Education in Boston's Black Elite (1860-1990)

Boston’s Black Elite
• Responsible to lift all of black society.
• The black upper class was mostly entrepreneurs in the 1940’s. Whites were more accepting about buying from their businesses, than in the South.
• Adelaide Cromwell, a scholar of Boston’s black upper class, discusses the notion that “within the minority group, the upper class assumes critical importance: It functions simultaneously to link the two class pyramids and to manifest maximum group potential within the minority structure.”
• In Dorothy West’s novel The Living is Easy, she focuses on social class and gives an insight on black professionals in Boston. As a black person, Boston offered more freedom in the fields of business, education, and medicine, rather than in the South. Boston’s black elite becomes more divided when the city’s population is increased with white immigrants; many Jewish, Irish, or southern blacks.
• Frederick Douglass : “If there is no struggle, there is no process. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters”


Boston Black Elite Members

George Lewis Ruffin (1834 - 1886)
George Lewis Ruffin was the first African-American to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1869. He later served as a Massachusetts state legislature as a Republican (1869-71), in the Boston City Council (1876-78) and as Boston’s first black municipal judge. Education was always very significant to Ruffin, and being raised by free black parents, he had the privilege of being educated in Boston public schools. Ruffin was good friends with Frederick Douglass. During the civil war, Ruffin assisted to recruit black soldiers into the Massachusetts 54th and 55th regiments of the Union Army. In 1984, The Justice George Lewis Ruffin Society was established. The society was created to support minority professionals in the Massachusetts criminal justice system.

William Monroe Trotter (1872 –1934)
William Monroe Trotter was known as a Boston newspaper editor, businessman and an activist for African-American civil rights. He was a graduate from Harvard University.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868 –1963)
"W. E. B." Du Bois was a sociologist, historian, civil rights activist, and author. He went to Fisk University, University of Berlin, and Harvard University, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate. Du Bois used the term "the talented tenth" to describe the likelihood of one in ten black men becoming leaders of their race in the world, proposed through methods such as continuing their education, writing books, or becoming directly involved in social change: “Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools — intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it — this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life.”

Elma Ina Lewis (1921 –2004)
Lewis was an American arts educator and the founder of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and The Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. She was one of the first recipients of a MacArthur Fellows Grant, in 1981, and received a Presidential Medal for the Arts by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.




  1. Cromwell, Adelaide M. The Negro Upper Class in Boston - Its Development and Present Social Structure. Cambridge, MA: n.p., 1952. Print.
  2. Gatewood, Willard B. Aristocrats of Color: The Black Elite, 1880-1920. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. Print.
  3. Horton, James Oliver., and Lois E. Horton. Black Bostonians: Family Life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1979. Print.
  4. Washington, Booker T. The Story of the Negro; the Rise of the Race from Slavery. New York: Negro Universities, 1969. Print.
  5. West, Dorothy. The Living Is Easy. Old Westbury, NY: Feminist, 1982. Print.