African American Heritage Trail – Reformers & Their Community

February 1, 2013

A number of individuals on the African American Trail were born in the early nineteenth century as free men and women. Benjamin Roberts, Joshua Smith, and Josephine Ruffin established their own entrepreneurial enterprises while devoting themselves to fighting for critical reforms for African Americans. Along with Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, Boston was a focal center of the abolitionist movement.  As author Mark Schneider notes, white Bostonians “could appeal to their special heritage as Bostonians and argue that the denial of equality to African-Americans contradicted the city’s rhetorical commitment to equal rights.”[1]  Roberts, Smith, and Ruffin lived, worked, and ultimately found their final resting place in close proximity to many of the leading figures, black and white, who were involved in Boston’s abolitionist struggle and who also came to be buried at Mount Auburn.

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[1] Mark Schneider, Boston Confronts Jim Crow, 1890-1920. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997, p. 12.

Funding for this project has been provided by the 1772 Foundation; Mass Humanities; the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (made possible by the National Park Service, National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom); the Cambridge Arts Council and the Watertown Cultural Council (local agencies supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency); and contributions from Sydney Nathans, Mary K. Zervigon, and the family of Katherine Knox.

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