At issue in Roberts v. City of Boston (1849) was whether Sarah C. Roberts was unlawfully excluded from public school instruction under an 1845 Massachusetts statute that allowed any child to recover damages based on such exclusion. Roberts is noteworthy because it stands out as the first recorded opinion in the United States to address, and essentially uphold, the concept of “separate but equal.”

Facts of the Case

At the time of the Roberts's suit, the city of Boston was divided into 21 nonterritorial primary school districts. While the city supported and provided instruction to each of the district's several primary schools, two of the primary schools were for the exclusive education of Black students. White students could attend any of the schools and were not required ...

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