In the 19th century, Beacon Hill was the core of the African American community in Boston. The nation's oldest African American church (also known as the Meeting House) and school still stand here today, collectively known now as the Museum of Afro-American History. The museum opened in 1972, and is its contents are divided between the church and the school, which are located side by side.
The African Meeting House was built in 1806, and although blacks were allowed to attend white churches at that time, discrimination was common. Blacks began forming their own congregation of followers and met at public locations like Faneuil Hall before raising enough funds to purchase land in the West End and build their own meetinghouse. It was built almost entirely by black labor and later hosted many historical events during the Abolitionist Movement. The meetinghouse recently received $4 million in federal stimulus funds to restore it to its 19th-century state, and construction is to begin in the fall of 2010.
The first public school for African American children in the nation, the Abiel Smith School was founded in 1835 and all black children in Boston were required to attend. The new school, funded by a donation from its namesake, replaced the former school located in the basement of the African Meeting House.
A national landmark since 1974, the museum hosts rotating exhibits that focus on important black figures in our nation's history. President Barack Obama's road to the White House and a Smithsonian Institute traveling exhibit, featuring portraits of African American leaders over 150 years, were both recently on display. In addition to the main exhibit, visitors can view historical artifacts and documentaries about the Abolitionist period. There is also a museum store where you can purchase reprinted speeches, DVDs, and books about African American history.
Many locals and visitors recommend viewing this museum as the last stop along the Black Heritage Trail, a walking tour offered by the museum with stops at historically significant locations in African American history. These free, guided tours are offered daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and last about two hours. The guides provide some truly interesting stories about events that occurred right where you stand, and provide pieces of history you wouldn't find in a brochure.
- Monday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm
- General Admission: $5
- Ages 13-17 & Seniors 62+: $3
- Ages 12 & under: Free
- Subway Stop:
- Red or Green to Park Street. Walk up Park Street toward the State House. Turn left onto Beacon then right onto Joy.
- Location: 46 Joy Street, Boston, MA
- Phone: 617-725-0022
- Website: www.afroammuseum.org