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Nell's history on Beacon Hill

William Cooper Nell might not be a common household name, yet he promoted the lives and accomplishments of many African Americans in history. If not for his writings, most notably Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (1855), we may not have known that Crispus Attucks, a black man, was the first to be felled at the beginning of the revolution. Nell’s goal was to show his white contemporaries that black men and women deserved to be free, due in part to many acts of heroism and their willingness to die for the same freedom white men were fighting for.
Born in 1816 in Boston’s Beacon Hill, Nell grew up in Massachusetts where, although not legally abolished, the practice of slavery was all but done away with. However, the prevalence of separatism was still around. Still, Nell began his scholastic career at the African Meeting House where his studies garnered him honors for academic achievements. Yet he was denied the honor of attending the awards ceremony because he was black. Nell refused to let this stop him from going and took a waiter job for that night. Of that moment Nell said “the impression made upon my mind by this day’s experience deepened into a solemn vow, that, God helping me, I would do my best to hasten the day when the color of the skin would be no barrier to equal school rights.”
Writing for The Liberator, Nell was able to do just that. Articles he wrote led to the publishing of Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812 and his aforementioned book. With these books Nell became the first black historian in the United States. He was also heavily involved in the underground railroad movement, helped friend Frederick Douglass recruit free blacks and slaves to the Massachusetts 54th Regiment during the Civil War, and traveled the antislavery circuit in the north. Not only did he record history, William Cooper Nell made history.

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