Tucked away off today’s Joy Street in Beacon Hill, Smith Court served as a center for Boston’s African American community in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Two historic structures in particular, the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School, played crucial roles in this community. The oldest extant Black church in the United States of America, the 1806 African Meeting House hosted meetings and gatherings that pushed for justice and equality for African Americans. The neighboring 1835 Abiel Smith School became one of the first public school buildings for African American children in the country, later serving as a meeting space for the Black community. Today, students and teachers can explore how the Smith Court community contributed to both local and national history.
Smith Court Stories connects a digitally curated collection of archival documents and archaeological artifacts to lived experiences of African Americans in 19th and 20th century Boston. Featured topics of Activism, Education, and Community delve into the various ways this court served the community. Articles within these featured topics include questions to consider and primary sources, called assets. Teachers and students can utilize these articles and assets to explore the history and community of Smith Court. We encourage teachers to leave comments on the articles and assets to share how they adapt these resources for their classrooms.
Smith Court Stories will foster a deeper understanding of the African American experience in 19th and 20th century Boston, connecting the past with students’ lived experiences.
Smith Court served as a center for the African American activist community as they argued for justice and equality. The Abiel Smith School became a place of contention in the equal schools movement, while the African Meeting House and the private residences on Smith Court contributed to the efforts of the Abolitionist Movement.
African Americans in Beacon Hill saw Smith Court as a community center where people came together to remember and celebrate significant events. Members of the community also saw Smith Court as their home.
In the first half of the 19th century, African American school children attended school at Smith Court — first in the basement of the African Meeting House and later at the Abiel Smith School next door when it opened in 1835.