Black History Month: Massachusetts Hip-Hop, Lecco’s Lemma, and Dance Slam

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Photograph of cassette tape with Lecco's Lemma written on it in marker

Cassette recording of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma radio show from August 8, 1987

One of our most significant digital collections is the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive. This archive is mostly made up of digitized audiocassettes from the Magnus Johnstone and Willie Alexander: Lecco’s Lemma collection, though there are a number of materials currently being processed, including recordings, photographs, videos, and interviews. The first set of audiocassettes in the Lecco’s Lemma collection, originally held by Magnus Johnstone, was donated to us by UMass Boston professor Pacey Foster in 2015. The second set was donated by Willie Alexander in 2016. These audiocassettes feature mixtapes and recordings of the Lecco’s Lemma radio program, a show that ran from 1985-1988 first on MIT’s WMBR (88.1 FM) and later on Boston College’s WZBC (90.3 FM).

Image of the side of a cassette tape with writing in marker

Cassette recording of Magnus Johnstone’s Lecco’s Lemma radio show from March 8, 1986

Lecco’s Lemma was hosted by Magnus Johnstone and featured music that wasn’t usually played by mainstream radio stations at the time. This included new, interesting, and undiscovered artists, rap music, and local groups. Johnstone would accept demos from Boston-area artists and play them on air. He would even ask these groups to play live performances on his show.

Over the three years he taped, Johnstone collected about 300 mixtapes from local artists, which are now part of our collection. The rest of the audiocassettes in the collection are recordings of the actual Lecco’s Lemma shows, taped by Boston’s “Godfather of Punk,” Willie “Loco” Alexander, on his home boombox. These tapes include ephemera like j-cards, notes, photographs, and lists of artists and songs.

The online collection of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive also includes a video recording of “Boston’s first black dance-music-video television show,” Dance Slam, from the Tony Rose and Yvonne Rose collection. We are currently building the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and welcome donations from graffiti artists, producers, promoters, musicians, DJs, break-dancers, and fans so we can further document and preserve the vibrant hip-hop culture of our area. If you have original and unique materials related to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts that you think should become part of the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, you can contact one of our archivists by emailing library.archives@umb.edu.

To see more from our Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and listen to Johnstone’s and Alexander’s tapes, check out our digital collection. If you’d like to learn more about Magnus Johnstone, Willie Alexander, and Lecco’s Lemma, be sure to look at their collection’s finding aid.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

Bookmark and Share

Black History Month: Robert C. Hayden Oral History Collection

Author: Maci Mark, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the Public History MA Program at UMass Boston

Happy Black History Month! Black History Month is celebrated during the month of February every year as a way of celebrating important people and events from across the African diaspora. Here at UMass Boston, we have many collections about the Black history of Boston and our campus. Over the course of the month, we will be highlighting some of these collections and stories.

Image of a white sheet of paper with typed text on it. It is a transcription of Robert C Hayden’s interview with Adolphus Bollock.

Transcript of an interview with Adolphus G. Bullock, circa 1988-1989

The Robert C. Hayden: Transcripts of Oral History Interviews with Boston African American Railroad Workers collection highlights some unique Boston history. This collection is made up of 27 oral histories that Robert C. Hayden conducted with retired Boston African American railroad workers. These oral histories show the livelihoods of these men and women who worked on the railroads, the opportunities the work gave them, and what their lives looked like in the 1920s/1930s as Black people in Boston.

In the 1920s/1930s Boston was an important destination for African Americans moving northward from the South. This move was part of the Great Migration and spanned from just after the Civil War all the way through the 1970s. Boston provided employment opportunities, one of them being working on the railroads. The railroad positions were good jobs at the time, as Adolphus Bollock, one of the interviewed railroad workers, discussed how they paid more than the Post Office.

These oral histories were originally conducted as research to support an exhibit being done by Robert C. Hayden and James Green for the Back Bay MBTA Station about A. Philip Randolph and Boston’s African-American Railroad Workers: A Public History Commemoration, Knights of the Rail. The interviews capture the lived experiences of Boston’s African American railroad workers that extend beyond just the railway.

Image of the “Knights of the Rail” exhibit program which depicts photos of railway workers, Phillip Pullman, and more overlaid over text.

A guide to “Knights of the Rail,” an exhibit about A. Philip Randolph and Boston’s African-American railroad workers, 1991

Robert C. Hayden (who recently passed away on January 23, 2022) was one of the most prominent scholars of his time, focusing on the history of Black Bostonians. He worked with UMass Boston professor James Green to develop a permanent exhibit for the Back Bay MBTA Station featuring the African American railroad workers who started the Pullman Union, the first Black union of its kind. These interviews were conducted by Hayden over a two-year time period. James Green was the Head of the History Department at UMass Boston and donated this collection to University Archives and Special Collections in 1992.

To read the transcripts of these oral histories the best place to start is with the finding aid, or you may search for the collection within our Oral History Collections. All the oral histories within the collection have been transcribed and are available as PDFs. 

For more information, please email library.archives@umb.edu.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

Bookmark and Share

In the Archives: William A. Cowles and the Civil War

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Daguerreotype portrait in a gold frame of William Cowles in uniform from the waist up

William A. Cowles in uniform. Sitting recorded in Cowles’ diary: 06/02/1863, New Orleans

If you want to learn more about the Civil War or see some handwritten sheet music from the 1800s, you need look no further than our William A. Cowles papers, 1834-1905. William Cowles was a young man during the Civil War and he served in the Union Army twice with the 42nd Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers. On his first tour, Private Cowles played the French horn in the band of the 42nd Regiment while they were stationed in New Orleans. Later, Cowles served as a corporal in the same regiment. During both of his tours, Cowles had to leave behind his young wife, Josephine Lewis. Luckily, Cowles survived the war and was able to return home to Josephine and father two children.

After Cowles’s and Josephine’s deaths, his papers made their way into the possession of author and historian Anthony Mitchell Sammarco, who donated them to the Healey Library’s University Archives and Special Collections. The digitized part of this collection includes images (such as daguerreotypes and tintypes) of Cowles, Josephine, and at least one of their two daughters. It also consists of war-time documentation like Cowles’s furlough card, discharge papers, and a muster call. In addition, there are obituaries and funeral information for both Cowles and Josephine, Cowles’s medals and ribbons, and his tuning fork. Some of the larger objects in the collection are Cowles’s sewing kit and portable writing desk (which he would have had with him on his tours), his journals documenting his experiences during the war, and his small book of music containing all of the pieces he played while on active duty.

Please feel free to take a moment and “thumb” through the pages of Cowles’s journals and music book. We also have a typed transcript of some of his writing that might be helpful. When you’re ready, you can check out the digital collection and the physical collection’s finding aid.

Bookmark and Share

Community leader Mel King donates papers to the Archives at UMass Boston

The Africana Studies Department and the Joseph P. Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston are pleased to announce the recent acquisition of the Melvin H. King papers, which will be preserved and made publicly available for research by the University Archives and Special Collections Department.

Black and white photograph showing crowd of people on a stage, including Mel King, his daughter Pamela, and his wife Joyce

Mel King (center, with fist raised), with his wife Joyce (to his left) and his daughter Pamela (to his right) on the evening of the Boston mayoral primary in 1983, which King won by 98 votes. October 11, 1983. Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries.

Born in 1928 in Boston’s South End neighborhood to immigrants from Guyana and Barbados, Mel King has had a long and significant career as a political activist and community organizer. He graduated from Boston Technical High School in 1946 and earned a B.S. in mathematics from Claflin College in 1950 and an M.A. in education from Boston State College in 1951. King served as the Director of Boys’ Work at Lincoln House, a settlement house in the South End, and as the Director of the New Urban League of Greater

Boston. In 1968, he organized a “Tent City” demonstration in protest of a planned parking garage in the South End. Twenty years later, in 1988, a housing complex was built on that site and dedicated as Tent City. The Archives in the Healey Library holds the records of the Tent City Corporation, as well as other additional papers related to King’s work and activism.

Image of a flyer for Melvin H. King's campaign for Boston School Committee in 1964 and 1965

Front of flyer for King’s 1964-1965 election campaign for the Boston School Committee (click image for PDF of flyer)

King worked as an Adjunct Professor of Urban Studies at MIT for twenty-five years, where he founded and served as the Director of the Community Fellows Program in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He published a book, Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development, through the South End Press in 1981. King has received honorary doctoral degrees from New England School of Law, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Boston Architectural College, and University of Massachusetts Boston.

King ran for election to the Boston School Committee in 1961, 1963, and 1965, and served as a State Representative in Massachusetts from 1973-1982. In 1983 he was the first Black mayoral candidate in the City of Boston to make it to the General Election. He founded the Rainbow Coalition Party in Massachusetts, which merged with the Massachusetts Green Party to become the Green-Rainbow Party in 2002.

On behalf of the King family, Rep. King’s daughter, Pamela, said: “Melvin H. King, Sr., Joyce King, and family are pleased to donate the papers and works of Melvin H. King, Community Leader, former State Representative and author to the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Healey Library Archive. Mel received his Masters in Mathematics from Boston State Teacher’s College which was incorporated into the UMass Boston system. He also received an Honorary Doctorate at the recommendation of former Chancellor Keith Motley who had requested to have Mr. King’s papers be placed in the archives at the university. We thank the Africana Studies Department and Professor Jemadari Kamara for assisting with the donation and Andrew Elder of the Archives Department for making the transition of materials to the library. We hope the students, faculty and staff will utilize the collection and add to the growing links in the Chain of Change.”

Image of flyer for Mel King's reelection campaign for State Representative

Front of flyer for King’s 1974 reelection campaign for Massachusetts State Representative (click image for PDF of flyer)

“Given UMass Boston’s deep commitment to anti-racism, community engagement and social justice, we are honored to serve as the research home of the Mel King papers,” said Interim Dean of Libraries Joanne Riley. “On behalf of the Healey Library, I would like to express our gratitude to Representative King for donating these materials documenting his phenomenal work and influence, and to his family for helping us organize the smooth transfer of 80 cartons to campus. We are excited about working with faculty and students from Africana Studies and from across campus to prepare the collection to be publicly available for research.”

The Melvin H. King papers comprise 80 boxes of original archival materials documenting King’s lifetime of work as a Boston-based organizer, politician, activist, and educator. Topics include restorative justice, housing, education, agriculture and urban farming, advocacy for formerly incarcerated people, and computer literacy training. Among the materials in the collection are articles, audiovisual materials, books, correspondence, journals and notebooks, magazines, newspapers and newsletters, pamphlets and flyers, photographs and slides, poetry, reports, speeches and campaign materials, and various ephemera. Additional materials related specifically to King’s mayoral campaign in the early 1980s are housed in the Archives at Roxbury Community College.

This acquisition was made possible by Dr. Jemadari Kamara and Dr. Tony Van Der Meer in UMass Boston’s Africana Studies Department.

Color photograph shows King giving a speech in front the Trinity Church in Copley Square.

Boston mayoral candidate Mel King speaking at a rally in Copley Square in October 1983.

For more information about the Melvin H. King papers, including updates on when the collection will be available for research, please visit blogs.umb.edu/archives or contact library.archives@umb.edu.


University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston was established in 1981 as a repository to collect archival material in subject areas of interest to the university, as well as the records of the university itself. The mission and history of UMass Boston guide the collection policies of University Archives & Special Collections, with the university’s urban mission and strong support of community service reflected in the records of and related to urban planning, social welfare, social action, alternative movements, community organizations, war and social consequence, and local history related to neighboring communities. To learn more, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

Bookmark and Share

In the Archives: François Sully and the Vietnam War

Author: Kayla Allen, Archives Assistant and graduate student in the History MA Program at UMass Boston

Black-and-white photo of Francois Sully standing in a foxhole holding his camera

Sully in foxhole at Binh Gia,  January 9, 1965

One of the largest digital photograph collections we have in the University Archives and Special Collections is that of François Sully. Sully was a soldier with the French Army until he was discharged in Saigon in 1947. After he left the French forces, he became a photojournalist and documented the war for news sources including Time and Newsweek. He took photographs of politicians and officers, soldiers and civilians, and villagers and their villages. Many of his photos show the destruction and violence of the long war, while others show people going about their daily lives as best they could. Some of the subjects include religious figures, the aftermath of battles, celebrations such as Tet, ancient monuments and tombs, student protests, and the lives of Europeans in Vietnam. 

Later on, Sully created two publications about the war and the experiences of those that lived through it: Age of the Guerilla: the New Warfare (New York: Parent’s Magazine Press, 1968; reprinted by Avon, 1970) and We the Vietnamese: Voices from Vietnam (New York: Praeger, 1971).

Our digital collection includes more than 1,000 photographs taken by François Sully and his companions. Check it out here, as well as its finding aid. You can also request access to Sully’s written materials by emailing us at library.archives@umb.edu

If you are interested in learning more about the US experience in the Vietnam War, we have several oral histories recorded and transcribed of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients that served in the Army, the Marine Corps, and the Navy at the time. Interviews were conducted by student veterans in Professor Erin Anderson’s course, “Oral Histories and the Veteran Experience.” Three of the interviews, those of Jack H. Jacobs, Harvey C. Barnum Jr., and Thomas G. Kelley, discuss the war in Vietnam. 

Bookmark and Share