Roberts v. City of Boston (1849)

  • Waldo E. MartinJr.
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


Historically, African Americans have understood the importance of public school education to the individual and collective elevation of their people. During the antebellum era, they shared the growing belief, especially widespread in “enlightened” northern communities such as Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City, in government’s responsibility to maintain public schools open to the children of all citizens. Particularly within communities such as Boston, the evolving American success ethic, which blacks shaped and imbibed, stressed a common (public) school education as a key to solid citizenship as well as socioeconomic mobility. The following early petition from a group of black Bostonians to the Massachusetts legislature on behalf of a common school education for their children based its claims on the dual assumptions of citizenship and morality. Why do you think they argued their case on these grounds? What is your assessment of the substance and tone of the petition? Why do you think this effort failed?


Public School White Child Colored People Separate School School Committee 
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Copyright information

© Bedford/St. Martin’s 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Waldo E. MartinJr.
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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