon Hill to Back Bay and the adjoining South End. Many men in these neighborhoods worked as Pullman Porters on interstate trains throughout the Northeast. During the 1910s, these porters organized in protest against discrimination and exploitative pay, which attracted the attention of Harlem activist A. Philip Randolph, who later founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP). The Brotherhood was established in 1925 and formally recognized as a union in 1937. In 1986, as part of the state’s Southwest Corridor project, artist Tina Allen was commissioned to design this statue for Back Bay Station to commemorate Randolph and the local black community’s contribution to the BSCP. The station concluded renovations in 1987.
55 Allerton St., Brookline, MA
Roland Hayes (1887 - 1977) was the first African-American artist to perform as a vocal soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Born in Curryville, Georgia in 1887, Roland Hayes was the son of formerly enslaved parents, Fanny and William Hayes. Roland was a singer as a child, and studied music at Fisk University, where he performed with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. After touring the world, including in London where King George and Queen Mary of England requested that he perform for them privately, Hayes returned to the United States and married Helen A. Mann. He settled in Boston in 1911, and later taught at Boston University. After receiving many awards and honors, including the 1924 NAACP Springarn Medal, Hayes performed for the final time at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge in 1973. He died in 1977 in Boston and is buried at Mount Hope Cemetery.
Masjid of the Quaran c. 2016
35 Intervale St., Dorchester, MA
During the 1940s, a local group of black musicians organized one of Boston's first Muslim communities of African descent. In 1957, early followers of the Nation of Islam’s Elijah Muhammad established Mosque No. 11 in an old Synagogue on Intervale Street in Dorchester. Malcolm X, who lived in Roxbury with his sister after his release from prison, ministered at Mosque No. 11 and considered it his home. Louis Farrakhan also ministered at the mosque and lived in the adjoining property, 37 Intervale Street. After X’s assassination in 1965, the Mosque, like others across the country, entered a period of transformation. This was in large part due to the fact that in 1976, when Nation of Islam founder, Elijah Muhammad, passed away, his son, Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, declared that all Nation of Islam followers should convert to Al-Islam. Mosque No. 11 made this conversion, and subsequent leaders, including Imam Shakir Mahmoud, renamed the Mosque Masjid Al-Quran. Presently, Mosque 11 Masjid Al-Quran keeps its doors open to the community of 70,000 Muslims who live and worship in Boston, and members come from all over the city.
1601-1603 Blue Hill Ave., Mattapan, MA
In 1989, a group of Haitian-American health care professionals created the Haitian American Public Health Initiative to address the needs of Boston’s Haitian community. Although foreign born people of African descent have always been a significant part of greater Boston’s black community - since 1900, at least 10% of all black people in the city have been born outside of the United States - Haitian migration to the region during the 1970s and 1980s provided Boston with the third largest Haitian-American population in the country. Designed to meet the language, cultural, and public health needs of Haitian Americans across greater Boston, HAPHI has been a pioneer in culturally appropriate healthcare, education, and advocacy that meets the needs of the community.