Monday, February 22, 2021

The Library’s New Webpage on Government Video Resources Has Gone Live!

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 or through our live chat option.

Kaitlin Connolly
Reference Department

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The First Lady of Roxbury

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

Further Reading: 

Alexandra Bernson
Reference Team

Monday, February 8, 2021

Virtual Author Talk: Anna Malaika Tubbs

Register Online

Join us on February 23 for an online conversation with Anna Malaika Tubbs, author of The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation. The State Library is pleased to partner once again with the Boston Public Library (BPL), the Museum of African American History (MAAH), and American Ancestors/New England Historic Genealogical Society (AA/NEHGS) to bring you this online event as part of the BPL's Repairing America Series. The moderator for this talk will be MAAH Director of Education and Interpretation, L’Merchie Frazier.

In her groundbreaking and essential debut book The Three Mothers, scholar Anna Malaika Tubbs celebrates Black mother­hood by telling the story of the women who raised and shaped three of America’s most pivotal figures: Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin. Early reviews praise The Three Mothers as “an essential celebration of Black women, one that illuminates the history of racism and resistance in critical new ways” and “a fascinating exploration into the lives of three women ignored by history after raising sons who helped shape a movement.”

Anna Malaika Tubbs is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Cambridge University, where she also earned an MA in Multidisciplinary Gender Studies; her undergraduate degree in Anthropology is from Stanford University. A passionate writer and speaker on issues of gender and race, Tubbs is an educator and a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultant. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, For Harriet, Darling Magazine, and Blavity, and as the First Partner of Stockton, California (2016–2020), she co-authored the first Report on the Status of Women in Stockton.

Be sure to register for this free virtual event, and also check out other upcoming author events hosted by our partners:

Author Talks Committee
State Library of Massachusetts

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Friends of the Library Newsletter - February issue

The February issue of the Friends of the Library newsletter is out now! Click here to download your own copy.

Monday, February 1, 2021

On (Virtual) Display in the State Library

This February our virtual display case features a printed copy of the “Address Of William H. Lewis, Assistant Attorney General Of The United States, Before The Massachusetts House Of Representatives, Feb. 12, 1913” (1913 House Bill 1912), which is part of the collection of 1913 House Documents. The address was given by William H. Lewis, who was the country’s first African-American Assistant Attorney General, to the House of Representatives in commemoration of both Abraham Lincoln’s birthday and the 50th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. 

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

Lewis was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1899 but served only one term. He is pictured in A Souvenir of Massachusetts Legislators (1902) second from the right in the bottom row of a collage of photographs of members of the Committee of Judiciary. Lewis was the last African-American elected to the Massachusetts General Court until 1947. After leaving Massachusetts politics, he served as Assistant United States Attorney in Boston before he was appointed by President Taft as U.S. Assistant Attorney General. He was confirmed to the position in 1911 despite opposition from Senators from southern states.  In that same year, he was admitted to the American Bar Association, again facing opposition from white members who stated that they would resign if he was a member. At the close of Taft’s presidency in 1913, Lewis turned to private practice in Boston. Having experienced discrimination at nearly every step of his professional career, Lewis was a strong and outspoken advocate for civil rights throughout his life. 

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.

Elizabeth Roscio
Preservation Librarian