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Arlington Celebrates Black History Month

To celebrate Black History Month and the Arlington’s cultural diversity and spirit of inclusivity, the town is posting banners along 16 poles in the center and East Arlington depicting prominent figures in African American history with direct connection to Massachusetts.

From Arlington’s own Prince Hall, the founder of the first African American Masonic group in the United States, to the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at the center of one of the most famous episodes of The Civil War, each banner
will help educate and celebrate the state and local connections to history.

Created by graphic artist Joseph Joey James for the town of Arlington.


The Combahee River Collective was a Black feminist lesbian socialist organization active in Boston from 1974 to 1980. The Collective argued that both the white feminist movement and the Civil Rights Movement were not addressing their particular needs as Black women and, more specifically, as Black lesbians. The Collective are perhaps best known for developing the Combahee River Collective Statement, a key document in the history of contemporary Black feminism and the development of the concepts of identity politics as used among political organizers and social theorists.


Educator and activist Angela Davis (1944-) became known for her involvement in a politically charged murder case in the early 1970s. Influenced by her segregated upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis joined the Black Panthers and an all-black branch of the Communist Party as a young woman. She became a professor at UCLA, but fell out of favor with the administration due to her ties. Davis was charged with aiding the botched escape attempt of imprisoned black radical George Jackson, and served roughly 18 months in jail before her acquittal in 1972. After spending time traveling and lecturing, Davis returned to the classroom as a professor and authored several books. (Source:


Ella Josephine Baker (December 13, 1903 – December 13, 1986) was an African-American civil rights and human rights activist. She was a largely behind-the-scenes organizer whose career spanned more than five decades. In New York City and the South, she worked alongside some of the most noted civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and Martin Luther King Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists, such as Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Rosa Parks, and Bob Moses, whom she first mentored as leaders in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)


Marielle Franco (July 27,1979 – March 14, 2018) was a Brazilian politician, sociologist, feminist, socialist, and human rights activist. After earning a master's degree in public administration from the Fluminense Federal University, she served as a city councillor of the Municipal Chamber of Rio de Janeiro for the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL) from January 2017 until her death.


On 14 March 2018, while in a car after delivering a speech, Franco and her driver were shot multiple times and killed by two murderers in another vehicle, north of Rio de Janeiro. Franco had been an outspoken critic of police brutality and extrajudicial killings,as well as the February 2018 federal intervention by Brazilian president Michel Temer in the state of Rio de Janeiro which resulted in the deployment of the army in police operations. In March 2019, two former police officers were arrested and charged with the murder of Marielle Franco.


Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson (1945-1992) was a Black trans woman who was a force behind the Stonewall Riots and surrounding activism that sparked a new phase of the LGBTQ+ movement in 1969.  Along with Sylvia Rivera, she established the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) in 1970--a group committed to supporting transgender youth experiencing homelessness in New York City. Marsha P. Johnson was tragically murdered on July 6, 1992 at the age of forty-six. Her case was originally closed by the NYPD as an alleged suicide, but transgender activist Mariah Lopez fought for it to be reopened for investigation in 2012. Marsha P. Johnson is now one of the most venerated icons in LGBTQ+ history, has been celebrated in a series of books, documentaries, and films. (Source:


Suzanne Bélair, called Sanité Bélair, (1781 – 5 October 1802), was a female Haitian Freedom fighter and revolutionary, lieutenant in the army of Toussaint Louverture.


Born an affranchi in Verrettes, Haiti, she married Brigade commander and later General Charles Bélair in 1796. She was an active participant in the Haitian Revolution, became a sergeant and later a lieutenant during the conflict with French troops of the Saint-Domingue expedition.


At over six feet tall, Crispus Attucks was the son of a slave and Wampanoag Indian cast a daunting shadow. Today, we remember his name because he was one of the five victims of the 1770 Boston Massacre. Attucks and other townspeople were protesting the British-imposed Townshend Acts faced-off with the Redcoats in a skirmish, he was the first to be fatally shot.


Bostonian, 18th-century abolitionist and free black man recognized for progressive ideals and efforts to gain equality. As a lobbyist for public education, he helped organize a community school in the Beacon Hill home of his son when Hall's petition for equal access was denied. Ultimately, this became the Abiel Smith School, which today houses the Museum of African American History. Hall also influenced his contemporaries into becoming freemasons, a division that still bears his name: Prince Hall Freemasonry.

The Masonic Lodge was founded by Prince Hall in Boston in 1776. In 1864, Grand Master William B. Kendall of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge deeded the Gardner Street parcel he had purchased in 1856 to his lodge’s Masonic Order. Black Americans needed a place to bury their loved ones. The property was to be put in trust to be used exclusively as a Masonic burial ground to be known as Prince Hall Cemetery. Records indicate it was in use until about 1897 when for unknown reasons, it fell into disuse and as time passed it was forgotten.


Phillis Wheatley is notably the first person of African descent to publish poetry in the English language—an incredible feat for the era (1750s-1780s) considering she was both a woman and a slave. Unusually, she received an education in the home of her progressive master when most slaves could neither read nor write. She began scripting poetry while she was still a young girl, publishing her first poem, “On Mssrs. Hunley and Coffin,” in 1767 at the age of 15, and then her first book "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral." It's also interesting to note that the bulk shipment of the book was aboard the Dartmouth from London, the same ship carrying those chests of tea that fate would have floating in the waters of Boston Harbor.


This abolitionist and orator knew the power of words. He traveled across the globe speaking about his experiences as a slave in Baltimore. Douglass began his career in Massachusetts, speaking first at the Massachusetts Antislavery Society’s annual meeting in Nantucket in 1841, shortly after settling in New Bedford. 

Two decades later, he recruited blacks across the Northeast to fight in the Civil War, even enlisting two of his sons in the Massachusetts 54th regiment.


An estimated 5,000 African Americans fought in the American Revolution and the War of 1812,but it wasn’t until 1863 that the U.S. government officially accepted them into service. The North's first all-black volunteer infantry, the 54th Regiment, headed out from Boston under the leadership of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, a 20-something white commander. Hundreds of soldiers of the 54th, including Shaw, were fatally wounded at South Carolina’s Fort Wagner, but all proved their patriotism to their countrymen by fighting with valor and bravery.


Writer, teacher and activist, DuBois lifetime began just after the eradication of slavery and ended during the era of the 1960s civil rights battles. The prolific Great Barrington, Mass., native attended Harvard and became the first African American to earn a Harvard PhD. He also gained recognition for his 1903 book "The Souls of Black Folk" and went on to cofounded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


In 1920, when the 19th Amendment passed and women earned the right to vote in 1920, 24-year-old Cass organized black women to register and encouraged them to express their views. The social activist rallied for racial justice, protesting publicly, working for groups like the NAACP and founding organizations locally like the Freedom House, which took efforts to keep her Roxbury neighborhood clean and safe. From 1962-64, the “First Lady of Roxbury” served as the president of the Boston branch of the NAACP and was also actively involved in the desegregation of Boston schools.

Elma Lewis.jpg

The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts was founded during the 1950s and welcomed black youths to enroll in theater, dance, music and visual arts classes. Two decades later, with a mission to make the arts widely accessible to Boston’s black community, Lewis created The National Center of Afro-American Artists, a complex that joined her school with a newly formed art museum, still in existence today. For her dedication to her heritage, Lewis was awarded 30 honorary doctoral degrees, a Presidential Medal for Art, and was named a MacArthur Fellow as well as a Visionary Elder by the National Visionary Leadership Project.

MLuther king .jpg

King came to Boston in 1951 to earn his Ph.D. in theology at Boston University. There he found a spiritual mentor in Howard Thurman, dean of the school's Marsh Chapel, who exposed King to the philosophy of nonviolence. During his four years in Boston, King met his future wife, Coretta Scott, who was a student at the New England Conservatory of Music.

After he became established as a leader of the civil rights movement, King returned to Boston several times to give speeches, make broadcast appearances, and lead a 1965 march from Roxbury to Boston Common to protest school desegregation. On that same visit, he addressed a joint session of the Massachusetts Legislature. He and his family also sometimes vacationed at Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.


Malcolm X — or Malcolm Little, as he was known in his early life — spent part of his teens and 20s in Roxbury. After being arrested for breaking and entering and larceny, he served out his sentence in a number of Massachusetts jails and prisons, during which time he educated himself using a prison library and first learned about the teachings of the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X later went on to become a regional minister in the Nation of Islam, which included a mosque in Roxbury.


The second African American to graduate from Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Dr. George Franklin Grant was born to former slaves from Oswego, New York. He moved to Boston to continue his studies. Grant was an avid golfer and was the first to patent for the golf tee. Grant is buried at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Arlington, MA.

Maria Baldwin.jpg

Maria Baldwin was born to Haitian immigrants in Cambridge, and became the first black woman in America appointed principal of a predominantly white public school when she headed the Agassiz School in 1889. During the 1890s, black Harvard students, including W.E.B. Du Bois, spent time in Baldwin’s personal library, which included works by writers of African descent from around the world. 

Baldwin helped her friend, the feminist Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin (1842 - 1924) found the National Federation of Afro-American Women in 1895, and co-founded Boston’s League of Women for Community Service in 1919. The Agassiz School was renamed the Maria Baldwin School in 2004.


Sojourner Truth (c.1797 - 1883) was born enslaved in New York. After escaping to freedom with her young daughter in 1826, Truth became one of the most significant and well-known abolitionists of her time.  

A passionate advocate for women's rights and reform, Sojourner Truth moved to Florence, Massachusetts in 1843.


Elizabeth Freeman (1742- 1829), also known as “Mumbet”, “Bet”, and “Mum Bett” was born a slave and sold to the Ashley family in Sheffield Massachusetts as a teenager.. She was one of the first slaves in Massachusetts to sue for her freedom, and win.

In what is known as the Brom and Bett vs. Ashley, Freeman and another slave Brom sued the Ashley family in 1781 in the Court of Common Pleas in Great Barrington for their freedom from the family after being abused by them. Freeman approached her lawyer Theodore Sedgewick because she recognized the implications of Article 1 of the Massachusetts Constitution after hearing it read aloud: “All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights.”

After earning her freedom she worked as a governess for the Sedgewicks before moving into her own house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where she lived as a healer, midwife and nurse before passing in 1829. She is buried in the Stockbridge Cemetery.

Artist Joseph Joey James

Jose is an experienced Graphic Designer from Boston with a BFA in Graphic Design from Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He has over 7 years experience in his field with a passion for all art forms.

Jose's field of expertise is in Logo design, Posters, Flyers, Banners, Business Cards, Brochures, Music Marketing, Magazines and Marketing Presentations. His goal is to bring the customer's vision to full color and life while giving them high quality work with his experience in Graphic Designing.


For more information please visit

With Thanks

Arlington Celebrates Black History Month was brought to you by the Arlington Human Rights Commission and the Town of Arlington. Banners and film selections were made possible by the generosity of our friends and neighbors:

State Senator Cindy Friedman                         The Rotary Club of Arlington                           

State Representative Dave Rodgers                Sweeney & O’Connell Real Estate                   

State Representative Sean Garballey              Regent Theater                                                   

Arlington Police Patrol Officers Association   The DiMeo Family

Arlington Center for the Arts                           The Rogers-Shaller family                 

Arlington Department of Public Works           The Carney Family  

Robbins Library                                                 Artist, Joseph Joey James

Arlington Department of Health and              Black Market Nubian Square 
Human Services                                                54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment

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