Equal School Rights – William Cooper Nell

April 7, 1854

This is an account by Nell of a recent visit to a school in Cambridgeport.  He comments that the colored boys and girls were “not seated in Liberia pews, but classified with those not colored like themselves, and all without the least apparent sign that such a spectacle was otherwise than ordinary.”  He comments that many colored families have moved from Boston to Cambridge, Charlestown, Roxbury, Salem, New Bedford, and other places, “where equal school privileges prevail, rather than submit to the fiat of Colorphobia which School Committees in the Athens of America yet ingloriously thrust upon colored  tax-payers.”  He then recounts the story of the time when, as a student his performance entitled him to a Franklin medal, but he was given a book about the life of Franklin in lieu of the medal. He was not included in a dinner at Faneuil Hall, for the white awardees.  He served as a waiter on this occasion.  At the dinner, the late Hon. Samuel T. Armstrong, who had proclaimed him entitled to the award, whispered to Nell, ‘You ought to be here with the other boys’. Nell says,  “Of course, the same idea had more than once been mine, but his remark, while witnessing the honors awarded the white scholars, only augmented my sensitiveness all the more., by the intuitive inquiry which I eagerly desired to express  –‘If you think so, why have you not taken steps to promote it?'” …He then comments, “the great evil still remains to cripple the energies and repress the hopes of parents and children, to wit, the exclusive colored school system-a system of wrong and outrage, which, though as yet unsuccessfully struggled against, must be prostrated, if truth is to prevail against error.”