Birth: June 8, 1823, in Salem, Massachusetts

Death: December 12, 1882 in Boston, Massachusetts

Historical Role/Pertinence: Second African-American Lawyer to practice law in Massachusetts

Born in Salem, MA, Robert Morris was a tireless advocate for the civil rights of African Americans. The second Black lawyer after Macon Bolling Allen to practice law in Massachusetts, he had several passions beyond law and civil rights. Morris was an advocate for the integration of public schools and the military, he challenged housing discrimination, supported expansive voting rights, and pushed for civil and political rights for people of color and women. 

 In the 1848 case, Roberts v. City of Boston, Morris fought for the educational rights of Black children in Salem and Boston by defending Sarah Roberts, a Black child who was not allowed to attend the local elementary school. Morris argued Black children were being denied their right to public education, which was granted under the Massachusetts Constitution. Although Morris did not win the case, his arguments made way for the integration of all public schools in Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Robert Morris then went on to found the Massasoit Guards, an unofficial militia group that served as a form of self-protection for Black communities. Morris petitioned the state officials to recognize the Massasoit Guards officially but his pleas were ignored. Nevertheless, Morris’ militia group offered Black communities security and refuge from racist attacks. Toward the end of his life, Robert Morris moved to Chelsea, Massachusetts, and shifted his focus to fighting housing discrimination in the area.

Associated Exhibits

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Works Cited

Baumgartner, Kabria. “Robert Morris Was A Black Bostonian Who Fought For Freedom. Why Don’t We Have A Statue Of Him?.” WBUR. 9 July 2020. https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2020/07/09/black-bostonians-george-floyd-statue-emancipation-memorial-robert-morris-kabria-baumgartner..

“Robert Morris: Civil Rights Lawyer & Antislavery Activist.” Boston College. 2023. https://www.bc.edu/bc-web/schools/law/sites/students/library/special-collections/robert-morris/morris-and-the-early-civil-rights-movement.html.

“Robert Morris.” National Park Service. 16 January 2023. https://www.nps.gov/people/robert-morris.htm

Wilson, Cynthia. “Robert Morris, Sr.” Blackpast. 25 March 2018. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/morris-robert-sr-1823-1882/.