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Abstract

Like most nineteenth-century residents of Boston, blacks worked hard to maintain their homes and families. Even before the Civil War, both enslaved and free blacks in "freedom's birthplace" worked long and arduous hours. Those who migrated to Boston from the South in the 1800s had come to secure higher wages, mobility, and opportunity for themselves and their families. Boston's black population grew from 2,000 in 1850 to 8,125 in 1890, and to 11,591 by 1900. In 1900, 39 percent of black Bostonians were northern-born (New England, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania), and 53 percent were southern-born.

Residential segregation for nineteenth-century blacks in Boston was almost absolute. In fact, according to some accounts, Boston was the most segregated northern city in 1850, and by the late 1800s, ghetto conditions had increased. In 1890, only about 5 percent of black families owned a house, and expenditure of "hard-earned" money for rent left many black long-term workers poor in old age.

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