The African Meeting House
46 Joy St.
African Meeting House on Beacon Hill was built in 1806 in whatonce was
the heart of Boston's 19th century African American community. It is today
a showcase of black community organization in the formative years of the
The Meeting House was the host to giants in the Abolitionist
Movement who were responsible for monumental historical events including:
founding of the New England Anti-Slavery Society by William Lloyd
- The 1833 farewell address of Maria Stewart,
a black woman and the
first American born woman to speak publicly before a gender-mixed audience;
- An 1860 anti-slavery speech by Frederick Douglass given after being
run out of Tremont Temple;
- The 1863 recruitment to the MA 54th Regiment led by Colonel
Robert Gould Shaw.
Meeting House is the oldest black church edifice still standing in
the United States. Before 1805, although black Bostonians could attend
white churches, they generally faced discrimination. They were assigned
seats only in the balconies and were not given voting privileges.
Thomas Paul, an African American preacher from New Hampshire,
led worship meetings for blacks at Faneuil Hall. Mr. Paul,
with twenty of his members, officially formed the First African
Baptist Church on August 8, 1805. In the same year, land
was purchased for a building in the West End.
Meeting House, as it came to be commonly called, was completed
the next year. Ironically, at the public dedication on
December 6, 1806, the floor level pews were reserved for all
those "benevolently disposed
to the Africans," while the black members sat in the
balcony of their new meeting house.
The African Meeting House was constructed almost entirely with
black labor. Funds for the project were raised in both the
white and black communities. Cato Gardner, a native of Africa,
was responsible for raising more than $1,500 toward the total
$7,700 to complete the meeting house. A commemorative inscription
above the front door reads: "Cato Gardner,
first Promoter of this Building 1806."
The facade of the African Meeting House is an adaptation of a design
for a townhouse published by Boston architect Asher Benjamin. In
addition to its religious and educational activities, the meeting
house became a place for celebrations and political and anti-slavery
On January 6, 1832, William Lloyd Garrison founded the New England
Anti-Slavery Society here. In the larger community this building
was referred to as the Black Faneuil Hall. The African Meeting
House was remodeled by the congregation in the 1850s.
At the end
of the 19th century, when the black community began to migrate
from the West End to the South End and Roxbury, the building was
sold to a Jewish congregation. It served as a synagogue until it
was acquired by the Museum of African American History in 1972.
Its interior has since been restored to its known 1854 design.
The $9.5-million-dollar historic restoration, complete with new elevator and stair tower making it accessible for all, has returned the African Meeting House to its 1855 appearance, with elegantly curved pews and pulpit, period wainscoting and wall finishes, cast-iron posts and golden chandelier. This National Historic Landmark, now open to the public after being closed six years, welcomes visitors with Words Spoken at the Meeting House etched on granite panels towering in the new courtyard entryway.
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House on Beacon Hill,
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