The Beacon Hill Civic Association will present the third of its series of Historic Preservation Roundtables on February 20 with a lively and informative panel discussion about Beacon Hill’s central role in the 19th century abolitionist movement and the recent restoration of the National Historic Landmark, the African Meeting House.
While Beacon Hill is well known locally and throughout the world as a leading example of the preservation of 19th century architectural history, much lesser known but no less significant are the neighborhood’s remarkable contributions to the nation’s African American history. There it played a central and foundational role in both the movement to abolish slavery and the desegregation of the country’s public schools.
This significant history was formally recognized in 1980 with the creation of a National Park, the Boston African American National Historic Site, which commemorates 15 structures from the 19th century that reflect Boston’s African American community. They are the African Meeting House and Abiel Smith School buildings on Smith Court, which together comprise the Museum of African American History, along with the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial opposite the State House, the Hayden House on Philips Street, and the Charles Street Meetinghouse and other stops along the Black Heritage Trail.
The African Meeting House, the United State’s oldest extant Black church building, has long been a center of community and civic engagement and is regarded as the birthplace of the 19th century Abolitionist movement. There, William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England Anti Slavery Society in 1832. Other prominent Abolitionists who spoke there are Maria Stewart, Wendell Phillips, Sarah Grimke and Frederick Douglass. In 1863 the meeting house served as a recruitment post for the Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Regiment, the first official African American military regiment to fight for the Union in the Civil War, as chronicled in the Oscar-winning film Glory.
More recently, the history of the Meeting House has reflected the significant demographic changes that swept downtown Boston during the 20th century. The building was sold by its Baptist congregation in 1898 when it moved to the South End. It then became the Jewish Congregation Anshi Libavitz in 1904. The building was eventually acquired by the Museum of African American History in 1972.
The February 20 Roundtable will feature a lively panel discussion on this exciting and important history with prominent experts on Boston’s African American history, the restoration of historic structures and urban and regional policy. They will explore the particular challenges of restoring these significant buildings, the burden of preserving history amidst a shifting demographic landscape and the increased relevance of Beacon Hill’s African American community and their spirit of civic engagement in today’s climate.
Panelist are Marita Rivero, who is executive director of the Museum of African American History and board chair of the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Ted Landsmark, who is director of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University and former president of the Boston Architectural College; and Carl Jay, who serves as director of Historic Preservation for the Shawmut Design and Construction Company. BHCA Chairman Mark Kiefer will serve as moderator.
The Roundtable will be held at the Museum of African American History, 46 Joy Street, from 6-8 p.m. The public is welcome to attend. The cost of admission is $15 for members of the Beacon Hill Civic Association and the Museum of African American History, and $20 for non-members. There is no charge for members of the BHCA Founders Circle.
For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.bhcivic.org or call 617-227-1922. Advance registration is encouraged although tickets will be available at the door.
Get involved in 2018
Beacon Hill Civic Association committees comprise volunteers working together from all over the neighborhood to assure a good quality of life here. All neighbors are welcome to join. Visit the Beacon Hill Civic Association website bhcivic.org and/or call the office (617-227-1922) for more information on how to get involved.
Tuesday, February 20: Green Committee Meeting. 6 p.m., 74 Joy Street
Upcoming Special Events
Tuesday, February 20: Historic Preservation Roundtable: Preserving Beacon Hill’s African American History. 6-8 p.m., Museum of African-American History, 46 Joy Street
Visit the Beacon Hill Civic Association website bhcivic.org and/or call the office (617-227-1922) for more information on how to get involved.