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Introduction || Timelines || Primary Sources || Featured Organizations

Featured Teachers || Sample Lessons || Research Questions & Biographical Notes
Curriculum Resources || Website Links || Curriculum Frameworks

This section provides suggestions for leading questions that can be considered with the primary sources used in this project as well as to extend student research beyond the materials in this project. The suggested questions should not be considered the definitive path for potential research. Teachers are encouraged to develop their own questions and answers with their students that enhance thinking and learning. Only a few of the questions below are completely "answered" through information available at this site.

One of the goals of this project is to help identify some repositories of primary sources that relate to the 19th century desegregation of the Boston and Nantucket school systems and related topics, but those identified are not the only places to find such primary materials. Local historical societies, libraries, and town offices are some of the places that students can visit to conduct additional research of their own.

Also included in this section are brief biographies on selected individuals that connect in some way to events in the timelines. Even if an individual did not specifically fight for or against desegregating a school system, but rather was active in the colonization movement, or the abolition of slavery, the contributions of this person can be researched. Learning more about a particular person's contributions to history while keeping the larger vision of the "whole picture" in view, can enhance a student's understanding of past events.


Letter from Eunice Ross to legislature urging support for desegregation; says she was "found amply qualified for admission into the High School at Nantucket, and was refused admittance ...on account of her colour."


With any primary or secondary source: Who wrote/created this primary material? What might have been her/his motivation/reason to write/create this primary material? How can you justify your answer to these questions? How might this source be biased?

On the National Negro Conventions: Why did these conventions begin? What were the goals? How did these change over time? Who went to these conventions? (Try newspaper accounts (especially abolitionist papers) from the time, including the Liberator and the North Star.)

On Phillis Wheatley: What might have been Phillis Wheatley's attitude towards Africa? How might her attitude towards Africa influence her opinion of America? How might America influence her attitude towards Africa? (Consider using her poems as a resource.)

On Women and Abolition: Were there anti-slavery societies in your community or county? How were women involved? During the 1830s the first anti-slavery societies were usually run by men but women might be auxiliary members. Then separate female anti-slavery societies began to grow, Massachusetts leading the nation. (Out of 300 MA societies by 1840, 55 were female, with Essex county leading the number.) Women took an increasingly active role, often tying women's rights to abolition. Find out about Susan Paul, a black school teacher at the African School of Boston who was active locally but also became an officer in the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society. (See the introduction to the Memoir of James Jackson by Susan Paul, edited by Lois Brown, which describes Paul's important role as a black representative). See the documents and education suggestions about Female Anti-Slavery Societies on the Old Sturbridge Village website ( under Education-Teacher Resources- Lesson plans.

On Work and Education: How did people learn a job in the early 1800s? What was the custom and practice concerning literacy and education in specific skills? What skills were valued in the African American community? What sorts of jobs were available to African-Americans? What were the main economic activities in Nantucket, Boston, your community? (Try 1790 and 1830 census data in your community, if available, or state info. at Commonwealth Archives.)

On "Colored Patriots of the American Revolution": Why would William Nell write this book in the 1850s? How does Nell's account of an event in the American Revolution compare/contrast with a contemporary's account or a textbook from today?

On Segregation/ Desegregation: How effective has integration been as a means of achieving equality for all students? Are some schools still segregated? Where did blacks live in Boston/Nantucket? Why or why not? Are all facilities equal? Why or why not? Why would people oppose Eunice Ross' admission to the High School, despite her demonstrated abilities as a student? (Look for books written about the 1970s busing in Boston; contemporary data on school systems - the Boston Public School system has racial demographics available on line.)

On Robert Morris and the legal system: How did an African-American become a lawyer? What was Morris' role in the case of Roberts v. City of Boston as compared to Charles Sumner? What methods did people use to change the laws? Why did many blacks use the courts for legal recourse? Did all blacks in the US have the right to vote, petition the Legislature, or sue? Why or why not? Why would some communities break the law?

On separate schools: Compare the arguments of African-Americans arguing for integrate and African-Americans arguing against integration (opinion within Boston's black community was not united on the issue of desegregation)? Why would some anti-integrationist consider that desegregated schools would result in worse academic conditions for African-American students? (Consider the 1849 reports of the Boston School Committee and articles from the Frederick Douglass' Papers.)

On the Know-Nothing Party: Was it in the interests of the Know-Nothings to promote tension between the Irish and African-Americans? Why might there be tensions between the two groups? Could the Catholic calls for separate public schools (because of strong Protestant bias with in the schools) have influenced the politics of the anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, which controlled the city of Boston in 1854 and the Legislature in 1855?

On the closing of the Smith School and the African School: Why do the African-American schools close with the desegregation order? Is the assumption that white schools are better? (The school committee minutes offer no specific explanations for the closings) How might you find information that is not answered by certain documents?

On African-Americans and sailing: Why were many African-Americans involved with whaling? (Relates to work opportunities.) Why were there large free black communities in coastal towns like Nantucket, Boston, and Salem? What was the main economic activity on Nantucket? Why?

On Quakers and Religion: Were all Quakers abolitionists? Why were Quakers generally seen as more tolerant of blacks? How did religion influence peoples' opinions about abolition and desegregation? Did ministers have an influence in desegregation/abolition? Why or why not? Why did different religious denominations have different opinions about slavery/segregation? Did some churches physically segregate blacks? What roles have black churches played in various civil rights movements?

On Crispus Attucks: Was Attucks the leader of a mob or an American patriot? (This generated much discussion in the late 1860s when a memorial of the 100th anniversary of the Boston Massacre was proposed, and more recently, with the naming of a bridge in Massachusetts.) How do various artists depict his death? Why would these look different? ( William Champney's print, Paul Revere's image, and the image from Nell's Colored Patriots are different.)

On reform movements: Were some of the people involved with desegregation involved with other reform movements (temperance, anti-slavery, women's rights)? More specific: What was Anna Gardner's role in the story of the African School? What other reform movements occur during the desegregation movement (in addition to those not mentioned in the previous parentheses.) How might these movements have affected the desegregation cause? (Try reading accounts from various meetings of these 'societies' or the literature they produced; look for individuals involved with various movements - perhaps a repository holds her/his personal papers.)

*Thanks to "Featured Teachers" Elaine Weintraub and Barbara White for their contributions to some of these questions. Their lesson ideas can be found in the Sample Lessons section.


Crispus Attucks (1723 - 1770) was born enslaved in Framingham, Massachusetts. He escaped and found refuge at sea as a sailor/whaler. He spent nearly two decades working on whalers and cargo ships out of the Caribbean, and like many blacks, took many odd jobs in Boston to support himself. He was the first person killed in the "Boston Massacre," a confrontation between colonial citizens of Boston and the British "Redcoats" guarding the State House.

Lydia Maria Child (1802 - 1880)
was born in Medford, Massachusetts and was well-known for her ideas about education and homemaking. She started the Juvenile Miscellany, a monthly magazine for children in 1826. After she married David Child (a member of the Boston school committee in the early 1830s), they both became active abolitionists. One of the first anti-slavery books published in the US was her Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans, in 1833. Her home w as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and she served as the editor of the National Anti-Slavery Standard. She also edited Harriet Jacob's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Paul Cuffee (1759 - 1817) was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Recognizing that both blacks and Indians received unequal public education, he bought a farm in 1797 to house a school for free children of color. He was as Quaker, and one of the first to advocate emigration as a solution to the problems of racial injustice in America. In 1811, he traveled to Sierra Leone, in West Africa, and set up the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone to encourage colonization; furthermore, he personally spent his wealth to transport blacks back to Africa. He died before he could lead another expedition for settlement to West Africa.

Frederick Douglass (c.1818 - 1895) was born enslaved in Tuckahoe, Maryland and christened as Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. At the age of eight, he was sent to work in Baltimore for one of his master's relatives, whose wife began to teach him to read. When her husband became enraged that she had taught him to read, her lessons stopped, but it only encouraged Frederick to pursue literacy even more. In 1838, he escaped to New Bedford, Massachusetts and began to work as a caulker, in addition to other unskilled jobs. In 1841, he traveled to Nantucket for a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, and after speaking, was offered a job by the society to lecture. After his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, was published in 1845, he sailed to England to prevent his capture as well as to lecture. Friends helped to raise funds to buy his freedom, and when he returned to the US, he started the anti-slavery paper, the North Star, in Rochester, NY (William C Nell was the publisher). While in Rochester, he attacked the segregated school system, and his home served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. After the Civil War, he would serve as Consul to Haiti.

William Lloyd Garrison (1805 - 1879) was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts and apprenticed to a printer at age 13. He edited the first temperance paper, the National Philanthropist and in 1831, began to publish The Liberator in Boston. The success of The Liberator was due, in part, to the fact that he had support from both whites and blacks throughout the city, state, and US. He also generated a great deal of ire from both Southerners and Northerners, especially since he believed slavery should end immediately, rather than by gradual emancipation at best, and challenged many in the colonization movements. He supported equal rights for women within the American Anti-Slavery Society, and this split the abolitionist movement. In 1835, a mob in Boston tried to kill him, but he continued to support abolition. Following the Civil War, he ceased publishing the Liberator, on the grounds that slavery was abolished.

Prince Hall (c.1735 - 1807) was possibly born in the British West Indies, but details of his parents and place of birth are contradictory, and therefore difficult to authenticate. In 1775, he and fourteen other free colored men of Boston were initiated into the Freemason Lodge No. 441, attached to the 38th Regiment of Foot (British Army). When the British fled Boston in 1776, this lodge granted Hall the authority to meet as the African Lodge #1, and in 1784, the Grand Lodge of England granted them a warrant (charter). As Grand Master, a title of some prestige, Prince Hall was a prominent member of Boston's free colored community; he was an advocate for improving educational opportunities for students of color, as well as opposing slavery in the US.

Robert Morris (1823-1882) became the second black attorney in the United States and the first in Massachusetts. He came to practice law after being a servant of Ellis Gray Loring, a well-known Boston attorney who saw his promise and helped him with legal studies. Morris was born in Salem, the grandson of a slave from Africa brought to Ipswich. A strong abolitionist, Morris represented several fugitive slaves. In one case he helped the slave escape and was indicted for this role but later acquitted. His most famous role was assistant to Charles Sumner in the Roberts school desegregation case. He remained active in law practice and Boston politics throughout his life.

William Cooper Nell (1816 - 1874)
was born in Boston and educated at the African School in the basement of the African Meeting House. He received the prestigious Franklin Medal, awarded to outstanding scholars in the Boston public schools, but was only able to attend the ceremony as a waiter's assistant on account of his color. He was an advocate for desegregated schools, and sent many petitions to the State legislature and the Boston school committee. In 1847, he helped found the anti-slavery paper, the North Star, with editor Frederick Douglass. In 1855, his work, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution, was published, detailing accounts of African-Americans contributions in the War.

Theodore Parker (1810 - 1860) was born in Lexington, Massachusetts and graduated from the Harvard Divinity School in 1836. As a Unitarian minister in Roxbury, Massachusetts, he was less conservative than most Unitarians at the time; in fact, he served as a leader of the New England transcendentalist movement. He was a strong supporter of prison reform as well as an activist for abolition. (His signature appears on several petitions from the mid -1800s relating to the school desegregation issue).

Wendell Phillips (1811 - 1884)
was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard University. A lawyer, he became a well-known orator who gained his fame as an abolitionist speaker. His speech in 1837, challenging those persons that upheld the murder of newspaper editor and abolitionist, Elijah P. Lovejoy, is a testament against mob rule. He wrote articles for The Liberator, but parted ways with Garrison after the Civil War; Phillips was opposed to dissolving the American Anti-Slavery Society, and advocated for the enactment of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.

Charles Lenox Remond (1810 - 1873) was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He joined the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1838 and became its first African-American lecturer. The Remond family fought the Salem public school committee to end its policy of segregated schools, and by 1843, Salem had integrated its school system.

Lemuel Shaw (1781 - 1861) was born in Boston and served as Chief Justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1830 to 1860. A prolific jurist, he decided the case of Commonwealth v. Hunt (1842), whereby he argued that Massachusetts unions were free from the application of criminal conspiracy law. Another major decision was in the case of Roberts v. Boston (1850), which ruled in favor of the city. His opinion was modified by the US Supreme Court to justify the segregationist legal concept of "separate but equal."

Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811 - 1896) was born in Litchfield, Connecticut and wrote one of the most important books in American history, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Although the book was serialized in an abolitionist paper, the National Era, it was not until Uncle Tom's Cabin was published in 1852 that it attracted such powerful attention. Within 5 years, the book had sold over half a million copies in the US and translated into more than 20 languages. The book did much to galvanize public opinion in the North to oppose Southern slavery. Her fame as an abolitionist was great,; her husband, Rev. Calvin Ellis Stowe, was strongly opposed to slavery as well; and she even wrote the introduction for William Cooper Nell's Colored Patriots of the American Revolution.

Charles Sumner (1811 - 1874)
was born in Boston and graduated from Harvard University. In 1833, he was admitted to the bar, and became active in the anti-slavery cause, as well as calling for prison and education reform. In 1849, he and Robert Morris represented Sarah Roberts against the city of Boston in a case against segregation. Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw ruled against Roberts, but Sumner had gained enough notoriety to run a successful campaign, and was elected to the US Senate. He quickly became a leading opponent of slavery. After one speech, he was so severely beaten by a South Caroline Congressman, Preston Brooks, that he was unable to attend the Senate for the next three years. As a post-mortem tribute to him, his Senate peers passed an unprecedented Civil Rights Act of 1875 (which outlawed racial discrimination in public places).

David Walker (1785 - 1830)
was born free in Wilmington, North Carolina (his mother was free). He settled in Boston, opened a second-hand clothing store, and became involved with the abolitionist movement. His pamphlet, Appeal to the Colored Citizens of World, ignited huge controversies in both the North and the South. Southerners passed laws forbidding distribution of the book, and eventually a reward was placed for his head - dead or alive. He was found dead near his shop on June 28, 1830. While most abolitionists did not agree with his call for violence to end slavery, his work urged slaves to fight for their freedom, and was cited as inspiration by Nathaniel Turner.

Phillis Wheatley (c.1753 - 1784) was born free in West Africa, but was enslaved and brought to the US as part of the slave trade. She was sold for domestic labor to John and Susannah Wheatley of Boston in 1760, who encouraged her to learn English and Latin. By 1767, she had published her first poem, and in 1773, her Poems on Subject, Religious and Moral, was received with much acclaim in London. She continued to write poetry, but because of the turmoil of the American Revolution, it was difficult to find a publisher. The Wheatley's manumitted her, and she married a free black man in 1778. She lived in relative poverty and died during childbirth in 1784.


© Massachusetts Studies Project 1997 - 2002