March 25, 1845

Legislature Guarantees Access to Public Schools


On this day in 1845, the Massachusetts legislature guaranteed that every child in the state would have access to a public school. One source of pressure on the lawmakers was a petition submitted by a group of black Nantucketers. Accustomed to the relative equality they enjoyed aboard whaling ships, the island's black residents were unwilling to accept inferior segregated schools for their children. Strong Quaker influence caused most white Nantucketers to be sympathetic to abolition, but this did not translate into support for racial equality. On the contrary, a majority of white islanders voted to prohibit school integration. African Americans on Nantucket began a boycott and petition campaign. After a bitter struggle, they succeeded in bringing about the desegregation of the island's public schools.

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