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.

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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.

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In the Archives: A Peek Beneath Boston

Black-and-white photo of workers standing inside Sumner Tunnel

“Shield in Final Position.” Here is the Sumner Tunnel tunneling shield in its final position after breaching the Boston Vent Shaft. Presumably, that means it was all set and ready to start digging under Boston Harbor. These men were standing at the back of the shield. You can see how the tunnel was constructed behind it as the shield moved on.

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

Our Sumner Tunnel collection consists of a fascinating set of photographs and papers. It doesn’t only offer us information about the Sumner Tunnel. It gives us a visual understanding of underground and submarine construction work. It shows us the economics and geography considered in the 1930s improvement of Haymarket Square. It lets us peek at the architecture of Boston at the beginning of the twentieth century. Many of these compelling photographs show us extant and extinct buildings, ranging in location from Haymarket Square up to Clark Street. Other photographs give evidence of the different kinds of supports that buildings and streets needed while the tunnel was being constructed beneath them. Still more show Boston’s streets with a bird’s eye view.

My favorite pieces of the collection show the construction of the tunnel and buildings related to its use. When I started writing this blog post, I had no clue how underwater tunnels were created. Through research, I learned that the Sumner Tunnel was created with something called a tunneling shield. This is a cylindrical piece of machinery inspired by a type of boring worm. Mechanical constructions push the large tube through dirt, soil, or sand and create a pathway. Workers mine the dirt that comes in from the holes in the flat shield at the front of the tube and place supporting structures in the tunnel behind the tube as it moves. Compressed air at the front of the tunneling shield helps to make sure that the tunnel doesn’t collapse (1). With our photograph collection, we get a strong idea of how this worked for the creation of the Sumner Tunnel. We’ve included some photographs of the Sumner tunneling shield at the end of this post.

I was also intrigued by the photographs of the construction of above-ground buildings. Our collection shows the origins of the Traffic Tunnel Administration Building at the very end of the tunnel (where they originally started digging) and the North End Sumner Tunnel Ventilation Building between Clark and Fleet Street. The photographs show the process of constructing the Administration Building and give us a peek at the tunnel’s exit. They also show the tunneling shield entering into a large rectangular concrete vent. After the shield moved on towards the Harbor, workers built a structure over that vent that pumps poisonous air out of the tunnel and fresh air in. This building is still in use today, and you can see it as you walk along North Street. 

Be sure to check out the collection and its finding aid. I’m sure that they will inspire you to learn a little bit more about our incredible city! If you’d like to learn more about the Sumner Tunnel as it is today and its upcoming centennial restoration project, click here.


All images shared here are courtesy of the University Archives and Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: Sumner Tunnel (Boston): construction photographs.

References

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Tunneling shield.” Encyclopedia Britannica, May 11, 2011. https://www.britannica.com/technology/tunneling-shield.

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Marking the 98th anniversary of the 1919 Boston Police Strike

Striking officers

Four of the more than 1,100 men who went out on strike on September 9, 1919. (Source: Tappen, G. Arthur. The officers and the men, the stations without and within of the Boston Police (1901))

This week, on September 9, 2017, marks the 98th anniversary of the 1919 Boston Police Strike—just two years away from the centennial when the University of Massachusetts Boston and the Boston Police Department Archives plan to have compiled a biographical encyclopedia documenting each of the more than 1,100 police officers who went out on strike. Toward this goal, community volunteers have already made great progress with researching each man’s story.

What was the 1919 Boston Police Strike all about and how should Bostonians plan for its commemoration in 2019? At UMass Boston this semester, students in my History 620 Introduction to Public History and Public Memory course will explore these questions and more. As the students learn about how the past is remembered and interpreted outside of the classroom, they will have opportunities to tackle this tangible public history challenge. One of the students’ major assignments will be to develop ideas for museum exhibits, websites, and site-based programs for engaging public audiences in thinking about the strike and its significance from many perspectives.

At the first class meeting this week, students learned from project partners Joanne Riley, Interim Dean of University Libraries at UMass Boston, and Margaret Sullivan, Boston Police Department Archivist, about the research that is underway and the plans for ongoing engagement of “citizen researchers” over the course of the next two years. In addition, the students discussed one of the major published works on the subject, Francis Russell’s A City in Terror (1975), and identified the larger issues raised by this historical event and why it is important to remember today.

Questions about the course may be posted here or directed to carolyn.goldstein@umb.edu.

Interested in getting involved or learning more about the history of the 1919 Boston Police Strike? Please visit the 1919 Boston Police Strike Project blog at http://blogs.umb.edu/bpstrike1919.

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Allston Brighton Mass. Memories Road Show collection now available

This is an annual spring clean-up of the Penniman Road Community Garden in Union Square. It was a former paved parking lot, converted into a community garden by the Allston Brighton Community Development Corp. in 1985, and contains 28 plots gardened by Boston residents. Gardeners reflect the diversity of the Allston community. Contributor: Robert J. Pessek.

This is an annual spring clean-up of the Penniman Road Community Garden in Union Square, 2012. It was a former paved parking lot, converted into a community garden by the Allston Brighton Community Development Corp. in 1985, and contains 28 plots gardened by Boston residents. Gardeners reflect the diversity of the Allston community. Contributor: Robert J. Pessek.

The images, stories, and video interviews gathered at the Allston Brighton Mass. Memories Road Show on October 26, 2014 are now available for research.

Held at the Veronica B. Smith Multi-Service Senior Center, the event was organized by the Brighton-Allston Historical Society, Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation, Allston Village Main Streets, Boston Public Library Faneuil Branch, and Brighton Main Streets. Two dozen local volunteers collaborated with a team of UMass Boston staff members and “Roadies” from past Mass. Memories Road Shows to welcome adults and children with connections to the Boston neighborhood.

Some of the 1956 graduating girls of St. Columbkille High School. Soon to graduate, we were allowed to go off campus for lunch. This photo was in front of Fitzie's Diner (now Citizen's Bank) in Brighton Center. Contributor: Anne Mahoney.

Some of the 1956 graduating girls of St. Columbkille High School. Soon to graduate, we were allowed to go off campus for lunch. This photo was in front of Fitzie’s Diner (now Citizen’s Bank) in Brighton Center. Contributor: Anne Mahoney.

Approximately 80 individuals contributed nearly 150 photographs documenting personal memories of friends and relatives in Allston, Brighton, and beyond. A large number of contributors shared photographs of themselves and their relatives relaxing at home and attending informal family gatherings and milestone events. The collection also includes images documenting graduation ceremonies, sports competitions, and musical performances.

Many photographs and stories portray residents at work enhancing the quality of life in a changing Boston neighborhood: preserving and renovating historic structures, eliminating invasive plants from Chandler Pond, and campaigning to save the local library. Contributors further shared memories and images of school days, the transportation system, and local businesses.

20 years later my first community involvement in Brighton was working to save this school, which led to my current involvement with many Allston-Brighton civic groups. Contributor: Charlie Vasiliades

Me in Oak Square, first grade, 1964. Twenty years later my first community involvement in Brighton was working to save this school, which led to my current involvement with many Allston-Brighton civic groups. Contributor: Charlie Vasiliades.

Browse the Allston Brighton Mass. Memories Road Show collection.


The Mass. Memories Road Show is a statewide digital history project that documents people, places and events in Massachusetts history through family photographs and stories. In partnership with teams of local volunteers, we organize public events to scan family and community photographs and videotape “the stories behind the photos.” The images and videos are indexed and incorporated into an online educational database. Since its launch, the project has gathered more than 8,000 photographs and stories from across the state. It is supported in part by the Patricia C. Flaherty ’81 Endowed Fund at UMass Boston.  

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 action, alternative movements, community organizations, and local history related to neighboring communities, including the Boston Harbor Islands. To learn more about University Archives & Special Collections, visit blogs.umb.edu/archives.

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