Is Juneteenth celebrated where you live? For those of you who are unfamiliar, Juneteenth is a holiday to commemorate the abolition of slavery. This holiday was first recognized on June 19th, 1866 in Texas to memorialize the order, which officially outlawed slavery within the state three years prior. Although the significance of this holiday is profound, its celebration has fallen in and out of popularity over the decades. Most recently, in the wake of piqued racial tension in the U.S., observations of Juneteenth as an official (university/company/city/state/ etc.) holiday is growing.
In honor of Juneteenth, I helped organize a group walk along the Black Heritage Trail right here in Boston. The Black Heritage Trail is similar to Boston’s very popular Freedom Trail, which is a walking route that takes tourists to historic American Revolution sites. In contrast, the Black Heritage Trail explores African American history in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighbor and in particular the community’s role in the Underground Railroad, struggle for public school desegregation, and black activism.
The Black Heritage Trail is rather short (only 1.6 miles) and one can easily turn this 10-point line into a short loop with the Boston Common park as both the beginning and end points. Here are a few of stops along the trail both for your personal edification in Boston Black history and enjoyment.
Stop #2 George Middleton House
Lost history is perhaps the most intriguing. George Middleton, a Black militia leader, is also believed to be the original co-owner of the oldest standing home in Beacon Hill. Little is known about Middleton’s militia, known as the “Bucks of America,” who likely guarded properties during the American Revolution, but its leader was an illustrious fellow who was a prominent community activist.
Stop #6 Lewis and Harriet Hayden House
Did you know that there were Underground Railroad safe houses as far north as Boston? In the 1840s, the Haydens escaped slavery in Kentucky and made what is now known as the “Lewis and Harriet Hayden House” their home. In the 1850s, the Haydens turned their Boston shelter into a boarding house to assist escaped slaves. Most famously, the Haydens were involved in the high-profile Shadrach Minkins case, in which Minkins a “fugitive slave” was liberated from under the noses of the authorities as he was smuggled out of a Boston courtroom. In addition, the Haydens played important roles in the community and supported causes including the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage.
Stop #10 African Meeting House
It just so happens that the oldest, still-standing Black church in this country is located right here in Boston. Built in 1806, the “African Meeting House” served as the First African Baptist Church. Prior to the establishment of this church, African Americans could attend white churches, however, they were assigned seating areas and faced discrimination. Over the years, the building has served a variety of functions, including a school, a synagogue, and since 1972, as the home of the Museum of African American History.
If you can’t make it to Boston to complete the walk yourself, consider checking out the National Park Service website to experience a virtual tour.
Have a lovely Juneteenth!