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date: 30 March 2020

Nell, William Cooper locked

(20 Dec. 1816–25 May 1874),
  • Roy E. Finkenbine


abolitionist and historian, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of William Guion Nell, a tailor, and Louisa (maiden name unknown). His father, a prominent figure in the small but influential African American community in Boston's West End during the 1820s, was a next-door neighbor and close associate of the controversial black abolitionist David Walker. Nell studied at the all-black Smith School, which met in the basement of Boston's African Meeting House. Although he was an excellent student, in 1829 he was denied honors given to outstanding pupils by the local school board because of his race. This and similar humiliations prompted him to dedicate his life to eliminating racial barriers. To better accomplish that task, Nell read law in the office of the local abolitionist William I. Bowditch in the early 1830s Although he never practiced his legal skills and knowledge proved valuable in the ...

A version of this article originally appeared in African American National Biography.

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