Tuesday, October 07, 2008

After Freedom: Black Boston’s Fight for Civil Rights 1865-1900


On October 7th, 2008, Kerri Greenidge, a historian from Suffolk University in Boston, came to the Madeline English School in Everett, Massachusetts to deliver a content seminar titled After Freedom: Black Boston’s Fight for Civil Rights 1865-1900.

The presentation focused on the struggles of black Bostonians during and after Reconstruction for the right to be recognized as full citizens in the Commonwealth and the regulations, policies and laws that prevented such recognition.

Ms. Greenidge explained that although the 13th Amendment of the Constitution is recognized as the official prohibition of slavery and "involuntary servitude", it resulted in the weakening of the 14th (granting citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States") and 15th (declaring that the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.") Amendments.

The following are some examples of the ways in which African Americans continued to be disenfranchised through the weakening of these Amendments:
  • citizenship was not protected by the federal government; it would be determined by the states
  • segregation is not discrimination
  • 'separate but equal' is valid
  • poll taxes and literacy tests would be allowed
In her presentation, Ms. Greenidge also discussed the many contributions of African Americans to combat the consistent and deliberate attempts to deny them the rights and privileges of citizenship:

Booker Taliaferro Washington's (1856-1915) 1895 speech in Atlanta was highlighted as a major turning point in the struggle. In his speech, Washington said, “Cast down your buckets where you are – cast them down in making friends in every manly way of the people of all races by whom we are surrounded . . We shall prosper in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour, and put brains and skill into the common occupation of life.”

In that same year, Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842-1924), a black Bostonian and leader in the women's suffrage movement stated, “Our women’s movement is woman’s movement in that it is led and directed by women for the good of women and men, for the benefit of all humanity . . . We are women, American women, as intensely interested in all that pertains to us as such as all other American women. . .”

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) from Great Barrington, Massachusetts is also noted as an early leader in the 20th century African American protest movement. Receiving his PhD. from Harvard University in 1895, he was an activist for persons of African descent in the United States and abroad.

Ms. Greenidge delivered a riveting and informative presentation that shed light on the many struggles and contributions of African Americans throughout the latter part of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walking the War of Redemption

Elementary teachers share history lesson ideas.The morning began with teachers dividing into three groups, elementary, middle, and high school, to reflect on yesterday's content. The teacher sharing time is a new addition to our summer institute program based on previous participant feedback. Each teacher submitted a reflection sheet offering ideas for using the American history content and primary sources presented with their students. The elementary teachers discussed how colonists living in the 18th century exercised their rights, who received the benefits of taxation, and the prevalence of slavery in Massachusetts. The reflection sheets will be reviewed by project historians in order to fine tune the fall seminar series which begins on Thursday, September 11th.

African Americans, 54th MA Infantry Memorial - BostonA short walk transported the group to the 19th century Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill to learn about anti-slavery and abolition. Park ranger, Ryan McNabb, led a walking tour of the Black Heritage Trail which began at the 54th Infantry Memorial honoring the service of the first black regiment who fought in the Civil War. McNabb stated, "thousands of free blacks from as far as Indiana traveled to Boston to join the regiment, they wanted to join the war against slavery." The tour then made its way from the south side of Beacon Hill, populated by the wealthy Boston Bramins to the North side where free blacks and the poor formed a dense, tight knit community. At the corner of Pinckney and Anderson streets stood the whites only, Phillips school which became the center of Boston's first attempt to desegregate schools. We learned that William Cooper Nell, at the age of 13, who was forced to attend the black only, Abiel Smith school, set a goal that some day Boston schools would be integrated. Nell's dream was fullfilled in 1855 when the Supreme Court of Massachuetts ruled that separate schools could not be maintained at the expense of taxpayers. Stopping at 66 Phillips Street, home of Lewis and Harriet Hayden, we learned the Boston Vigilance Committee was an important organization that financed the Underground Railroad. McNabb shows coat of arms Hayden escaped from slavery in 1846 from Lexington, Kentucky and made his way to Boston. Hayden became a successful businessman who used his resources and his home to aid other blacks fleeing slavery. After the 1850s Fugitive Slave Act was passed it was illegal to aid escaped slaves throughout the United States. In one dramatic confrontation, Hayden prevented slave catchers who were after William and Ellen Craft, from entering his home by threatening to blow up two kegs of gun powder strategically placed at his front door. Despite not being able to enter the now private residences of these historic sites, Ranger McNabb did a terrific job bringing these important events to life. The tour ended at the Boston African American National Historic Site which is located in the old Abiel Smith school on Joy Street. The African American Meeting house, which sits adjacent to the park headquarters, is currently in the middle of a major restoration project. Each teacher left the tour with plenty of new knowledge and a bag filled with books to use in their classrooms.

Kerri Greenidge, Contribution box The afternoon session featured a lecture by Kerri Greenidge, from Boston University, on Abolition: Law and Public Opinion. Kerri began with an engaging primary source activity aimed at probing how Americans viewed their rights compared to Bostonians. The Prince Hall petition of 1/13/1777 illustrated that Boston blacks exercised their right of petition to request that the state recognize their Natural and Unalienable Right to that freedom which the Grat Parent of the Universe Bestowed equally on all menkind. After analyzing the documents, teachers suggested that blacks used religious principles and the countries' revolutionary environment to push for their own freedoms. Greenidge remarked that, "blacks were considered both citizens and property in Massachusetts." This unique status gave blacks the right to petition and even sue their owners. As the free black community made educational and economic strides, Boston evolved from just being anti-slavery to defiantly abolitionist. The use of contribution boxes to raise funds were one visible example of black organizational power. CAUTION COLORED PEOPLE Abolitionists also used marketing techniques in the form of graphic posters to warn the black community about the perils of slave catchers who roamed the neighborhoods attempting to apprehend escaped slaves. CAUTION!! COLORED PEOPLE OF BOSTON strongly encouraged blacks not to talk with Watchmen and Police Officers. One striking statistic was that only five blacks were ever caught under the auspices of the Fugitive Slave Act with three men eventually rescued and set free by Bostonians. Greenidge ended the session with the Civil War, known as the War of Redemption, where blacks were granted their freedom. Boys the Old Flag Never Touched the Ground sung by William Carney was a musical symbol of black pride that celebrated their Civil War service. The song also communicated that blacks could use patriotism to garner greater acceptance and recognition by the government.

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