Roberts v. City of Boston

(1850)

The case of Sarah C. Roberts v. The City of Boston brought the first challenge to segregated schools in the United States. The case was argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Court in December 1849, and the court handed down its decision in April 1850. The case established the principle of “separate but equal” that was used to codify racial segregation in education and other aspects of public life for more than a century. Roberts v. Boston began with a movement to end the practice of separating white and black students in Boston’s primary schools. Although the local body governing public education, the Boston School Committee, designated separate primary schools for African American students, Massachusetts state law did not prohibit integrated schools. In fact, in a number of Massachusetts cities and towns, black and white children attended the same schools.

The first African American school was opened as a private institution by members of Boston’s black community in 1798,...

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Charles Sumner (Library of Congress)

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