Walk in Their Shoes

Appears in the February 2021 issue.

History buffs visiting Boston often come for the Freedom Trail, which traces the tale of the American Revolution. But if that’s all you see while in town, you’re missing out. “Boston’s history doesn’t just stop at 1776,” says Shawn Quigley, a park guide with the National Parks of Boston. The Black Heritage Trail, a 1.6-mile walking tour in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, “is a real continuation of those originally revolutionary ideas,” he says.

The 10-site trail connects private homes and historic sites that tell the story of Boston’s thriving African American community in the 19th century, including leaders of the Civil War, abolition movement, and Underground Railroad. The Museum of African American History in Boston partners with the National Park Service to offer guided walking tours from Memorial Day through Labor Day; these tours are on pause due to the pandemic, hopefully resuming in some capacity this summer.

“The walkability of tracing freedom and understanding whose freedom and what freedoms were denied is a part of what the Black Heritage Trail helps you see,” says L’Merchie Frazier, director of education and interpretation for the Museum of African American History.

One highlight is the Lewis and Harriet Hayden House, the best-known Underground Railroad safe house in Boston. “The Haydens escaped enslavement themselves in Lexington, Kentucky,” Quigley says.
The last stop on the trail is the African Meeting House, the oldest existing Black church building in the country. “It was built in 1806 by a Black craftsman. It was planned by two communities, Black and white, that fundraised for it, but the African American society is responsible organizationally for purchasing the property,” Frazier says.

Prepare to leave the trail feeling empowered about this neighborhood’s storied role in American history.

Note: Visitors must follow protocols, including a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours prior to arrival; view the latest policies at mass.gov.

Photo courtesy GBCVB