Sites & Landmarks
The Boston University African American Studies Program was founded in 1969, in the wake of national turmoil. The program was the first graduate program in African American Studies in the nation and was focused from the beginning on community engagement and public outreach. Today, the African American Studies Program offers the Master of Arts degree in the African American Experience in Global and Comparative Perspective and an undergraduate minor. Courses, research, and public lectures and colloquia address the global dimensions of the African American experience, including connections between African Americans and other global populations; cultural exchanges; the African American influence in the world; the impact of global forces on the shaping of African American history and culture; and the critical interrogation of race and ethnic identities globally.
Boston’s Black Heritage Trail is a path through the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston that links more than 15 pre-Civil War structures and historic sites. The trail begins at the Abiel Smith School, which houses the Museum of African American History, and continues to the renowned African Meeting House, which was built in 1806 and was the first African American church in the United States, later known as the Black Faneuil Hall during the abolitionist movement. The meeting house was the site of many speeches by Frederick Douglass, including his call for African Americans to enlist in the Civil War. The sacrifices of those who fought are commemorated in the monument to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment on the corner of the Boston Common. From here, the trail passes schools, institutions, and houses throughout Beacon Hill including the Charles Street Meeting House, John Coburn House, Lewis and Harriet Hayden House, George Middleton House, Phillips School, Smith Court Residences, and John J. Smith House.
The Museum of African American History is New England’s largest museum dedicated to preserving, conserving, and interpreting the contributions of African Americans. The museum’s exhibits, programs, and education activities showcase the powerful stories of Black families who worshipped, educated their children, debated the issues of the day, produced great art, organized politically, and advanced the cause of freedom. The Museum of African American History is a not-for-profit history institution that began its first exhibitions and public gatherings in 1963. It is nationally and internationally known for its collection of historic sites in Boston and Nantucket.
The home of one of the richest families in New England and the enslaved Africans who made their lives possible, the Isaac Royall House and Slave Quarters were built in 1732-1739. The House is one of the finest 18th-century buildings in New England; the Slave Quarters are the only such structure in the Northern United States. Both the buildings and grounds are a National Historic Landmark. Together, these unique structures tell the intertwined stories of liberty and bondage, independence and slavery, as they have been played out not only in Colonial times but throughout American history.
Orchard House is a historic house museum in Concord, Massachusetts. It was the longtime home of Amos Bronson Alcott and his family, including his daughter Louisa May Alcott, who wrote and set her beloved novel Little Women there. The Alcott family lived at Orchard house from 1858-1877. They were vegetarians and harvested fruits and vegetables from the gardens and orchard on the property. The house was also the site of art and politics: conversations about abolitionism, women’s suffrage, and social reform were often held around the dinner table, and the family performed short plays in the dining room for guests in the adjoining parlor. Set within the house, Little Women is semi-autobiographical; the characters are based on members of her family and the plot is loosely based on the family’s earlier years.
The W.E.B. Du Bois Homesite is a public memorial to the Great Barrington native who became a leading scholar and activist in the civil rights movement in the United States and around the world. Located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the homesite is a National Historic Landmark and archaeological site owned and maintained by the W.E.B. Du Bois Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The home was purchased by Du Bois’ maternal grandfather in 1795 and remained within the Du Bois family for six generations. For Du Bois, the home was an important marker of his rootedness in New England that tied him to a long line of free, land owning African American communities in one of New England’s most vibrant African American communities.
Encompassing 29 Massachusetts and Connecticut towns, the Upper Housatonic Valley African American Heritage Trail celebrates African Americans in the region who played pivotal roles in key national and international events. Members of this community served in the Revolutionary War and were fierce activists in the fight against slavery. Elizabeth “Mum Bet” Freeman of Sheffield pioneered the abolitionist movement and contributed to Massachusetts’ decision in 1781 to abolish slavery statewide. In the Civil War, more African Americans from this region enlisted in the famed Massachusetts 54th Regiment than from anywhere else in the state. In the twentieth century, this region was home to the Harlem Renaissance photographer James VanDerZee; NAACP leader Mary White Ovington; composer of the “Negro National Anthem” James Weldon Johnson; and baseball player Frank Grant, among others.
Instituted in 1963, the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University is the repository for individuals in the fields of literature, criticism, journalism, drama, music, film, civil rights, diplomacy, and national affairs. Although contemporary public figures are the specialty of the Center, there are substantial holdings of earlier historical documents and over 140,000 rare books. The HGARC has a particular specialty in the papers of notable African American figures from a wide range of disciplines, including Lonne Elder III, Dorothy West, Frank Yerby, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Sonia Sanchez, Ella Fitzgerald, Senator Edward W. Brooke, Howard Thurman, Marianne W. Davis, and Edward S. Lewis. In addition, the Archives hold the papers of Boston University alumnus and Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. dating from 1947-1963.
The National Center for Afro-American Artists is dedicated to the celebration, exhibition, collection, and criticism of black visual arts heritage worldwide. Founded in 1968 by Elma Ina Lewis, the NCAAA was a center that combined the best in teaching and professional performance while affirming a populist commitment to arts accessibility and ethnic heritage. The center supported professional companies in dance and music and worked with hundreds of children in the Boston area, emphasizing character-building and multi-disciplinary instruction. Today, the Museum of NCAAA, headed by Dr. Barry Gaither, presents a wide range of historical and contemporary exhibitions in many media including painting, sculpture, graphics, photography, and decorative arts.