In the 1840s Benjamin Roberts of Boston began a legal campaign to enroll his five-year-old daughter, Sarah, in a nearby school for whites. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ultimately ruled that local elected officials had the authority to control local schools and that separate schools did not violate black students’ rights. The decision was cited over and over again in later cases to justify segregation.
Black parents in Boston, however, refused to accept defeat. They organized a school boycott and statewide protests. Robert Morris was one of the country’s first African American attorneys, and Charles Sumner was a leading abolitionist lawyer. They represented the Roberts family in their suit and in 1855 the Massachusetts legislature passed the country’s first law prohibiting school segregation.
"Massachusetts thus became one of the first states with legally mandated school integration, long before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision."
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