Boston is no stranger to black history.
The Black Heritage Trail, a walking tour a little over a mile and a half long, includes 14 meeting houses, private residences and more. Boston-born-and-raised activists Mel King and Melnea Cass dedicated their lives to fighting for housing and voting rights for low-income communities and people of color. Malcolm X lived and worked here, and Martin Luther King Jr. earned his doctorate in Theology from Boston University, returning to the city several times to give speeches and protest injustices.
But black history and culture in Boston and the commonwealth span far further than a name on a boulevard or a historical marker on a building. There are approximately 742 sites across the state and 185 in Boston alone tied to the contributions of African-Americans in Massachusetts and beyond, according to “Exploring the Legacy: People and Places of Significance,” by Rosalyn D. Elder. This book doubles as a tour and history guide, shining a light on these various landmarks — not all of which are easily noticeable.
Click the markers on the map below for descriptions of 15 notable sites around Boston and then scroll down for more information about each site.
1. Home for Aged Colored Women, 65 Phillips St., Beacon Hill
Along Phillips Street in one of Boston’s oldest neighborhoods sits the former location of the Home for Aged Colored Women. This home was founded in 1860 specifically for elderly black women, some widowed and childless, who were not welcome in similar homes. Rev. James Freeman Clarke, Rebecca Parker Clarke, Rev. Leonard A. Grimes of the Twelfth Baptist Church, and soon-to-be governor John A. Andrew collaborated to make this home a reality, welcoming the first residents in 1863. As the institution grew, it relocated elsewhere on Beacon Hill, first to 27 Myrtle St. and then to 22 Hancock St., where it remained until it closed in 1944.
2. Lewis and Harriet Hayden House, 66 Phillips St., Beacon Hill
Right across the street from the Home for Aged Colored Women is the former home of Lewis and Harriet Hayden. Lewis Hayden was a slave in Kentucky and lost his first wife and child when they were sold off. He remarried Harriet Bell and gained a stepson, and the family used the Underground Railroad in the 1830s to escape to Boston, where Hayden established himself as a businessman, abolitionist, activist and politician. He became a state representative for one term. After her husband’s death, Harriet Hayden established a scholarship in his honor for African-American students at Harvard University.
3. Edwin G. Walker Houses, 28 and 36 Belmont St., Charlestown
Less than a mile from the west bank of the Mystic River in Charlestown is where the two homes of the first African-American elected to serve in the state legislature, Edwin G. Walker, were located. The son of abolitionist David Walker, Edwin G. Walker was elected in 1866 and represented the Third Ward of Charlestown. African-American legislator Charles Lewis Mitchell of Boston was also elected the same day as Walker, but Charlestown’s polls closed earlier than Boston, making Walker the first.
4. Former Location of Second Church, 24 Clark St., North End
Amid the countless restaurants, bakeries and eateries and rich Italian culture that makes up Boston’s North End is St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, which used to be Second Church, erected in 1714. Dozens of enslaved Africans and their slaveholder families attended church here in the 1720s, including Onesimus, who was enslaved to a Puritan minister named Cotton Mather. Onesimus shared with Mather a vaccination technique for smallpox many Africans used during this era: The contaminated pus of a smallpox victim would be introduced into the bloodstream of a healthy person to develop immunity to the disease.
5. Edmonia Lewis Studio, Southeast corner of Bromfield and Tremont Sts. (120 Tremont St.), Downtown
Across from the Park Street Church in Boston’s bustling downtown is Suffolk University Law School, the former location of sculptor Edmonia Lewis’ studio. There were few women sculptors of any race in the late 19th century, but Lewis made a name for herself producing sculptures of famous anti-slavery and Civil War figures, including John Brown and Robert Gould Shaw. Lewis’ studio, along with those of many other artists, was in Boston’s Studio Building, which was destroyed in a fire in 1906.
6. Former Location of the MIT School of Architecture, Between Berkeley and Clarendon Sts. (501 Boylston St.), Back Bay
The part of Boylston Street between Berkeley and Clarendon streets is lined with retail stores like H&M, Nordstrom Rack and Marshalls. But on the site of the mixed-use building at 501 Boylston St. once stood MIT’s first building. In 1892, this is where Robert Taylor became the first African-American to graduate from a professional school of architecture. He went on to teach at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama (now Tuskegee University) and design and supervise the construction of many of its buildings.
7. Cedric Douglas Mural: “A World of Innocent Discovery,” 30 Leon St., Fenway/South End
Northeastern University’s students, faculty and visitors can see public art all over campus, including Cedric Douglas’ mural, “A World of Innocent Discovery,” which adorns the West Village Garage side of Behrakis Health Sciences Center. Douglas, a Boston-based public artist, completed the mural during his artist residency at Northeastern Center for the Arts in 2016 as part of his “Up the Walls” project, an initiative to vitalize street art in Boston.
8. Evergreen Cemetery, 2060 Commonwealth Ave., Brighton
Among the hundreds of graves across the 19.66 acres that make up Brighton’s Evergreen Cemetery is a unique one that went unrecognized for decades. Horatio Julius Homer became Boston’s first black police officer on Christmas Eve in 1878. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery after his death in 1923, but it wasn’t until 2010 that more than 100 Boston police officers gathered in the cemetery to honor Homer and erect a marker on his grave. The current map of Evergreen Cemetery is barely legible and even its groundskeeper, Jahmahal Galloway, didn’t initially know where Homer’s plot was. But here’s a hint: It’s along the cemetery’s Eastern Avenue, in the section furthest from the barn.
9. Tent City, 130 Dartmouth St., South End
The distinctive 269-unit housing complex in Boston’s South End known as Tent City is the result of a demonstration in April 1968 protesting the displacement of residents due to an urban renewal. Developers demolished a three-acre block of townhouses to build a parking garage for Copley Place, a high-end office, retail and hotel complex. Hundreds of demonstrators, housing and civil rights activists, including Mel King, protested by camping out in tents on the grounds of the construction site. The city and developers eventually worked with the protestors to develop what is now Tent City (named after the protest), a mixed-income housing complex that opened in 1988.
10. Arts for Humanity, 100 W. Second St., South Boston
A few blocks from Fort Point Channel in South Boston is Arts for Humanity, an entrepreneurial incubator for promising young artists. Founded in 1990 by African-American teenagers Damon Butler, Rob Gibbs and Jason Talbot alongside artist Susan Rodgerson, the organization works to “bridge economic, racial, and social divisions by providing under-resourced urban youth with the keys to self-sufficiency through paid employment in art and design.” Arts for Humanity moved to its current location in 2004, a facility that was the city’s first building to receive an LEED platinum certification, indicating it meets the highest standard for sustainability and environmental efficiency.
11. Orchard Gardens, 25 Ambrose St., Roxbury
Orchard Gardens was formerly known as Orchard Park, one of the Boston Housing Authority’s largest developments synonymous with gang violence and other crime. (It was also the home of Bobby Brown and several other members of the R&B group New Edition.) As part of a revitalization of Roxbury’s Dudley Square in the mid-1990s, the city tore down Orchard Park to transform the area into Orchard Gardens, building new housing, a community center and a K-8 school all within walking distance of each other.
12. William Monroe Trotter House, 97 Sawyer Ave., Dorchester
Atop a quiet, residential spot in the Jones Hill area of Dorchester sits the former home of William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights activist who used the newspaper he launched, The Guardian, to protest injustices against African-Americans. Trotter was also the first African-American inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard.
13. Trayvon Martin Monument, Corner of Center and Eliot Streets, Jamaica Plain
It is easy to miss the monument dedicated to Trayvon Martin in Jamaica Plain. An imprint of an empty hoodie stamps the top of an old lamp post stump that doesn’t stand out from other fixtures on the sidewalk. On the side of the lamppost is the word “Still,” which is what artist Matthew Hinchman named the monument when he installed it in 2014 to honor Martin, a black, unarmed 17-year-old who was fatally shot in Florida in 2012. The monument, which is close to the neighborhood’s Civil War Monument, is intended to remind the public of injustices that remain for African-Americans today.
14. Rise/Gateway Sculptures, Intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and River Street, Mattapan
When driving through — or attempting to cross on foot — the busy intersection of Blue Hill Avenue and River Street in Mattapan, the last thing you might think to do is look up at the Rise/Gateway sculptures perched across from each other along the street. As cars whiz by, the bronze sculptures stand sturdy and tall. These creations of cousins Fern Cunningham and Karen Eutemey were commissioned by the city of Boston in the mid-1990s to mark the entrance into Boston from Milton and pay homage to Mattapan’s diversity and future.
15. James Monroe Trotter House, 68 Neponset Ave., Hyde Park
Tucked away on a quiet street in Hyde Park is where the home of James Monroe Trotter was located. Trotter (William Monroe Trotter’s father) was born into slavery in Mississippi and freed by his white father. During the Civil War, Trotter enlisted in the Massachusetts 55th regiment, becoming the first African-American to earn the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. After the war, he joined the post office in Boston but resigned in protest after several years of discrimination. In 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Trotter to the position of Recorder of Deeds for Washington, D.C., making him the highest ranking African-American in the federal government.
To learn more about black historical and cultural sites around Massachusetts, check out the book “Exploring the Legacy: People and Places of Significance.”