African Meeting House

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Title

African Meeting House

Catalog Entry

African Americans experienced discrimination in so many aspects of their lives. They were not only discriminated against socially and economically but also religiously. Before 1805, Black Americans experienced discrimination even at worship places. As much as they could attend the same churches as the whites, African Americans were not allowed to share sitting places with the whites (Landon and Teresa 120). They had sitting areas assigned only at the balconies and were not allowed anywhere near the whites. In those churches, African Americans could not enjoy similar voting rights like the whites. They were denied the opportunity to vote in any church related matters. Black Americans were forced to convert different venues other than the churches in order to conduct their prayers. They had no official designated churches until the construction of the first church commonly referred to as the African Meeting House. The construction of this church was to give African Americans a place they could conduct their prayers without feeling discriminated against or facing outright segregation. Other than offering a place for the black community to have spiritual and religious fellowship, the building also acted as a venue for the black community in the area to meet and discuss the cultural, political and educational aspects of their lives (Landon and Teresa 125). It also offered space to conduct school activities for the black children, adult education and also lectures. Basically, the building served the social needs of the African American community.

History of the monument

Paul Thomas, an African American preacher had a congregation of twenty members who attended church meetings held at the Faneuil Hall. He and his congregants formed the first African Baptist church in the year 1805. On formation of the church, land was purchased for construction of a building which was completed the next year. A fundraising was conducted to secure funds for the construction of the church. The amount secured was insufficient and thus the committee responsible for construction sought for more funds to complete construction from the Massachusetts legislation. It was dedicated in December 1806 and is considered the oldest black church building (Danker and Anita 16). In 1806, Primus Hall, who had an established school in his home premise moved his school to the African meeting House. He received assistance from members of the African-American community including sailors in order to cater for the school expenses. Before moving the school, Primus had tried to have a public school established through the city of Boston but was unsuccessful. The school was thus moved to the meeting house. The school still needed assistance and so he continued to conduct fundraisings for the running of the school. The building was used to conduct civic movements and champion for a variety of civil rights including the end of slavery in the United States (Landon and Teresa 125). This inspired the name the Black Faneuil Hall. In 1832, the New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded in the Meeting House by William Lloyd Garrison (Danker and Anita 16). Soldiers were recruited in the house during the civil war. The building was later sold to a Jewish congregation at the end of the 19th century, following the migration of the blacks who were the new immigrants. It was used as a synagogue until 1972 when it became a Museum of African American History to date. The building has since been refurbished to look exactly the same way it did in 1855.

Significance to the mini-exhibition

The mini-exhibit focuses on the experiences the African Americans had during and after slavery. The meeting house firstly served as a place for the black community to meet and engage freely as a community. They did not have to withstand racial discrimination while at the meeting house as they were all equal in the premise.

Secondly, the building offered social amenities that they were denied during the slavery age. They were denied schools, they had no churches or any community gathering halls for them to conduct community meetings. The hall helped to bridge the gap that was existing during the slavery era.

The house was significant during the abolitionist movement. The New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded in the house. This means that the house played a significant role in the fight against slavery. 

The African meeting house had a major impact for Black Americans during the slavery times. It gave them a glimmer of hope. They could now enjoy social amenities without feeling racially segregated. They were also able to engage directly and indirectly in the fight against slavery with the help of the African Meeting House.

Significance of the monument

The African Meeting House firstly is evidence of how the African American communities fought to overcome racial injustices. It signifies persistence, resilience and hope that the black communities had during the slavery times. It shows how the blacks were determined to rise above the discriminations they were facing.

The building is of great significance with regards to the war against slavery. Anti-slavery meetings and recruitments were conducted here. Soldiers were recruited in the premises and meetings conducted. It is therefore very significant in this aspect.

Thirdly, the monument has been used for the purpose of preserving African American history. Since the house was acquired by the Museum of African American History, it has been used for purposes of keeping any information relevant to the history of African Americans as a museum.

What are the questions asked?

Through the monument, these are the relevant questions that could arise. 

  1. What are the experiences the African Americans had before the construction of the monument? 
  2. What was the reaction of the whites when the construction was completed?
  3. Were the whites affected by the new building in any way?
  4. How did the construction of the monument change the lives of the African Americans?
  5. How are African Americans impacted with the history of the construction of the monument?

Bibliography

Danker, Anita C. "African American heritage trails: from Boston to the Berkshires." Historical Journal of Massachusetts 37.2 (2009): 16.

Landon, David B., and Teresa D. Bulger. "Constructing community: Experiences of identity, economic opportunity, and institution building at Boston’s African meeting house." International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17.1 (2013): 119-142.

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Christine Muriithi, Student, Fitchburg State University

ALFA Mentor

Veda Ross

Photographer(s)

from The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (Boston, MA)

Citation

“African Meeting House,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed August 10, 2022, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/197.

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