Posts Tagged ‘African American’

The Site That Isn’t

Some NPS historic sites are magnificent. Some seem mundane but teach very important lessons. Others try but miss the mark. Then there are sites that simply aren’t there at all. The Boston African American National Historic Site fits that last category.

Basically, the site consists of the Black Heritage Trail, an extension of Boston’s famed Freedom Trail. It marks residences, offices, organizations and schools important to the Abolitionist Movement. This is important stuff, indeed. As I’ve said over and over again in this blog so far, black history is American history, and it’s impossible to understand the latter without including the former. Unfortunately, the Black Heritage Trail is simply not the place to do it.

About the only thing the Black Heritage Trail shows is gentrification, that process by which rich, white folks renovate a urban, lower class neighborhood. It’s a very controversial term, the subject of great emotion. Is gentrification good because it cleans up neighborhoods and increases property values? Or is it bad because it displaces poor residents who cannot afford to find better housing? At this time, I’m unprepared to argue one way or another.

What I am prepared to argue is the effect gentrification has had on the Black Heritage Trail. Basically, this trail is valueless. I’m not saying that these sites used to house people, businesses, and organizations vital to the abolitionist movement. I am saying that these sites no longer have that relevancy. They’re all private (white) residences, or other buildings that no longer have anything to do with black history, all in a beautiful, peaceful, serene neighborhood, that, although visually historic & preserved, no longer has any of the character of the times the trail is trying to portray. As such, I call the Boston African American National Historic Site a sham.

The only building that is open to the public, and still relevant, is the last stop on the trail, the African Meeting House. It contains a small museum without much of a permanent collection, but it does host some fascinating rotating displays. When I was there, they had a collection of movie posters from independent black cinema from the 40’s to the 70’s. I love old movie posters, and these were amazing. Unfortunately, photography wasn’t permitted, so no pictures 😦 .

I might get some harsh criticism for this bad review of Boston African American NHS. I think the NPS is correct in trying to capture Boston’s importance in abolition, but with the Black Heritage Trail, it fails.

African Meeting House — © 2008 America In Context

[I am trying to make a point by only having one pic on this post….]


Boston African American National Historic Site

POV’s Essays on Gentrification

The Neighbors Project

Google Map to BAA NHS

Read Full Post »