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Tue, 07.21.1835

Abiel Smith School (Boston) Opens

Abiel Smith School

*The opening of Abiel Smith School is celebrated on this date in 1835.  It was a school for Black children located in Boston, Massachusetts.

Black parents in early America organized a school for their children in 1798; the school's forerunner was first held in the home of Primus Hall. The school moved to the African Meeting House was built, and support from the city to make it a public school began in 1812. Abiel Smith, a white philanthropist, left money in his will in the town of Boston to educate black children. It was named for Abiel Smith.

The city used part of its legacy to construct the school building next to the African Meeting House. Thomas Dalton was elected president in 1834 of the Infant School Association created to support the new Abiel Smith School for colored children built on Belknap Street (now Joy Street). When the school was completed in 1835, all black children in Boston were assigned to it. 

The north side of Beacon Hill was then the residential center of the black community. Because conditions at the school were less than in white public schools, parents continued to press the city to improve services. Dalton helped organize the colored citizens of Boston to elect supportive School Committee members.  "Resolved, that to secure the blessings of knowledge, every possible effort should be made by us … to secure such persons as we know to be favorable to the elevation of the people of color to their natural, civil, political, and religious rights, and are interested in the education of our children." 

In 1849, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were allowed under the state's constitution (Roberts v. City of Boston). Boston's schools integrated in 1855 after parents withdrew their children from the Smith School, and Benjamin F. Roberts helped bring the issue to the state legislature. The Smith School was closed in 1855, the same year as schools in Boston were desegregated. The former school, designated is now a National Historic Landmark, is a site on the Boston Black Heritage Trail and is now part of the Museum of African American History. With a renovation project completed in February 2000, it serves, in part, as the administrative offices for the museum.

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