8. Smith Court Residences

Street Address: 3-10 Smith Court

Nearest Corner: Off 46 Joy Street

Digital & Degree Coordinates: 42.359817,-71.065300; N42 21.589, W71 03.918

H. View Smith Court Residences. The five residential structures on Smith Court are typical of the homes occupied by black Bostonians in the 19th century.
Number 3:  William C. Nell boarded here from 1851 to 1865. Nell was America's first published black historian, a community activist and leader in the struggle to integrate Boston's public schools before the Civil War.
Number 5: George Washington, a laborer and deacon of the African Meeting House.
Number 7, 7A: Richard Johnson, a mariner, and David Bartlett, a hairdresser. In behind, housing development in the middle of blocks, with an elaborate system of pedestrian alleys, was typical when African Americans lived in the West End.
Number 10: Owned by Joseph Scarlett who lived on Bunker Hill Street in Charlestown. At the time of his death in 1898, he owned 15 properties. He left bequests to the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, then on North Bennett Street, and to the Home for Aged Colored Women on Myrtle Street.
The brick apartment houses on the west end of the court and on the corner of Joy Street are typical of the tenements developers began to build in this neighborhood between 1885 and 1915  to satisfy the need for inexpensive, dense housing units for the waves of post-1880 European immigrants, typically eastern European Jews.

View Abiel Smith School. Here in the first building in the nation built for the sole purpose of serving as a public school for black children.
In 1787, Prince Hall petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for African American access to the public school system but was denied. Eleven years later, after petitions by the black parents for separate schools were also denied, black parents organized a community school in the home of Primus Hall, Prince Hall's son, on the corner of West Cedar and Revere Streets on Beacon Hill.  In 1808, the grammar school in the Hall home was moved to the first floor of the African Meeting House. Not until the 1820s did the city government establish two primary schools for black children.
The Abiel Smith School was named after a white businessman who left an endowment of $2,000 to the city of Boston for the education of black children. Constructed in 1834 and dedicated in 1835, the Smith primary and grammar school replaced the Meeting House School to educate a great number of the black children of Boston.

Between 1839 and 1855, Boston became embroiled in controversy over school desegregation. William C. Nell, once a young student of the Meeting House School, spearheaded a movement for "the day when color of skin would be no barrier to equal school rights." Nell's Equal School Association boycotted the Smith School.  In 1848, Benjamin Roberts attempted to enroll his daughter Sarah in each of the five public schools that stood between their home and the Smith School. When Sarah was denied entrance to all of them, Roberts sued the city under an 1845 statute providing recovery of damages for any child unlawfully denied public school instruction. Abolitionists joined the case in 1849. Charles Sumner represented Sarah, and black attorney Robert Morris acted as co-counsel. The case was argued before Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, one of the most influential state jurists in the country. On April 8, 1850, Shaw ruled that Sumner and Roberts had not proven that Smith School instruction was inferior to that of other public schools of Boston. Nell and his association then took their cause to the state house. In 1887, the building became the headquarters for black Civil War veterans.

View the African Meeting House.  The African Meeting House on Beacon Hill was built in 1806 in what once was the heart of Boston's 19th century African American community. It is today a showcase of black community organization in the formative years of the new republic.
The Meeting House was the host to giants in the Abolitionist Movement who were responsible for monumental historical events including:
The founding of the New England Anti-Slavery Society by William Lloyd Garrison in 1832; The 1833 farewell address of Maria Stewart, a black woman and the first American born woman to speak publicly before a gender-mixed audience; An 1860 anti-slavery speech by Frederick Douglass given after being run out of Tremont Temple; The 1863 recruitment to the MA 54th Regiment led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw.

The African Meeting House is the oldest black church edifice still standing in the United States. Before 1805, although black Bostonians could attend white churches, they generally faced discrimination. They were assigned seats only in the balconies and were not given voting privileges.
Thomas Paul, an African American preacher from New Hampshire, led worship meetings for blacks at Faneuil Hall. Mr. Paul, with twenty of his members, officially formed the First African Baptist Church on August 8, 1805. In the same year, land was purchased for a building in the West End.
The African Meeting House, as it came to be commonly called, was completed the next year. Ironically, at the public dedication on December 6, 1806, the floor level pews were reserved for all those "benevolently disposed to the Africans," while the black members sat in the balcony of their new meeting house.

The African Meeting House was constructed almost entirely with black labor. Funds for the project were raised in both the white and black communities. Cato Gardner, a native of Africa, was responsible for raising more than $1,500 toward the total $7,700 to complete the meeting house. A commemorative inscription above the front door reads: "Cato Gardner, first Promoter of this Building 1806." The facade of the African Meeting House is an adaptation of a design for a townhouse published by Boston architect Asher Benjamin. In addition to its religious and educational activities, the meeting house became a place for celebrations and political and anti-slavery meetings.

On January 6, 1832, William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti-Slavery Society here. In the larger community this building was referred to as the Black Faneuil Hall. The African Meeting House was remodeled by the congregation in the 1850s. At the end of the 19th century, when the black community began to migrate from the West End to the South End and Roxbury, the building was sold to a Hassidic Jewish Congregation Anshe Lebawitz. It served as a synagogue until it was acquired by the Museum of African American History in 1972. Its interior has since been restored to its known 1854 design.