Boston African American National Historic Site | PARK AT A GLANCE

Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

Robert Gould Shaw Memorial

PARK OVERVIEW

Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1783, though it was phased out gradually until there were no slaves in the state after 1790. In Boston, over half of its population of 2,000 newly freed people settled on the northern slope of Beacon Hill between Pinckney and Cambridge streets—called the North Slope of Beacon Hill neighborhood—and it is here that the black community thrived throughout the 1800s. The Boston African American National Historic Site was created to educate visitors about the history of the neighborhood, the abolition movement, and the key personalities who helped shape the Black experience in Boston.

Unlike most other National Parks, the Boston African American National Historic Site preserves nothing physical. The only two buildings within the park boundary that are open to the public—the African Meeting House and the Abiel Smith School—are owned by a private organization, not the National Park Service. Opening in 1806, the African Meeting House is the original church of Beacon Hill’s black residents, and it is the oldest building still standing in the United States that originated as a church for a predominately black congregation (a few white people did attend service). The Abiel Smith School, Boston’s school for black children that opened in 1835, now houses the Museum of African American History and functions as the Historic Site’s Visitor Center. The National Park Service and the Museum of African American History work in partnership to manage the events and daily activities available to the public.

The rest of the park consists of a walk through the North Slope of Beacon Hill neighborhood on what is officially called the Black Heritage Trail. The homes and buildings along the trail are now privately owned, so nothing is open to the public. On your own, all you can do is stand in front of a doorway and read a short paragraph from a brochure about which prominent black community member lived or worked there (the brochure is available at the Abiel Smith School). On your own the walk is a complete waste time—you might as well just wander aimlessly on the streets of Boston. Therefore, do not bother visiting if you cannot attend one of the Ranger-guided tours that are offered twice a day from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend.

The Boston African American National Historic Site and the Boston National Historical Park are side-by side in the historic district of downtown Boston. In fact, the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial is a stop on both the Black Heritage Trail and the Historical Park’s Freedom Trail®. There really isn’t much reason for two separate parks—the same Rangers work both of them—but that’s the arrangement. Naysayers may argue that the creation of Boston African American National Historic Site is just another attempt by the Federal Government to apologize for slavery in today’s politically correct world, but it was created back in 1980, long before political correctness ran amok.

OPERATING HOURS

The Black Heritage Trail is outdoors on public streets, so it is accessible at any time.

The African Meeting House and the Museum of African American History in the Abiel Smith School are open year-round on Mondays through Saturdays from 10 AM to 4 PM. The Meeting House is only accessible by guided tour.

FEES

There is a fee to enter the African Meeting House and the Museum of African American History, and this fee covers both buildings. For the latest ticket prices and operating schedule, visit the Museum of African American History website.

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

Black Heritage Trail
allow 1.5 hours for a Ranger-guided tour and 1 hour for a self-guided tour

Abiel Smith School / Museum of African American History
allow 1 hour

African Meeting House
allow 30 minutes


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Last updated on June 2, 2020
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