The March issue of the Friends of the Library newsletter is out! Click here to download your own copy.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Monday, March 1, 2021
The pamphlet, “Exercises at the ceremony of unveiling and dedication of the monument to Crispus Attucks, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, Samuel Gray and Patrick Carr,” complements the ceremony that occurred on November 14, 1888 for the dedication of the monument and a procession of government official and invited guests throughout the city. The procession route was from the State House to the site of the monument on Boston Common, then on to the site of the Boston Massacre (in front of the present-day Old State House), before culminating at Faneuil Hall. The pamphlet describes the commemorative events that occurred at the monument and at Faneuil Hall, as well as a physical description of the monument and some historical background into the massacre and aftermath.
Over one hundred years later, the victims of the Boston Massacre were honored again with the dedication of the monument, which is also known as the Crispus Attucks Monument and Victory. Erected by the Commonwealth and designed by Robert Kraus, the monument includes a bas-relief depiction of the moment that the British fired shots, with a slain Crispus Attucks in the foreground. Crispus Attucks is widely considered the first victim of both the Boston Massacre and the Revolutionary War and became an icon for the abolitionist movement in the 19th century; in 1858, Boston abolitionist William Cooper Nell established March 5 as Crispus Attucks Day. Attucks’ legacy lived on throughout the 20th century and up to today, as his name and actions were remembered again last summer during Black Lives Matter protests.
You can read the dedication pamphlet in its entirety on DSpace. And there are countless resources to check out about the Boston Massacre, including the recently published The Boston Massacre: A Family History by Serena Zabin. You can also learn more about Crispus Attucks by visiting Revolutionary Spaces’ virtual exhibit Reflecting Attucks, available on their website.
Monday, February 22, 2021
The State Library has added a new video resources page to its website! This page aims to help researchers that are interested in tracking down video recordings of government agency and legislative proceedings, such as House and Senate floor debates, public hearings, caucus events, agency committee meetings, briefings, interviews of state officials, and more. While most of the compiled resources on the webpage are available online to the public, some collections require onsite access in the Library.
If you have any questions about video resources or about any of the Library’s collections, contact us! Our staff continues to provide expert research assistance to the public while working remotely. You can reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our live chat option.
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Chances are if you have driven through the southern neighborhoods of Boston, you’ve found yourself at some point on Melnea Cass Boulevard. But just who is the woman that inspired the name of this street that runs from Roxbury to the South End?
|Portrait of Melnea Cass courtesy of |
Northeastern University Library.
Melnea Jones was born in Virginia in 1896. Her parents knew the importance of a quality education and so, when she was five years old, they moved their family up to Boston and settled in the South End. Unfortunately three years later her mother died, but under the care of her Aunt Ella, Melnea continued pursuing an education in both Boston and Newburyport. Recognizing her intellect, Aunt Ella saved enough money to send Melnea to the prestigious St. Frances de Sales Convent School in Rock Castle, Virginia, where she graduated as the valedictorian of her class in 1914.
Melnea returned to Boston after her graduation and, despite her educational achievements, was denied jobs because she was African-American. She worked as a domestic worker and experienced first hand the racial and economic inequalities that household employees faced, which inspired much of her efforts later in life. In 1917, she married Marshall Cass, an Army soldier who fought in World War I, and had their first child while he was deployed. When he returned from service, they had two more children. Despite her growing family, Melnea had the support to get involved in civil rights activism: her mother-in-law, Rosa Brown, was a powerful Boston activist in her own right and had founded the Women’s Service Club of Boston in 1919.
|Rosa Brown, Melnea Cass' mother-in-law,|
profiled in Boston newspaper
The Chronicle, July 26, 1939.
Melnea’s early activism involved helping African-American women register to vote and cast their first ballot following the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. But she didn’t stop there: greatly influenced by her mother-in-law and Boston-based civil rights activist and newspaper editor William Monroe Trotter, she became even more active, attending political lectures, protests, and civil rights meetings.
The Cass family moved to Roxbury in 1930, and there Melnea’s activism only increased. She was involved in a number of religious institutions, home front efforts during World War II, and organizations that assisted other African-American women, like the Robert Gould Shaw House, a settlement house named after the commander of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, where she established a preschool nursey. She founded the Kindergarten Mothers, later known as the Friendship Club, to support local mothers and encourage early education. She also volunteered for the Harriet Tubman Mothers’ Club, the community activist Sojourner Truth Club, the Pansy Embroidery Club, and served as the secretary for the Northeastern Region of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. She even served on the Massachusetts Advisory Committee for the Elderly in her later life.
She was also active in the NAACP early on, and served as the president of the Boston branch from 1962 to 1964. Under her leadership, the Boston branch organized sit-ins at the office of the Boston School Committee to protest inequality in the curriculum and racial imbalances in Boston public schools.
|"Sit In" Boston School Committee published by Christian |
Science Monitor, 1963, featuring Melnea Cass sitting
at the center of the crowd.
Image courtesy of Northeastern University
Melnea was also involved in the Women’s Service Club of Boston (WSC), an organization that began as a knitting club for African-American women that quickly grew to be a philanthropic community hub under the leadership of her mother-in-law, Rosa Brown. The WSC not only organized food drives, but also offered educational classes, job placement services, and affordable shelter to female students, workers, and migrants who were unable to find housing due to racist policies. Melnea became president of the club in 1962 and served until 1978, creating their Homemakers Training Program and Immigrant Program. The WSC championed women from the Caribbean and the South who arrived in Boston and worked as domestic staff. At the time, household workers did not have the same protections that other workers did such as a minimum wage or a maximum amount of hours they could work in a day. Under Melnea’s leadership, the WSC worked with the National Committee on Household Employment and Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), of which Melnea was a charter member, to improve these protective measures, while offering social services, professional training, and legal education at the club headquarters at 464 Massachusetts Avenue. Their efforts were recognized when the Massachusetts Legislature passed Chapter 760 of the Acts and Resolves of 1970, An Act Making Domestic Employees Subject To The Labor Laws. The Women’s Service Club continues their work in the South End of Boston today and celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2019.
The Women’s Service Club is not the only lasting part of Melnea Cass’ work. In 1949, she founded the Freedom House alongside social workers and married couple Otto P. Snowden and Muriel S. Snowden, which continues today in its mission to promote economic self-sufficiency and social justice at its location at Grove Hall. Melnea Cass was also the only female charter member of the aforementioned Action for Boston Community Development, incorporated in 1962, which continues to administer poverty-relief programs in the Greater Boston area.
|Newspaper clipping from the Boston Globe |
regarding Melnea Cass Day, 1966. Image
courtesy of the Northeastern University Library.
It is not surprising that, based on this gargantuan legacy, Melnea Cass has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards, specifically honorary degrees from Boston College, Northeastern University, and Simmons College. May 22, 1966 was proclaimed “Melnea Cass Day” by Mayor John Collins and several Boston-area facilities bear her name, including Melnea A. Cass MDC Swimming Pool and Skating Rink in Roxbury, the Melnea A. Cass Clarendon Street Branch of the YWCA, and of course, Melnea Cass Boulevard. Melnea Cass passed away in 1978, but she is still known today as the First Lady of Roxbury.
"If we cannot do great things, we can do small things in a great way.” – Melnea Cass
- Black Women Oral History Project. Interviews, 1976-1981. Melnea Agnes Cass: https://iiif.lib.harvard.edu/manifests/view/drs:45168257$1b
- “A Home Away from Home”: The Women’s Service Club of Boston by the Boston National Historical Park and the Boston African American National Historic Site: https://www.nps.gov/articles/000/women-s-service-club-of-boston.htm
- Black History Boston: Melnea Cass: https://www.boston.gov/news/black-history-boston-melnea-cass
- Melnea A. Cass, Boston Women’s Heritage Trail: https://bwht.org/melnea-cass/
Monday, February 8, 2021
- The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs, in conversation with L’Merchie Frazier
- Tuesday, February 23, 2021—6:00pm EST on Zoom
- Presented by the Boston Public Library, the Museum of African American History, American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the State Library of Massachusetts
- Boston Public Library: https://www.bpl.org/author-talk-series-at-the-central-library/
- Museum of African American History: https://www.maah.org/events
- NEHGS/American Ancestors: https://www.americanancestors.org/inspire
State Library of Massachusetts
Wednesday, February 3, 2021
Monday, February 1, 2021
Lewis begins his address by noting that this is not his first time at the House of Representatives. He states, “Twice before have I met this honorable House. I came first as an humble petitioner seeking redress against discrimination on account of color. You then granted my prayer. Some years later, I came as a member of this House, the last representative of my race to sit in this body. You treated me then as a man and an equal. And now the honors of an invited guest I shall cherish as long as memory lasts.” By the time he made this speech in 1913, Lewis already had an impressive and varied resume. He was born in 1868 in Virginia, the son of former slaves. He enrolled at Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute, now Virginia State University, but transferred to Amherst College to complete his undergraduate education. He then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1895. At both Amherst and Harvard, Lewis played on the football team, rising to the role of captain, and later coached the Harvard team. He is part of the College Football Hall of Fame.
To today’s reader, Lewis’s remarks to the House might not seem the most progressive or radical, but it is important to keep in mind the environment in which he was speaking. The conclusion of the Civil War was not yet fifty years in the past, and Lewis was addressing a House of Representatives that was made up entirely of white men. His message is predominantly hopeful, with a positive look to the future. He extols the virtues of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as praising the state of Massachusetts for its opportunities and ideals. But Lewis does not turn a blind eye to racial injustice and inequality. He uses this platform to state that the right of the African-American “to free access to all public places and to exact similar treatment therein is not universal in this country. He is segregated by law in some sections; he is segregated by custom in others. He is subjected to many petty annoyances and injustices and ofttimes deep humiliation solely on account of his color.” Lewis remarks on how far the country has come in the past fifty years, but he also repeatedly stresses the importance of equality and the continued need for it to be universally accepted across all aspects of society. He closes his address by urging the state of Massachusetts to lead the way in granting equality to all people.
This Black History Month, we remember the trailblazing work of William H. Lewis and honor all that he accomplished. To read his address in its entirety, click here.