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Boston African American National Historic Site

Coordinates: 42°21′36″N 71°03′53″W / 42.36000°N 71.06472°W / 42.36000; -71.06472
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(Redirected from Black Heritage Trail)

Boston African American
National Historic Site
The African Meeting House in Boston, built by African Americans in 1806
Map showing the location of Boston African American National Historic Site
Map showing the location of Boston African American National Historic Site
Map showing the location of Boston African American National Historic Site
Map showing the location of Boston African American National Historic Site
Map showing the location of Boston African American National Historic Site
Map showing the location of Boston African American National Historic Site
LocationBoston, Massachusetts, United States
Nearest cityBoston, Massachusetts
Coordinates42°21′36″N 71°03′53″W / 42.36000°N 71.06472°W / 42.36000; -71.06472
Area0.18 acres (0.073 ha)[1]
EstablishedOctober 10, 1980
Visitors327,921 (in 2011)[2]
Governing bodyNational Park Service
WebsiteBoston African American National Historic Site

The Boston African American National Historic Site, in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts's Beacon Hill neighborhood, interprets 15 pre-Civil War structures relating to the history of Boston's 19th-century African-American community, connected by the Black Heritage Trail. These include the 1806 African Meeting House, the oldest standing black church in the United States.


The historical site is located on Beacon Hill, a neighborhood just north of Boston Common. The site was designated in 1980 to "preserve and commemorate original buildings that housed the nineteenth-century free African-American community on Beacon Hill."[3] That year President Jimmy Carter signed bills authorizing this and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, as well as one to establish the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. He said:

The two bills that I will sign today represent a three-pronged effort to preserve a vital, but long neglected, part of American heritage; the history and culture of Americans of African ancestry and their role in the history of our nation.[4]

Boston's first African residents arrived as slaves in 1638 with early colonists. Over time, more of their descendants were born free to white mothers; in other cases slaveholders freed slaves for service. After the American Revolutionary War, Massachusetts effectively abolished slavery by the terms of its new constitution. By the 1790 census, no slaves were recorded in Massachusetts. Subsequently, a sizable community of free Blacks and escaped slaves developed in Boston, settling on the north face of Beacon Hill, and in the North End. With a strong abolitionist community, Boston was long considered a desirable destination for southern Black slaves escaping slavery via the Underground Railroad. African Americans became activists in the abolition movement, also working to gain racial equality and educational parity with whites. They engaged in political processes to meet their objectives.[3]

Before the Civil War, more than half of the 2,000 African Americans in Boston lived on the north slope of Beacon Hill; blacks also lived in the West End north of Cambridge Street, and in the North End.[5] These areas gradually were occupied by new groups of immigrants after African Americans moved to southern areas of Boston. (The North End became a center of Italian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)

The historic site is one of 39 African-American Heritage Sites of the National Park Service.[6][7]

Black Heritage Trail[edit]

African-American Heritage Trail

The National Park Service wrote:

The historic buildings along today's Black Heritage Trail® were the homes, businesses, schools and churches of a thriving black community that organized, from the nation's earliest years, to sustain those who faced local discrimination and national slavery, struggling toward the equality and freedom promised in America's documents of national liberty.

Historical sites along the 1.6 mile (2.5 km) Black Heritage Trail in Beacon Hill include:[3][5][8][9]

Most sites on the trail are still used as residences and are not open to the public, except the African Meeting House, Abiel Smith School, and the 54th Regiment Memorial.[3]

Park rangers provide free, two-hour guided tours of the trail during the summer; off-season tours are available by reservation. A self-guided trail map and information is available online, at the Boston African American Historic Site, the Boston National Historic Site center, and at the Abiel Smith School.[3][10]

Educational programs[edit]

Staff collaborated on the Freedom Rising: The 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and African Military Service in the Civil War on May 2–4, 2013. The multi-day and multi-location program in Boston included historian Henry Louis Gates and actor Danny Glover, with exhibits at Harvard University and the Museum of African American History.[11]

Black Boston highlights (1638–1909)[edit]

Black Boston Highlights (1638–1909)[5][9]
Year Image Event
1638 First enslaved Africans brought to Boston aboard the slave ship Desire.
1641 Massachusetts enacted Body of Liberties defining legal slavery in the colony.
1770 In 1770, Crispus Attucks, an escaped slave, was the first colonist killed in Boston Massacre. He was a national symbol of black men, like the black Revolutionary War soldiers, who helped bring a free nation into being.
1783 Slavery abolished in 1783 in Massachusetts. Quock Walker, an escaped slave, sued for his liberty in 1783. With his victory, Massachusetts abolished slavery, declaring it incompatible with the state constitution.
1790 When the first federal census was recorded in 1790, Massachusetts was the only state in the Union to record no slaves.
1798 First private black school in Primus Hall's home.
1800 Free black population nears 1,100.
1806 African Meeting House opened as First African Baptist Church. Establishment of the African Baptist Church drew many blacks to hear the church's minister, Thomas Paul. The meeting house hosted a school, community groups, musical performances, and antislavery meetings. .
1808 Hall house school moved to African Meeting House
1826 Massachusetts General Colored Association, a black abolitionist group, founded in African Meeting House.

It was one of Black Bostonians' organizations, like the African Society and Prince Hall Masons, that publicly opposed racial discrimination and slavery over the next decades. Prince Hall denounced the ill treatment of blacks in Boston, Maria Stewart called black men to greater exertions on behalf of their race, William C. Nell spearheaded the successful movement for school integration, Lewis Hayden defied southern slave catchers, and Frederick Douglass inspired black men to enlist in the Civil War to end slavery.

1829 David Walker published The Appeal, an essay urging slaves to fight for their freedom.
1831 William Lloyd Garrison began publishing The Liberator (anti-slavery newspaper), promoting interracial anti-slavery alliances and the protection of fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad.
1832 Garrison formed the New England Anti-Slavery Society at the African Meeting House.
1835 The Abiel Smith School, the first dedicated for black children, opens
1849–1850 Sarah Roberts unsuccessfully challenged segregation in Boston public schools.
1850 The Fugitive Slave Act required states (even free ones) enforce the return of fugitive slaves to their owners. Antislavery protests followed passage of this law, and black and white Bostonians joined in direct actions to protect and some times rescue fugitives seeking shelter in the city. The slavery trial of Anthony Burns in Boston galvanized Northern opposition to the Fugitive Slave Law. After the trial, U.S. marshals and a company of marines were required to escort Burns to a ship to take him back to Virginia and slavery. See also Shadrach Minkins.
1855 Boston integrated public schools; Abiel Smith School closed.
1861 Civil War started.
1863 Emancipation Proclamation signed. Responding to pressure from black and white abolitionists and the need to bolster the Union forces, President Lincoln admitted African-American soldiers to the Union forces. 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry formed, the first all-black regiment raised in the North. Black Bostonians formed the core of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment. On July 18, 1863, the 54th regiment led an assault on Fort Wagner in an attempt to capture Confederate-held Charleston, S.C. In this hard-fought battle, Col. Robert Gould Shaw and many of his soldiers were killed. Sgt. William Carney of New Bedford was wounded while saving the flag from capture.
1865 Civil War ended; 13th Amendment abolished slavery. After the Civil War, many freed African Americans moved north. Boston's black population increased from fewer than 2,500 in 1860 to nearly 12,000 by 1900. Most newcomers came from the Southeast. During Reconstruction, some were relocated by the Freedmen's Bureau for training and employment as domestic servants. The newcomers expanded black residential areas, settling in Boston's South End and Roxbury. Gradually long-time black residents of Beacon Hill moved their businesses and homes to that area.
1897 Robert Gould Shaw Memorial honoring 54th Massachusetts Regiment was dedicated in Boston Common.
1898 The Black congregation of the African Meeting House moved to Roxbury; the meeting house became a Jewish synagogue, representing new immigrants. By 1930 the South End and Roxbury were home to most of Boston's 21,000 African Americans.
1900 Sgt. William H. Carney, veteran of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, received Medal of Honor for rescuing the flag during Battle of Fort Wagner, S.C. in 1863. He was the nation's first black Medal of Honor recipient.
1901 William Monroe Trotter (a descendant of Elizabeth Hemings, a slave of Thomas Jefferson) founded the African-American newspaper, The Boston Guardian.
1909 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded, attracting many black and white Bostonians.

19th century population[edit]

African American population in 19th century Boston[12]
Year Number Percent of population

While the black population increased markedly during this period, extensive immigration from Europe overshadowed that growth, with new immigrants from Ireland, Italy, the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires, and other parts of eastern and southern Europe.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage – December 31, 2011" (XLSX). Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved December 26, 2012. (National Park Service Acreage Reports)
  2. ^ "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e David L. Scott; Kay W. Scott (1997). Guide to the National Park Areas, Eastern States. Globe Pequot. pp. 110–112. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  4. ^ "Carter Signs Bills For King and Boston African American Historic Sites". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. November 6, 1980. p. 13. ISSN 0021-5996. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  5. ^ a b c "Boston African American NHS Park Brochure, Side 1" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved April 26, 2013. Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.
  6. ^ "African American Sites - Travel America's Diverse Cultures (U.S. National Park Service)". www.nps.gov. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  7. ^ "National Park Service: African American Heritage". www.nps.gov. Retrieved March 11, 2019.
  8. ^ Fodor's (December 16, 2008). The Official Guide to America's National Parks (13th ed.). Fodor's Travel Publications. pp. 441–. ISBN 978-1-4000-1628-0. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  9. ^ a b "Boston African American NHS Park Brochure, Side 2" (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved April 26, 2013. Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.
  10. ^ Susan Wilson (May 15, 2004). Boston Sites & Insights: An Essential Guide to Historic Landmarks In and Around Boston. Beacon Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-8070-7135-9. Retrieved April 26, 2013.
  11. ^ "Event Details – Boston African American National Historic Site". Nps.gov. April 22, 2013. Retrieved April 26, 2013. Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.
  12. ^ May Melvin Petronella (August 11, 2004). Victorian Boston today: twelve walking tours. UPNE. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-55553-605-3. Retrieved April 27, 2013.

Further reading[edit]

Governmental publications

External links[edit]