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City of amalgamation: Race, marriage, class and color in Boston, 1890–1930

Zebulon V Miletsky, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation examines the evolution of early race relations in Boston during a period which saw the extinguishing of the progressive abolitionist racial flame and the triumph of Jim Crow in Boston. I argue that this historical moment was a window in which Boston stood at a racial crossroads. The decision to follow the path of disfranchisement of African Americans and racial polarization paved the way for the race relations in Boston we know and recognize today. Documenting the high number of blacks and whites who married in Boston during these years in the face of virulent anti-miscegenation efforts and the context of the intense political fight to keep interracial marriage legal, the dissertation explores the black response to this assault on the dignity and lives of African Americans. At the same time it documents the dilemma that the issue of intermarriage represented for black Bostonians and their leaders. African Americans in Boston cautiously endorsed, but did not actively participate in the Boston N.A.A.C.P.'s campaign against the resurgence of anti-miscegenation laws in the early part of the twentieth century. The lack of direct and substantial participation in this campaign is indicative of the skepticism with which many viewed the largely white organization. Boston, with its substantial Irish population, had a pattern of Irish, and other immigrant women, taking Negro grooms—perhaps because of the proximity within which they often worked and their differing notions about the taboo of race mixing. Boston was, for example, one of the most tolerant large cities in America with regard to interracial unions by 1900. In the period between 1900 and 1904, about 14 out of every 100 Negro grooms took white wives. Furthermore, black and white Bostonians cooperated politically to ensure that intermarriage remained legal throughout the nation.

Subject Area

Black studies|Black history|American history|Ethnic studies

Recommended Citation

Miletsky, Zebulon V, "City of amalgamation: Race, marriage, class and color in Boston, 1890–1930" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3337029.