Black History Month: Black History at UMass Boston

Author: Maci Mark, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Students sitting in classroom desks listening to a lecture

Students listening to a lecture in a classroom on the Park Square campus, circa 1965-1974

First founded in 1964, the University of Massachusetts Boston was created to serve the urban population of the City of Boston. UMass Boston was envisioned as a place of education for underserved communities, and to support working class students, first generation students, and those that could not afford the elite private schools which made up the educational offerings in Boston. UMass Boston has served these communities for more than fifty years, including the Black community of Boston. Black students have always been a core part of the campus community and have fought to make change and feel represented on campus. 

Only three years after the university’s establishment, by the 1967-1968 academic year, UMass Boston had 100 Black students out of its 2,600 student population. While 26 Black students out of every 100 is not a lot, especially with the university’s goal of supporting urban students (which at the time meant thousands of Black students), this actually made UMass Boston one of the most racially diverse schools in the country at the time.

Black students on campus quickly formed the Afro-American Student Association to find community and advocate for their needs on campus. The students in this organization, led by Alvin Johnson, led protests and staged a sit-in at the 1970 summer class registration to demand the hiring of more Black tenure-track faculty and more Black students admitted to the university. At this time there was only one Black tenured professor on campus, James Blackwell.

James Blackwell sitting in front of a chalkboard

Professor James Blackwell teaching a class at the Columbia Point campus, circa 1974-1978

Despite being the first and only Black tenured professor on campus, Professor Blackwell had a big impact. He was an early advocate for a Black Studies department on campus, which was established as the Afro-American Studies Department in 1973 (currently the Africana Studies Department). 

The advocacy did not stop in the 1970s. The William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture was founded in 1984. This institute allowed for further research and study into Black life and culture. 

Portrait of Harold Horton

Dr. Harold Horton, the first Associate Director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute, circa 1984-1989

The work that Alvin Johnson started with the Afro-American Student Association in the 1970s continues with the many cultural community groups for Black students that exist on campus today to help students find community and advocate for themselves, including the Black Student Center, Haitian American Society, African Students Union, Ghanaian Student Association, and the UMB NAACP Campus Chapter.

University Archives and Special Collections works to have engaging collections that reflect the history of Black Bostonians and Black students at UMass Boston, including (but not limited to) the recently-donated Mel King papers, the Theresa-India Young papers, the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, the Reverend Edward B. Blackman papers, and the Robert C. Hayden: Transcripts of oral history interviews with Boston African American railroad workers. Check out these collections to learn more about the Black history of Boston. To learn more about the history of UMass Boston, check out UMass Boston at 50: A Fiftieth-Anniversary History of the University of Massachusetts Boston by Michael Feldberg.


Feldberg, Michael. UMass Boston at 50: A Fiftieth-Anniversary History of the University of Massachusetts Boston. Boston: UMass Boston, 2015.

University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit

In the Archives: Columbia Point and UMass Boston

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Color photograph of the UMass Boston campus as seen from the water

UMass Boston campus on Columbia Point in Dorchester, circa 1974

From the university’s inception in the mid-1960s, UMass Boston trustees started to plan where to put the permanent campus, as Park Square was always intended to be temporary. Originally several sites were considered, including Highland Park in Roxbury, Copley Square, and North Station, but the final choice was Columbia Point. Many students and faculty members disapproved of the decision, while others were pleased and looked forward to the new space. It was a contentious time for all parties involved. Even so, the plan went forward and the construction of our current campus began.

Our University Archives Historic Photographs digital collection consists of more than 3,600 digitized photographs documenting the Columbia Point campus from its creation through 2009. The collection includes aerial shots of the peninsula before, during, and after construction started in 1971. The main structures on the land at the time were the Calf Pasture Pumping Station, Boston College High School, and the Columbia Point Housing Project, all of which are represented in our collection. 

Our photographs also document events that took place at the Columbia Point campus, including festivals, dinners, commencement ceremonies, receptions, lectures, open houses, and many others. The images show us the buildings on campus and give us a peek into the lives of UMass Boston students, faculty, and staff, both in and out of class.

We expect our photograph collections to grow as the campus continues to evolve. Check out our University of Massachusetts Boston, historic photographs, 1964-2009 collection to see the photographs we’ve collected so far, as well as the collection’s finding aid.

In the Archives: A Revolutionary Campus Created in Park Square

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Black-and-white photo of Albert Fulchino and John W. Lederle standing with Audrey Taub

Albert Fulchino and John W. Lederle with Audrey Taub, the first student accepted into the Boston campus of the University of Massachusetts, 1965

Until the mid-twentieth century, there was only one public university serving students in our state, the University of Massachusetts located in Amherst. In the 1960s, the Massachusetts legislature decided that we needed another: a school in the city that would serve the people of Boston and the surrounding area. The first student accepted to the Boston campus was a young woman named Audrey Taub, and the school made a big to-do of the occasion. 

UMass Boston’s first campus was at Park Square, and it opened in 1965. Our collections show this community forming at a tumultuous time, a period of protest in an America ready for revolutionary change. According to David Outerbridge, class of 1970

“Looking back through the haze of fifty years, I would like to say my four years at UMass Boston were a seamless progression of academic and personal growth. And in some measure they were, but they were also extremely difficult years when the world impinged on our lives in a way that changed the experience of college. Vietnam and the Civil Rights struggle overshadowed everything. My focus couldn’t be entirely on my studies. There were books on the war to read, teach-ins and demonstrations to go to. The pull of engagement in the world was strong.”

UMass Boston became a place where students could learn, not just academics, but about life. They were often directly participating in the struggles of their era, both on and off campus. On page seven of the September 22, 1969 edition of Mass Media, UMass Boston Afro-American Society President Alvan Johnson called for equity at UMass Boston:

“Even though advancements have been made in several areas, much more needs to be done. For instance; of a possible 275 faculty members, nine are Black; of a possible 3,500 students, six to seven percent are Black; course offerings are still very limited, and there still is no major either in African or Afro-American studies. The faculty and administration have responded to the voice of the minority in its midst.

But silence on our part now might be mistaken for contentment. I assure you, this is not the case. We have several projects to undertake, many more dragons to slay before this university is fit for people of all ‘races, creeds, and national origins.’”

We have several collections and posts to share pertaining to the Park Square campus. There are wonderful stories and photographs collected from alumni like David, faculty, and staff in the Park Square History Project on our UMass Boston Memories blog. Please browse and/or contribute! 

To read more from students (like Alvan Johnson) who experienced the Park Square campus, be sure to check out our digitized run of the Mass Media

Black-and-white photo of the front of UMass Boston's main building in Park Square

Facade of UMass Boston’s main Park Square building [viewed] from Statler Park

We also have a collection of over 180 digitized photographs (and its finding aid) taken on and around the original UMass Boston campus. Many of the photographs feature the main building at 100 Arlington Street and the library in the Armory across the road. I’ve selected a few of these photographs for you to check out at the end of this post.

In addition, many of the UMass Boston yearbooks have been digitized by the Internet Archive. Here you can see the 1969, 1970, and 1971 yearbooks, the three issues we have digitized that were created on the Park Square campus.

There is so much more to say about this incredible campus and the experiences of the people that learned and worked there. It feels almost impossible to conclude this post here, but I must (for now). Please keep your eyes peeled for future posts featuring the collections that tell the stories of UMass Boston.

If you’re interested in learning a bit more about 100 Arlington Street as it is now, check out this blog post written by Andrew Elder in 2014, right after the building was converted into a luxury apartment complex.

All photographs featured here are courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: University of Massachusetts Boston, historic photographs.

In the Archives: Boston Normal School, “The most outstanding institution of its kind”

Black-and-white photo of young women performing a play outside of a school building

“Students performing a play.” Here we can see some of the Boston Normal School students putting on a play. I am unsure as to where this play took place, but given the photograph’s estimated time frame, it was probably at the Rice Building, the home to the Normal School from 1876-1907 (Flynn 1980, XVI).

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Black-and-white photo of children sitting at tables in a classroom

“Primary school students in Appleton Street School within the Rice Building.” This is one of my favorite photographs from the collection. Here are young children in the model classroom at the Rice Building. Normal School students would get practical experience by teaching these little ones and working with master teachers. There were some beautiful classrooms in the Rice Building!

In the nineteenth century, the education of young children was changing. The standards a teacher had to meet before getting their own classroom were improving and more and more young women were encouraged to obtain an education beyond elementary school. One school that followed these educational trends over a century was the Boston Normal School (BNS). The City of Boston formed the Normal School to train girls to become teachers in the Boston Public School (BPS) system. The school grew and morphed and changed, eventually becoming the Teachers College of the City of Boston, then a state college, then Boston State College, and was then absorbed into the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The time frame for the University Archives and Special Collection’s Normal School digital photograph collection is from 1872 to 1922. This is the period after the Normal School separated from Girls’ High, its original partner, and became its own institution solely focused on the training of teachers. The school moved from a shared building with Girls’ High to the Rice Building on Dartmouth and Appleton Streets, and a couple of decades later, moved to its final space at 625 Huntington Avenue. At both of the newer locations, the school developed model schools with children from the community, staffed by some of the best teachers in the state who became mentors to the Normal School students (Flynn 1980, 47). 

Black-and-white photo of the exterior of a Boston Normal School building

“Boston Normal School exterior.” This is the Boston Normal School as it stood at 625 Huntington Avenue. To its left (our right) is the gymnasium that they shared with the Girls’ Latin School. Girls’ Latin had a similar building to the Normal School on the other side of the gymnasium. Behind the gymnasium was a courtyard, and behind the courtyard was the Patrick A. Collins Building, which also connected the Normal School and Girls’ Latin (Flynn, 37). Essentially, the buildings altogether made up one large square.

During this span of fifty years, the Normal School training program moved from two years long to three years long, and when students graduated, they did not get a degree but instead received certification that they could teach in the BPS system. The standards for teacher training changed greatly over the years of the Normal School, and at some points, the curriculum was different each year. Following the history of this school is similar to following the history of teacher training throughout the United States. One thing that made our Normal School particularly special is that up until 1931, Boston students did not have to pay to attend and students from outside the city had to pay very little (Flynn, 3). The City of Boston wanted any young woman interested in becoming a teacher in their schools to be able to do so, regardless of socioeconomic status.

Eventually, in 1922, following the trend of normal schools across the country, Boston Normal School became a teachers college and developed a curriculum that would allow students to get a bachelor’s degree in education in four years and a master’s in five. At this point, BNS had been allowing male students for a little over a decade. Clearly, times were changing, and the standards for teacher training were starting to settle into the ones we have today.

Be sure to check out the Normal School digital photograph collection and the finding aid for its home, the Boston State College collection. There are some gems waiting to be discovered!

Black-and-white group photo of Boston Normal School students outside of a school building

“Boston Normal School Class of 1919.” This photograph shows the students of the 1919 Boston Normal School graduating class with a man I believe to be Wallace C. Boyden, their headmaster. It is a particularly striking image; the girls’ faces look as if they’re floating in a sea of white. With the brick and marble facade of the building, it’s probable that this photo was taken on the Normal School campus at 625 Huntington Avenue.

The most invaluable source of information for this blog post was the 1980 History of Boston Normal School – Teachers College, 1852-1952 by Elizabeth D. Flynn, which we have in our digital collections. Flynn was once herself a student of Boston Normal School and created this text as an effort to preserve the school’s story. If you are at all interested in the history of teacher training in the United States or the Normal School itself, Flynn’s work is a fascinating read. 

The quote in the title of this blog post is taken from the article “How Vivid the Memories,” by Lillian Towne, Normal School class of 1885, in the Centennial issue of The Torch, a Normal School publication. Her article is quoted in Elizabeth Flynn’s book on page twenty-seven.

All images shared here are courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: Boston State College collection.

Documenting the UMass Boston Community’s Response to COVID-19

University Archives and Special Collections at UMass Boston is interested in collecting the personal stories, photographs, videos, recordings, and other materials that reflect your experiences during the COVID-19 crisis.

How has life changed for you as a student, as a staff member, or as a member of the faculty? How are you staying connected to the people in your life and to others at UMass Boston during this period of social/physical distancing? What do you want people in the years to come to understand or know about this time period? In addition to the experiences of students, faculty, and staff, we want to hear from alumni and members of the larger UMass Boston community as well.

Examples of contributions to this project include (but are not limited to):

  • A reflective essay on your experience that you wrote for a class
  • Curricular materials that you created for a class that you are now teaching online
  • A photograph of your at-home workspace
  • An audio or video recording of an interview conducted with a family member
  • An original work of art
  • A poem or short story
  • A link to a blog post or social media content that you created

Contribute to the project here.

If you have any questions about this project, please email

Take care, stay safe, and we hope to see you on campus again very soon.

Due to COVID-19, the Healey Library building and the Archives Research Room will be closed until further notice. University Archives and Special Collections staff are working remotely, however, and are available to help. Click here for updates and additional information.