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blogbrainsmallSeacoast History Blog #141 
July 20, 2012 
Part 1 of 2

What’s missing for so many of us seeking to fill in the Black History of our nation is a sense of place. In New England we’re forever looking into the basements and attics of the homes of wealthy white people for traces of African America. We have precious few buildings, documents, or artifacts to guide us. (See photos below)

 

Historians like to use the phrase “material culture.” I find the term too fuzzy. Why not simply say that African Americans had very little “stuff.”  The more stuff you leave behind, the more likely you are to be studied, written about, and remembered.  So the invisible people of the past tend to stay invisible.

Our Portsmouth Black Heritage Trail attaches African messages to familiar buildings and sites in town, but until the Burying Ground memorial is completed, we have no truly African destination point along the way. But we finally, truly felt a powerful sense of the African American past this week while sitting in the pews of the newly restored African Meeting House on Joy Street in Beacon Hill. Millions of dollars went into saving this structure in what was the free black waterfront neighborhood of Boston in the early 1800s.

African American Meetinghouse Boston  / SeacoastNH.com

It’s been a decade in development, but it was worth the wait. This beautifully simple Baptist sanctuary was the beating heart of the bustling neighborhood. It has been restored bit-by-bit from chandelier to staircase to pulpit to pews. But it is also handicapped accessible via a new elevator that leads from the museum gift shop and exhibit room. The outside courtyard is an architectural marvel of brick and granite, making the most of the cramped Beacon Hill real estate.

National Park rangers give the tours, but, thanks to a special invite, our Portsmouth contingent was able to lavish time in the meeting house where abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison spoke, and where the New England Anti-Slavery Society was founded in 1832. It is the oldest black church building still standing in the United States, and after a $10 million facelift, it looks marvelous. My photos simply do not do it justice.

Visit the official museum WEB SITE

African American meetinghouse Beacon Hill / SeacoastNH.com photo

African American meetinghouse Beacon Hill / SeacoastNH.com photo

African American meetinghouse Beacon Hill / SeacoastNH.com photo

African American meetinghouse Beacon Hill / SeacoastNH.com photo

African American meetinghouse Beacon Hill / SeacoastNH.com photo

(c0 2012 SeacoastNH.com
Photos by J. dennis Robinson

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Inside the Boston African Meeting House
Sunday, December 17, 2017 
 
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