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Boston African American National Historic Site October 14, 2010

Posted by flashbuzzer in History.
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I recently visited the African American National Historic Site in Boston. This site consists of a set of buildings that preserve the vibrant history of Boston’s African-American community.

Here are three nuggets that I gleaned from my time at this historic site.

1. Lewis Hayden was a prominent figure in Boston’s anti-slavery movement. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, Hayden sheltered many escaped slaves; in one memorable incident, he used dynamite to deter would-be slave catchers who were looking for William Craft. Also, he hosted a dinner for Governor John Andrew that led to the formation of the all-black 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.

2. William Cooper Nell was another prominent member of Boston’s African-American community. His proficiency in academics actually led to an early brush with racism, when he was awarded the Franklin Medal but was prevented from attending a city-wide dinner in honor of the medal’s recipients. He would later agitate against injustices that were being inflicted on Boston’s African-American schoolchildren by overbearing headmasters.

3. In fact, Boston has a long history of conflict at the intersection of race and education. One of the first black lawyers in the U.S., Robert Morris, spearheaded a legal effort that culminated in Massachusetts becoming the first state to enact a law mandating school integration. In 1974, the famous Boston busing riots broke out when students from predominantly African-American neighborhoods were bused to all-white schools in South Boston.

The highlight of the historic site was a 15-minute video that was narrated by a high school sophomore named Denise. The video gave an accessible, yet informative survey of the history of Boston’s African-American community. I also enjoyed perusing the photo collection of Harrison Sutton Smith and a handwritten letter that was composed by Frederick Douglass.

In terms of quibbles, the African Meeting House was closed for restoration. It should also be noted that the Abiel Smith School was relatively sparse in terms of exhibits.

Overall I would consider the African American National Historic Site to be worthy of a short stopover before exploring the wonders of Beacon Hill.

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