J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Prince Hall Monument in Cambridge

While I was on Cambridge common looking at trees, I also visited the Prince Hall Monument dedicated in May 2010.

I’d heard about this monument for years because of questions about whether it belonged in Cambridge. Prince Hall lived in Boston, where he was the leader of the African-American community in the years after the Revolution. He delivered a published oration in west Cambridge in 1797, but that part of the town became Arlington. There didn’t seem to be any documented connection between Hall and modern Cambridge.

But when I saw the tall dark gray stones, created by local artist Ted Clausen, I was happily impressed. They stand in a circle, evoking both the feeling of being hemmed in, as early American society hemmed in Hall, and of gathering together for strength.

The text engraved on the stones describes Hall’s life and work, going beyond his role in Freemasonry and avoiding myths that have arisen around him. The stones also touch on other milestones and figures in Massachusetts’s civil rights history.

All in all, this monument makes a better case for being rooted where it is than the nearby plaques honoring Casimir Pulaski and Thaddeus Kosciuszko. Not that those men weren’t important in America’s Revolutionary War, but I don’t think they ever came to Cambridge or lived nearby.

The photograph above was taken by Wally Gobetz, and comes from Flickr under a Creative Commons license.


Magpie Mason said...

Thanks for this. Your photo is the first I've seen of the memorial.


J. L. Bell said...

You can click on the photo above to go to Wally Gobetz’s Flickr collection, which has more images of the monument.

AD said...

Wonderfully evocative:

"They stand in a circle, evoking both the feeling of being hemmed in, as early American society hemmed in Hall, and of gathering together for strength."

Chris Hurley of Woburn said...

I think it proper for both current-day Cambridge and current-day Arlington to claim Prince Hall's oration as part of their history.

Inversely, and to stray off topic, I think it lamentable that the town of Winchester doesn't include its Revolutionary War and War of 1812 soldiers on the Honor Roll in front of its town hall - an action rationalized by the premise that Winchester didn't exist as a distinct political municipality until 1850.