20th Century

In 1901, when William Monroe Trotter (1872 - 1934) founded the Guardian newspaper, Boston was affectionately referred to as the “mecca of the negro” by South Carolina migrant, and former Harvard student, Edgar P. Benjamin. Compared to many African descended communities during the long nadir of American racial violence, segregation, and disfranchisement, this was certainly true. Unlike elsewhere, after the Civil War, African Americans were never legally denied the right to vote in Massachusetts, and black women were able to vote in local school department elections as early as 1870. “An Act to Punish Persons Making Discrimination in Public Places on Account of Race or Color” became law in 1885, and schools, desegregated since 1855, provided local African descended people with some of the best public education in the country. Unlike other States, Massachusetts never witnessed a local lynching, and black people continued to serve on the City Council and the School Board through the early decades of the century. However, economic and racial inequality grew despite Boston’s liberal reputation. In the 1920s, the Great Migration of southern African Americans to the North, which transformed cities like New York, Detroit, and Chicago, seemed to bypass Boston, where the black population increased much more slowly. African descended people from the West Indies, South America, and Cape Verde continued to migrate to eastern Massachusetts throughout the 1920s, but with passage of a National Immigration Restriction law in 1924, this source of black migration also waned. In the 1930s and 40s, as New Deal programs supported Massachusetts residents, and Federal housing policies catalyzed the growth of white suburbs along what eventually became Route 128, black and brown people were prevented from purchasing property outside of certain districts. Still, African Americans across the Commonwealth, in cooperation with their family and kin across the diaspora, continued to fight for racial and economic justice. In the 1960s, black parents organized the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO) to counteract the negative effects of poorly funded, overcrowded, and inadequate neighborhood schools; it is the country’s first and longest running voluntary public school integration program. In the same decade, Edward W. Brooke (1919 - 2015) became the first popularly-elected black Congressman since Reconstruction when he took office in 1967. As a region that nurtured both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Deval Patrick and Barack Obama, greater Boston attracted African descended immigrants from Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Cape Verde. By the dawn of the twenty first century, greater Boston was home to one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse black populations in the country, with over one third of all African descended residents in the area born outside of the country.