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History of African Americans in Boston

Until 1950, African Americans were a small but historically important minority in Boston, where the population was overwhelmingly white. Since then, Boston"s demographics have changed due to factors such as immigration, white flight, and gentrification. According to census information for 2010-2014, an estimated 180,657 people in Boston (28.2% of Boston"s population) are Black/African American, either alone or in combination with another race. Despite being in the minority, and despite having faced housing, educational, and other discrimination, African Americans in Boston have made significant contributions in the arts, politics, and business since colonial times.

In 1638, a number of African Americans arrived in Boston as slaves on the ship Desiré from New Providence Island in the Bahamas. They were the first black people in Boston on record; others may have arrived earlier.[1]

The first black landowner in Boston was Bostian Ken, who purchased a house and four acres in Dorchester in 1656. (Dorchester was annexed to Boston in 1870).[2] A former slave, Ken bought his own freedom, but was not necessarily a freeman with the right to vote. For humanitarian reasons he mortgaged his house and land to free another slave, making him technically the first African American to "purchase" a slave.[3] Zipporah Potter Atkins bought land in 1670, on the edge of what is now the North End.

A small community of free African Americans lived at the base of Copp"s Hill from the 17th to the 19th century. Members of this community were buried in the Copp"s Hill Burying Ground, where a few remaining headstones can still be seen today. The community was served by the First Baptist Church.[4] In 1720, an estimated 2,000 African Americans lived in Boston.[5]

In 1767, the 15-year-old Phyllis Wheatley published her first poem, "On Messrs. Hussey and Coffin", in the Newport Mercury. It was the first poem published in the Colonies by an African American. Wheatley was a slave from Senegal who lived in the home of Susanna Wheatley on King

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