Without its caption, this image might feel ordinary. A man in a suit leaving a sturdy-looking government building stops to shake the hand of the uniformed officer at the door while a child — perhaps waiting for the man — looks on from the steps outside. When we learn that we are witnessing the release of Boston Teachers Union President John Reilly from the Charles Street Jail in May of 1970, however, things get interesting. Why was the president of the city’s teachers union incarcerated? Why does he look so chipper in spite of this fact? Who took this photo, and for what purpose? And who’s the kid?
For most Bostonians, November 9, 1965, is remembered as the day of the Great Northeastern Blackout, when power grid failures at the US-Canada border knocked lights out from Toronto to Boston and south to New York City. For the Boston Teachers Union, however, the blackout was merely the backdrop to another once-in-a-lifetime event. Thanks to a new Massachusetts law that allowed public sector workers and their unions to bargain collectively with municipal governments, the BTU was contesting an election to represent Boston’s teachers at the bargaining table on November 9, 1965.