Standing Our Ground and Transforming a City: Event and collecting area document history of housing and community activism in Boston

University Archives and Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston is publishing the below essay, written by Judy Branfman around 1989, to both announce the launch of new digital collection area and to promote Transforming a City: Honoring Boston’s Visionaries, an event being held on Saturday, October 19, that will bring people together from all over Boston to celebrate the lives and legacy of community activists Mel King and Chuck Turner.

Screenshot from the title screen for the Standing Our Ground slideshow

View the “Standing Our Ground” slideshow, narrative, and transcription.

 

The new digital collection area is inspired by (and named after) Standing Our Ground, the important slideshow that was directed by filmmaker Judy Branfman and produced by Branfman and UMass Boston Professor Emerita Marie Kennedy to explore Boston’s rich and creative history of neighborhood struggles over land control and development, and the growth of empowerment and local control. The only item in the collection at this point is the Standing Our Ground film, but we expect to post more materials to the site soon, including interviews, videos of public meetings, and other recordings from the 1970s and 1980s related to Tent City activism in Boston’s South End. Explore this digital collection area and view Standing Our Ground.

University Archives and Special Collections holds a range of materials that help to document the history of housing, community development, and land use and planning activism in Boston. This digital collection will provide researchers and community members with access to unique archival materials related to this history.



Standing Our Ground: Community Media and the History of Neighborhood Control of Development in Boston

Guest essay by Judy Branfman
Note: This essay about Standing Our Ground and Branfman’s work with the Coalition for Community Control of Development was originally written around 1989.

“You’ve got to fight or you don’t get anywhere. If you fight for something you believe is right, then fight for it! Don’t sit back and say, ‘Oh, I could have done it, but now it’s too late.’ You gotta do it. You can win or you can lose, but at least you tried.”
-Anna DeFronzo, East Boston community activist

Screenshot from the title screen for the Standing Our Ground slideshow

View the “Standing Our Ground” slideshow, narrative, and transcription.

For thousands of Boston residents – especially East Boston residents – Anna DeFronzo’s fighting spirit and history of activism have been an inspiration since the early 1960s (Anna DeFronzo died in 1998). At the same time that Anna and her neighbors were struggling to stop Logan Airport’s expansion into their East Boston neighborhoods, similar struggles were taking place in other parts of Boston, particularly where Urban Renewal plans were taking a heavy toll. In those areas as well, particularly the South End area, committed activists and creative struggles evolved and broke new ground for people in communities seeking to have some control in shaping their lives and surroundings.

The same issues that in the 1960s and ‘70s brought whole communities into the streets and meeting rooms – demolition of neighborhoods and destruction of communities, racism, the pursuit of community-based development, etc. – have continued, often in more sophisticated forms, to be crucial and largely unresolved issues for Boston residents. But through the years, activists from Boston’s many and extremely diverse neighborhoods have built on each other’s work. And over the last couple of years neighborhood activists and groups have begun to come together to share their knowledge and struggles – and attempt to develop strategies for working together on common issues. The Coalition for Community Control of Development (CCCD) is one outcome of this coming together – a growing coalition of over 25 neighborhood organizations from across the city. CCCD is working on both legislative and grassroots initiatives in order to strengthen the voices of Boston’s neighborhoods.

I became involved with CCCD in 1988 because of my interest in working with that broad coalition working to address community development issues. My experience working in the neighborhood group in my isolated and gentrifying area taught me that we could never fully accomplish our goals working on our own in deeply divided and politicized Boston. Also as an activist artist and educator, I had a strong interest in developing some kind of artistic collaboration that could further the community control work.

What emerged after several discussions was the idea of developing a slide show that would look at the past and present of the struggle for community control of development, drawing on the voices and stories of activists who had helped shape those struggles.

The project in part emerged out of – and merged with – a series of neighborhood oral histories being collected by Rainbow Coalition members and urban planner Marie Kennedy for a large historical exhibition honoring South End activist Mel King on his 60th birthday. The slide show process began with a letter that was sent out to more than 500 neighborhood groups and activists inviting their participation – and to date has involved artists with a variety of skills, planners, historians, educators, activists, and donations of numerous services.

Visual images are powerful and evocative tools, although they are often left behind by organizers and educators, often for understandable reasons. In the case of “Standing Our Ground,” the real strength, along with the organizing process itself, lies in the images combined with stories heard in the activists’ own voices.

The goals of the project have been: to develop a process, educational in itself, which would bring people together to share their stories (15 voices are heard in the show) and participate in developing the slide show; to pass on a history that in reality is little known – and that can be seen within the context of growing community empowerment; and to develop an educational program that raises relevant questions for use by CCCD and other groups and institutions. Another hope was to try and place land control struggles – and the idea of community development – within the realm of people’s everyday experience, and try and look at the relationship between the two.

As Chuck Turner, Director of the Center for Community Action in Roxbury, says in “Standing Our Ground,” “The question is, how does community development enhance human development? Does the building of a new structure necessarily contribute to people’s feeling a renewed confidence in their own ability and creative potential and future in their neighborhood?”

Note: This essay about Standing Our Ground and Branfman’s work with the Coalition for Community Control of Development was originally written around 1989.


 

Image of Mel King and Chuck Turner, used for eventLearn more about Transforming a City: Honoring Boston’s Visionaries, an event being held on Saturday, October 19, that will bring people together from all over Boston to celebrate the lives and legacy of Mel King and Chuck Turner. Reserve tickets here.



About Judy Branfman

Judy Branfman, Research Affiliate with the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, is a documentary filmmaker, activist, and independent scholar based in Los Angeles. She is working on a documentary, The Land of Orange Groves & Jails, and book on the precedent-setting court case, Stromberg v California. Since 1980 Judy has worked with non-profit organizations, cultural projects, labor unions, and municipalities doing outreach and education, media, and project development and coordination. She has taught Los Angeles history courses at UCLA – and produced large community-based events focusing on LA’s multi-ethnic, labor history.



University Archives and Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives and Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives and Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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UMass Boston Interim Dean of Libraries Joanne Riley receives 2019 Bay State Legacy Award

Portrait photograph of Joanne RileyUniversity Archives & Special Collections in the Healey Library is so proud to announce that the Massachusetts History Alliance‘s 2019 Bay State Legacy Award is being presented to our colleague Joanne Riley, Interim Dean of University Libraries at UMass Boston, for her dedication to preserving and interpreting Massachusetts history through her early and ground-breaking involvement in digital humanities work. The Bay State Legacy Award goes to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the interpretation and presentation of Massachusetts history.

Joanne’s efforts to preserve Massachusetts history began in 1998 when she joined the Massachusetts Studies Project, founded by her mentor Barbara (Bobby) Robinson to empower educators to help their students situate themselves within their local communities. Joanne went on to develop the Massachusetts Studies Network in 2007, which provided an “online social network specifically for those who are involved in local studies in Massachusetts” – several years before platforms like Facebook became widely used by the general public.

Joanne is most-frequently associated with the Mass. Memories Road Show, an event-based public history project she launched in 2004 that digitizes family photos and memories shared by the people of Massachusetts. The Road Show, which has been recognized as a trailblazer in participatory and community archiving, has preserved 11,000 photographs and stories from more than 75 Massachusetts communities and has engaged hundreds of volunteers and contributors across the Commonwealth.

Currently, Joanne leads the 1919 Boston Police Strike Project, working with the Boston Police Department Archives, UMass Boston colleagues and community volunteers to research the 1,100+ policemen who participated in that historic event. Joanne is training volunteers to research the strikers’ lives and is developing a publicly-accessible database to store and share the researched data. She co-developed a free, online course on how to conduct accurate biographical research using open resources, and for the strike’s centennial this year, she is spearheading the coordination of a community celebration honoring the strikers, their descendants, and the project volunteers.

As University Archivist and Curator of Special Collections at UMass Boston (2011-2017), Joanne oversaw unprecedented growth of the department, bolstering the department’s mission to document the social and cultural history of Boston. In her current role as Interim Dean of University Libraries, she serves as a teacher, mentor, and leader to 25+ staff.

The award will be formally presented on Monday, June 24 at the Massachusetts History Conference at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. Click here to learn more about the conference.

Massachusetts History Alliance Logo

Learn more about the Massachusetts History Alliance.

About the Bay State Legacy Award

For many years, the Bay State Historical League presented the John F. Ayer Award in recognition of an individual’s contributions to the interpretation and presentation of Massachusetts history. After 101 years of service, the BSHL dissolved in 2005, at which time the Massachusetts History Conference planning committee decided to continue this recognition of an individual’s contribution to Massachusetts history by inaugurating the Bay State Legacy Award.

 

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Jack Robichau reflects on his experience as an Archives Assistant

Guest post by Jack Robichau, Archives Assistant in University Archives and Special Collections

A nineteenth-century bound volume tied with archival string sits on a wooden table with a green desk lamp.

Healey Library’s Archives Research Room. Photo courtesy of Jack Robichau.

When I was a student looking for positions around campus, I came across a role in the Archives Research Room and thought it sounded really interesting. Since working with everyone in the University Archives and Special Collections, I have gained a whole new perspective and appreciation for the work that everyone does here. As a student, I had been in the Healey Library many times before but didn’t really know much about the Archives.

Since I was not coming from an archival background and most of what I would be doing was all new to me, I didn’t really know what to expect coming in. When I saw an opening for a position in the Research Room, I was picturing something like out of a movie with old documents scattered everywhere. But as I started to learn more about why archives exist, how materials are processed and preserved, and everything that goes into archival work, I learned a lot more than I was expecting. As an Archives Assistant, I helped with the daily operations of the Research Room as well as ongoing and long-term projects related to the Archives.

One such project is the Mass. Memories Road Show, which I was lucky enough to attend in person on occasion as well as contributing to the processing and data entry to help put the Road Show’s contents on our digital collections website. I got to sit down and hear stories and look at amazing photographs and documents while speaking to people I’d never get a chance to meet otherwise. In the “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” hip-hop Road Show about the history of rap and hip-hop in Boston, I got to hear people’s stories about a past moment in Boston’s history and see people reminiscing and sharing their memories. Seeing everyone coming in with photographs, flyers, CDs, vinyl records, t-shirts, and everything else people brought in was so rewarding and I’m thankful I got the opportunity to experience it.

I would like to thank everyone in the Archives team for all the work you’ve done and the help you have given along the way. I gained a whole new perspective on the importance of archival work and saw the commitment and passion for preserving special collections, donations, and unique one-of-a-kind materials from everyone here and that’s something special to experience. I’m going to miss my work here, and although I am graduating and moving onto other things, I’m leaving here with plenty of takeaways and experiences I’ll always cherish.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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Join us on Saturday, May 25 for a Hip-Hop Dance Jam at the Codman Square Branch of the BPL

Flyer for BPL HIPHOP DANCE JAM event at the Codman Square branch of the Boston Public LibraryWhat: BPL Hip-Hop Dance Jam

When: Saturday, May 25, 2019 | 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Where: Codman Square Branch of the Boston Public Library, 690 Washington Street, Dorchester, MA 02124

Click here for directions.

Boston Public Library, UMass Boston, and members of the hip-hop community invite hip-hop enthusiasts of all ages to attend a free event at the Codman Square Branch of the Boston Public Library on Saturday, May 25, from 1:00-4:00 p.m.

“BPL Hip-Hop Dance Jam” is the third in a series of hip-hop programs to take place as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This program will focus on and celebrate the dance element of hip-hop, including demonstrations, narration, and a dance competition featuring local dancers. The event is hosted by Dash Boogy with music by DJ Flyte. The “Freshest Dancer” will take home $400 in prize money. All levels of dancers are welcome.

Learn more about this event here, and let us know on Facebook if you’re planning to join us. Read more about past programs in this series here.

Logo for National Endownment for the Humanities

This event is presented in partnership through Boston Public Library and the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston, and made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this program do not necessarily express those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives and Special Collections is working to expand its collections related to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts and welcomes donations of archival materials from musicians, DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, producers, promoters, and fans that will help document the area’s rich heritage and legacy of hip-hop culture. Click here to learn more about what we collect. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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“Bless you for guaranteeing survival / Of poem after poem. In a home archival”: Remembering Duncan Nelson

Professor Duncan Nelson sits with a bunch of light pink carnations, holding one in his hand.

Professor Duncan Nelson handing out carnations at the 1996 Commencement.

Describing his career in 2015, UMass Boston’s Professor Duncan Nelson said: “I’m in the English department. I’ve been here since 1967. I came from two years at Harvard, three years at MIT, and then came home. This is the greatest school I could ever want to teach at.” Professor Nelson earned his BA at Wesleyan University in 1952 and his PhD at Harvard University in 1964. One of UMass Boston’s earliest faculty members, he taught at the university until his retirement in 2016. Professor Nelson passed away on December 20, 2018.

Known as UMass Boston’s “Poet Laureate,” Professor Nelson wrote more than 1,000 odes commemorating university events, such as building groundbreakings and openings, commencement breakfasts, chancellor farewell parties, and Years of Service galas, which he often wrote and delivered on the spot. Professor Nelson appeared on the cover of Lux, UMass Boston’s student magazine, in 2008. In 2010, he received the university’s Shining Beacon Award.

In 2015, Professor Nelson participated in the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show, where he delivered one of his most well-loved pieces, “Butterfly Poem”:

Duncan Nelson at the UMass Boston Mass. Memories Road Show: Video Interview from UMass Boston Archives on Vimeo.

In 2017, Professor Nelson and his family began the process of transferring his large body of odes to University Archives and Special Collections, where they will be preserved and made available for research. He even wrote an ode in honor of the transfer:

Bless you for guaranteeing survival
Of poem after poem. In a home archival
We’ll amass hordes of odes — full of adjectival
And adverbial tropes — that I trust have no rival
In terms of both volume and traces of wit
That match with what Swift, Pope, and Dryden hath writ!

Professor Duncan Nelson stands on a chair and recites an ode at the 1999 Years of Service event.

Professor Duncan Nelson reciting a poem at the 1999 Years of Service event.

Contact library.archives@umb.edu for more information about Professor Nelson’s collection. View digitized historic university photographs of Professor Nelson, his contributions to the Mass. Memories Road Show, or a video of his ode “UMass Boston Runs on Duncan (Nelson).” You can also listen to and read a transcription of a 1998 oral history interview with Professor Nelson.

An integral part of UMass Boston’s history, Professor Nelson was beloved on this campus for many years. He will be greatly missed.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston collects materials related to the university’s history, as well as materials that reflect the institution’s urban mission and strong support of community service, notably in collections of records of urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities.

University Archives & Special Collections welcomes inquiries from individuals, organizations, and businesses interested in donating materials of an archival nature that that fit within our collecting policy. These include manuscripts, documents, organizational archives, collections of photographs, unique publications, and audio and video media. For more information about donating to University Archives & Special Collections, click here or email library.archives@umb.edu.

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