In the Archives: Massachusetts Rock Against Racism – Antiracism in the ‘80s

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

Mass. RAR, Inc.: The First 5 Years, 1985 February 19. This video is an excellent summary of the work that Rock Against Racism did from 1979 to 1985. It shows news clips, different RAR performances, and interviews with RAR leaders, including Reebee Garofalo, Fran Smith, Mackie McLeod, and student leader/producer Trae Myers. Some of the clips also include footage from “But Can You Dance to It?,” recordings from break dance crew performances, and sections from a remake of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video.

One of our digital video collections is from a group called Massachusetts Rock Against Racism (RAR). Back in the late 1970s and 1980s, this organization formed in order to address racism in the Boston community. Founders and leaders from RAR felt that popular music could transcend boundaries and bring people together, no matter how different these people were. Adults formed the organization and then brought it to Boston youth, specifically high school students. They held festivals where students and adults performed all kinds of music including rap, reggae, rock, and Latin. The festivals also featured break dancing and speeches from local officials and activists, including Mel King. In addition to these concerts, RAR worked with students to create variety shows at their schools and to script and produce a TV show called Living in a Rainbow World. RAR broadcast all of these shows. The leaders of the organization hoped that not only would students get to express themselves and reach across racial divides in the program, but they could also gain valuable workforce skills by being actively involved in the production and broadcasting of their work.

Footage used in Madison Park Rocks, English High All the Way Live, and the Jeremiah E. Burke Jam, 1984 March 18. Here are clips from three of the Rock Against Racism productions in Boston high schools. These include news clips with people like Donna Summers as well as a diverse group of students dancing, rapping, and singing.

In our collection we have final and unedited footage of these broadcasts, including several episodes of Living in a Rainbow World, three of the RAR Youth Cultural Festivals in Jamaica Plain and elsewhere in Boston, and variety shows from different Boston high schools. In addition, we have digital video of interviews with the leaders of RAR such as Reebee Garofalo, Fran Smith, Dan Richardson, Mackie McLeod, and student leader Trae Myers, as well as footage from professional concerts like the “World of Difference” Rock Against Racism television special, and from a one-time music and dance program called “But Can You Dance to It?” We also have videos featuring related people and organizations, including Project Aries (a similar program in Charlotte, North Carolina) and Karen Hutt (a woman working with the Business Connection, a youth entrepreneurial development program in Cambridge).

World of Difference television special, 1985 July 26. This is a Rock Against Racism concert and television special that aired on WCVB Channel 5 on July 26, 1985. Performers included the Red Rockers (rock), the O’Jays (R&B), the Rainbow Dance Company of Boston (modern/lyrical dance), Livingston Taylor (singer-songwriter/folk), and George Benson (jazz, funk, soul, R&B). The production also includes interviews with people such as Reebee Garofalo, Natalie Cole, The Fools, and Al Jarreau.

To see the rest of this footage, take a look at our digital collection and its finding aid (which includes descriptions of all the other RAR documents we hold in the UASC). To learn more about the Massachusetts Rock Against Racism program both then and now, check out their active Facebook page.

Let me know if you stumble across the footage of five young boys dressed up in matching outfits, singing and dancing to “El Coquí (Merengue)” by Carlos Pizarro (hint: they performed at the second Youth Culture Festival).

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Collecting and preserving hip-hop history in University Archives & Special Collections at UMass Boston

Members of the hip-hop community fill out paperwork about photographs and items they plan to contribute to the Mass. Memories Road Show.

Volunteers and contributors at “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” Mass. Memories Road Show: The Hip-Hop Edition.

Well over 200 community members joined us at the Boston Public Library this past Saturday to share photographs, objects, and memories at “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got” Mass. Memories Road Show: The Hip-Hop Edition. In all, we collected about 300 digital images of items ranging from photographs and concert posters to t-shirts and album covers. We also recorded about 60 video interviews with community members throughout the day about their connections to hip-hop in Boston and Massachusetts.

Six people in front of a graffiti painting.

Cindy Diggs (AKA “Mother Hip Hop”), center, with contributors at the Mass. Memories Road Show. Diggs served as Director of Hip-Hop Community Engagement for the event.

It will take University Archives & Special Collections at UMass Boston 2-3 months to fully process this collection and make it available for the world to see at openarchives.umb.edu. Once it’s there all contributors will be notified. [Update: This collection is now online. Read more and view the digital collection here.]

Logo for National Endownment for the Humanities

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations in this program do not necessarily express those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.

This event was supported by a Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor, as well as support by the UMass President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund. It is part of a larger project called “Local Rappers, DJs, B-Boys, and Graff: Documenting the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Community from the 1970s to the present.” Learn more about this project here.

Contribute to the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive

In 2016, University Archives & Special Collections in the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston launched the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive with an initial donation by Pacey Foster of recordings from the Lecco’s Lemma radio program. Learn more here and explore the Lecco’s Lemma Collection.

Image lists the kinds of materials we collect: Audio and video recordings (cassettes, videotapes, and film reels); Original photographs, negatives, and slides; Flyers, promotional materials, and unique publications and magazines; Letters, diaries, and other firsthand accountsAs we continue to develop this new collection area, University Archives & Special Collections at UMass Boston is now focusing on donations of original and unique archival materials from musicians, DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, producers, promoters, and fans that will help us document the rich heritage and legacy of hip-hop culture in Boston and Massachusetts.

Do 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? Contact an archivist at UMass Boston to learn more.

What’s next: Digitized Massachusetts Rock Against Racism videos online soon

Massachusetts Rock Against Racism (RAR) was co-founded in the Boston area in 1979 at a time when the City of Boston and its surrounding areas were “rocked by racism.” The RAR organizational records are part of University Archives & Special Collections. Learn more and view the finding aid here. We recently completed digitization of approximately 100 videos from the RAR collection and this summer,  thanks to a grant from the UMass President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund, we will complete descriptive work on these videos, which include documentary films, outtakes, interviews, and concert footage.

As a sneak peek of what this amazing collection has to offer, embedded below is “Breakin’ Rappin’ Poppin’ and Graffin’: A Rockumentary,” which was filmed at Madison Park High School in Roxbury, Mass., on June 9, 1985. The footage includes performances by a number of artists, as well as a breakdance battle between the Floor Lords and HBO.

Breakin’ Rappin’ Poppin’ and Graffin’: A Rockumentary, Presented by Mass. Rock Against Racism (1985 June 9) from UMass Boston Archives on Vimeo.

The digitized and described Massachusetts Rock Against Racism collection of videos will be available online soon. Keep visiting this site for more information and for updates.

If you have questions about the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, please contact an archivist at UMass Boston or connect with the project on Facebook.


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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Saturday, Nov. 18 at Freedom House: Documentary screening hosted by Massachusetts Rock Against Racism and Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive

Screenshot from the documentary film, "Breakin’ Rappin’ Poppin’ and Graffin"

Screenshot from the documentary film, “Breakin’ Rappin’ Poppin’ and Graffin’” (1985).

When: Saturday, November 18, 2017 | Doors open at 2:30 pm, program runs from 3:00–5:00 pm

Location: Freedom House | 5 Crawford St. | Dorchester, Mass. 02121 | Click here for directions.

Massachusetts Rock Against Racism (RAR), in partnership with the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive and the Healey Library at UMass Boston, is hosting a reunion of the RAR community at Freedom House in Dorchester, Mass.

The event will feature a special screening of “Breakin’ Rappin’ Poppin’ and Graffin,’” a thirty-minute documentary produced by youth members of RAR in 1985 that documents a legendary b-boy battle at Madison Park in Roxbury, Mass. The records of Massachusetts Rock Against Racism are part of University Archives & Special Collections in the Healey Library at UMass Boston. View the finding aid for the collection here, and keep visiting blogs.umb.edu/archives to be notified when recordings from the collection are digitized and available online.

Flyer for Rock Against Racism Event at Freedom House on Nov. 18After the film screening, we will have a World Café-style discussion focused on the Rock Against Racism movement, local hip-hop history, and the engagement of youth in arts and culture as a tool for racial justice work.

This event is free, open to the public, and family friendly. To learn more and to RSVP, click here.

This event is co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive, Freedom House, and the Joseph P. Healey Library at UMass Boston, and is supported in part by the UMass President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund.

Download the flyer for this event and share it with your friends and colleagues.

For questions about this collection or to schedule a research appointment to view the materials at UMass Boston, please contact library.archives@umb.edu or 617-287-5469.


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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