In 1787, Prince Hall petitioned the Massachusetts legislature for Black access to the public school system, but was denied. Eleven years later, after petitions by the Black parents for separate schools were also denied, Black parents organized a community school in the home Primus Hall at the corner of West Cedar and Revere streets on Beacon Hill. In 1808, the school operating out of the Hall home was moved to the African Meeting House basement. This school was a grammar school; the City established two primary schools for Black children in the 1820s.
The Abiel Smith School was constructed in 1834; dedicated in 1835. Abiel Smith was a white businessman who left a legacy to the City of Boston for the education of black children. The Smith School was a grammar and primary school. It replaced the Meeting House School and served Black children all over the city.
Over the years the school underwent numerous changes due to controversies of the eras. In the fall of 1855, the Smith School was closed, and Black children were permitted to attend the public schools closest to their homes. In 1887 it became the headquarters for the organization of Black Civil War Veterans.