On September 15, 1847, a ship carrying 66 men and women and children docked at Long Wharf in Boston. This group of ex-slaves, led by Rev. Peter Randolph, emancipated by their former slave master Carter H. Edlow from the Brandon Plantation in Prince Georges County, Virginia. Members of the Boston Anti-Slavery Society, led by William Lloyd Garrison met the newcomers and made them welcome by securing lodging and work for self-support. The group settled in the South End on Ottaway Court not far from the Holy Cross Cathedral. The group first joined the Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston before establishing their own congregation. They eventually occupied this church in 1887, the building was designed by architect Nathaniel Bradlee in 1860, which was built for what was then the Third Presbyterian Church of Boston. The church has remained here for nearly 150 years, seeing the rapid change in the neighborhood. The church building accommodated meetings including the Professional Black Women’s Business Club, which bolstered Black women in business, many members owned stores in the South End. Many members left the area amid growing gentrification in the 1980s and 1990s, and from that, the aging population remaining made keeping the doors open difficult. Sadly, the church relocated out of the building in 2020 and appears to have sold the building, leaving its future uncertain.
Adjacent to the Susie King Taylor House on Holyoke Street in the South End neighborhood of Boston, the Harriet Tubman House has long served the Black community of Boston. The Harriet Tubman Crusaders, an African American branch of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Boston, created the first Harriet Tubman House in 1904 as a residence Black females who had recently migrated from the South. The Harriet Tubman House took in young female boarders, providing them with food, clothing, shelter, and friendship while they adjusted to their new environment. It later adapted to provide housing for Black female students who were not allowed to live in the traditional student dormitories at some Boston-area colleges. The Crusaders rented a home on Holyoke Street until 1909 when member Julia O. Henson donated her own townhouse at 25 Holyoke Street as a permanent headquarters for the organization’s expanding programs. Harriet Tubman visited Boston several times in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, often staying with Julia Henson at this home. In 1960, the Harriet Tubman House merged with other settlement houses in the area to form the United South End Settlements (USES) and in 1976 USES erected a modern building at the corner of Columbus and Massachusetts Avenues, which was designed by Black architect Donald Stull. The 1976 building was recently demolished, despite massive outcry, for a luxury condo development… Shocker.
The rowhouse at 23 Holyoke Street in the South End neighborhood of Boston is an excellent architectural specimen, but is best known for one of its residents, Susie King Taylor. Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was born into slavery near Savannah, Georgia; and despite Georgia’s harsh laws against the formal education the enslaved, she attended two secret schools taught by black women. She became free at the age of 14 when she escaped onto a Union-owned boat off the coast of the then Confederate occupied Fort Pulaski on the islands off the coast of South Carolina. She soon attached herself to the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment in the US Army. She served under the Union Army in various capacities: officially as a “laundress” but in reality a nurse, caretaker, educator, and showcased such strength and courage as a young woman. Eventually, Taylor married Sergeant Edward King in 1862, and together they remained with the unit until it was mustered out of service in 1866. It is likely at that time that she met Harriet Tubman, who served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Postwar, the Kings moved to Savannah, Georgia. She hoped to continue her teaching career and opened a private school for the children of freedmen. Unfortunately, her husband died the same year, and a public school opening caused her private school to fail. By 1868, Taylor was forced to find work as a domestic servant. She moved to Boston in 1872 where she married Russell Taylor in 1879. She devoted much of the rest of her life to work with the Woman’s Relief Corps, a national organization for female Civil War veterans. She lived at this home on Holyoke for much of her time in Boston, likely re-connecting with her old friend Harriet Tubman when she lived on the street.
These paired rowhouses at 1-3 Claremont Park in the South End were built by 1874 as speculative housing. Between 1922 and 1928, 3 Claremont Park was purchased by a twenty-something year old Anna Bobbitt Gardner, and she opened a studio in the home, teaching Bostonians how to play the piano. In 1932, Anna Bobbitt Gardner (1901-97) became the first African American women to be awarded a bachelor’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. Her studio, Pianoforte Studio bloomed in popularity among Black and White Bostonians, and she rebranded the school as the Boston Academy of Musical Arts, adding four more studios in the area. She would later acquire the adjacent house at 1 Claremont Park and expanded the school. She went on to manage ‘Colored American Nights’, featuring African American musicians at Boston Symphony Hall, and produced local radio and television programs to boost the African American audience in classical music. After her death in 1997, the New England Conservatory has annually granted a musician the Anna Bobbitt Gardner Lifetime Achievement Award, showing her impact on the arts in Boston.
Historically, the South End neighborhood of Boston was populated by middle- to upper-class white residents until the late 19th century, when financial crises paired with new, modern housing (constructed in the Back Bay West and Allston areas) shifted that population elsewhere. West Indian immigrants and Black Bostonians moved to the relatively new neighborhood and many formerly single-family homes were converted to tenements or multi-family uses. From this, a vibrant Black community flourished, bringing black-owned businesses like restaurants, banks and jazz clubs. The area’s famous jazz clubs boomed during the forties and fifties, yet, many have disappeared over the years with the gentrification and development in the neighborhood. Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club on Massachusetts Avenue, was founded by Joseph L. Walcott. Mr. Walcott “Wally” was a Barbadian who immigrated to America in 1910, eventually settling in Boston. He worked many jobs and eventually saved up enough by 1947, purchasing an old rowhome and converting the space into a club. Wally was believed to be the first African American to own a nightclub in New England. He brought famed jazz musicians to Boston, and they played at this iconic venue for decades until 1979, when the venue shifted across the street to this building. With the jazz movement waning in popularity, Wally maintained his commitment to the music by featuring young musicians who were attending prominent academic institutions such as Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Mr. Walcott cleverly decided to hire these young music students and mixed them with seasoned professionals who were veterans of the Big Band era. This mix of talent was special, and the format enabled Mr. Walcott to continue to serve the jazz loving audiences of New England. After Wally’s death in 1998 at age 101, his three children took over the bar, and today Wally’s Cafe is still owned and managed by his family, though presently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.