Report to the Primary School Committee

Boston, Massachusetts

June 15, 1846

Original Record


Signed by over 80 members of Boston’s African American community, this petition advocates for equal schooling for both Black and White schoolchildren in Boston. Black leaders, including William C. Nell, organized petition drives in the 1840s and early 1850s as they tried various methods to push the Primary School Committee to integrate schools.


Questions to Consider

  1. What are the petitioners asking for?
  2. Why do the petitioners consider separate schools are “unlawful?”
  3. Do you think petitioning is an effective means of activism? Why or why not?



To the Primary School Committee of the City of Boston:

The undersigned colored citizens of Boston, parents and guardians of children now attending the exclusive Primary Schools for colored children in this City, respectfully represent; –that the establishment of exclusive schools for our children is a great injury to us, and deprives us of those equal privileges and advantages in the public schools to which we are entitled as citizens. These separate schools cost more and do less for the children than other schools, since all experience teaches that where a small and despised class are shut out from the common benefit of any public institutions of learning and confined to separate schools, few or none interest themselves about the schools, — neglect ensues, abuses creep in, the standard of scholarship degenerates, and the teachers and the scholars are soon considered and of course become an inferior class

But to say nothing of any other reasons for this change, it is sufficient to say that the establishment of separate schools for our children is believed to be unlawful, and it is felt to be if not in intention, in fact, insulting. If, as seems to be admitted, you are violating our rights, we simply ask you to cease doing so.

We therefore earnestly request that such exclusive schools be abolished, and that our children be allowed to attend the Primary Schools established in the respective Districts in which we live.


George Putnam,

And Eighty-five Others.

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Smith Court Stories is a collaborative project of the Museum of African American History and Boston African American National Historic Site – a unit of the National Parks of Boston.

The creators of Smith Court Stories acknowledge that Smith Court in Beacon Hill sits on the historical Massachusett tribe territories.