Northeastern, community leaders unveil Lower Roxbury Black History Project

Northeastern, community leaders unveil Lower Roxbury Black History Project

Community and university leaders, Roxbury residents, and elected officials joined together on Tuesday to unveil the Lower Roxbury Black History Project.

The project, which features oral histories and artifacts collected to tell the powerful stories of Lower Roxbury’s residents, started as an idea at a meeting between university leaders and members of the Black Ministerial Alliance in 2006. It was there that Rev. Michael E. Haynes suggested the university create a living history of the African American community in Lower Roxbury. That history is preserved in the University Libraries Archives and Special Collections and the full collection is available online.

Tuesday’s celebration featured remarks from some of the project’s biggest supporters throughout the years—delivered in person and in video clips to a standing-room-only crowd at the Cabral Center—in recognition of the documentary’s newfound availability online. Though it marked a major milestone in the process of capturing the neighborhood’s rich history, President Joseph E. Aoun noted that the work is far from finished.

“What you have started here has no end,” he said, “because we have to keep looking at what’s happening now and what will happen in the future. What you’ve unleashed with us is something that has no end, and you have my commitment that we will continue this legacy.”

There’s gold in the hills

Aoun invited Haynes to the podium during his remarks to ask him a question about the meeting that started the project more than a decade ago.

“Something I didn’t ask you during our meeting (in 2006): Of all the things we could have worked on, why did you want to focus on this one?” Aoun asked.

After a thoughtful pause, Haynes, the child of Caribbean immigrants and the first family from the West Indies to buy a house on their Lower Roxbury street, replied that it was witnessing the changes to his neighborhood that impassioned him.

“The things that happened on this turf in Lower Roxbury could fill books,” he said, likening the as-yet unmined stories from Vernon Street and Massachusetts Avenue to the World War II cartoon captioned, “Boys, there’s gold in them thar hills.”

“I’m thrilled that this project has gotten a big boost, but I know the best is yet to come,” Haynes said. “There’s gold out there in Lower Roxbury.”

‘The antidote is the neighborhood’

Still, finding that gold in a city of more than 600,000 people can be daunting.

William Fowler, Distinguished Professor of History and a former advisory board member of the Lower Roxbury Black History Project, said that the antidote to that “vague,” “anonymous” quality that can appear with a large city is its neighborhoods.

“However drawn, the faces and lives of neighborhoods are not fixed; new people arrive, weaving their stories into the fabric of the neighborhood,” he said. “To grasp the history of this city, we must peer into its neighborhoods. That’s what we’re about here: preserving memories.”

Those memories that comprise the Lower Roxbury Black History Project represent the “historic and deep relationship between Northeastern University and the Roxbury community,” said Margaret Burnham, University Distinguished Professor of law and founder of the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project.

“We’re here to acknowledge this project and the voices and the struggles it preserves,” she said. “We’re preserving it for future generations in our archives.”

‘The center of incredible amounts of talent and creativity’

Other attendees acknowledged the importance of archiving that rich history and making it widely available for generations to come. State Rep. Byron Rushing was among them.

“The work that we’re commemorating and celebrating today is some of the most important historic work that anyone can engage in,” he said. “Not only are we talking about a key community in the history of black people in Boston, in Massachusetts, and in New England at large, we’re talking about a community that was the center of incredible amounts of talent and creativity and that was destroyed.” Rushing continued, describing the destruction of swaths of Boston neighborhoods, including the West End and parts of Lower Roxbury, over the years.

But while the buildings in Lower Roxbury had been destroyed, he said, “the people were not wiped out.”

“That history of the people is what is so essential here,” he said. “It exists in the memories of the people who lived here, and we have to collect all this material so that this community will never be forgotten.”

For state Rep. Chynah Tyler, herself a 2011 graduate of Northeastern and a fifth-generation resident of Lower Roxbury, the project has a special significance.

“I’m determined to change Boston forever, starting right here at home, right here in Roxbury,” she said. “Growing up in Roxbury was truly instrumental in creating a solid foundation for my success, and I’m prideful that I’m a product of my community. It’s so important that we document the rich history of Roxbury so future generations can have that historical context.”

Tyler’s young daughter, also in attendance Tuesday, is among those future generations.

Immigration 2017: CHANGES, REALITIES & FEARS

Immigration 2017: CHANGES, REALITIES & FEARS
Understanding and Supporting East Boston’s Immigrant Neighbors

Sunday, March 19, 4:00pm
Grace Church Federated
760 Saratoga St, Boston, MA 02128

Come listen to experts from the neighborhood speak about what is going on RIGHT NOW in our community. This program is intended to educate East Bostonians to better understand 21st century immigration law and issues. However, all are welcome to learn and share their own immigration story.

* Matthew S. Cameron, Attorney at Law. Matt’s Marginal Street law practice focuses on immigration of all types.
* Patricia Montes, Executive Director, Centro Presente. Centro Presente is dedicated to the self-determination and self-sufficiency of the Latin American immigrant community of Massachusetts.
* Yasser Munif, Assistant Professor, Emerson College. Yasser is a Syrian-born scholar specializing in grassroots movements in Syria.

Join us to discuss Paths to Citizenship, Sanctuary Cities, DREAMers, different forms of under-documentation, and what effect the new Executive Actions are having on our neighbors. US immigration is complex, sticky, difficult to navigate, and in many cases, deeply unjust.

Invite your friends!

Hosted by: East Boston Progressive Network

Rare book from Northeastern Archives Selected for Illuminated Manuscripts Display


The palm-size 15th-century Dominican Prayer Book from Northeastern’s archives at Snell Library was selected to be part of the “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” Photo courtesy of the Northeast Document Conservation Center

A palm-size 15th-century book from Northeastern’s archives at Snell Library was selected to be part of the multi-venue exhibit “Beyond Words: Illuminated Manuscripts in Boston Collections.” Described by its curators as “the largest exhibit of pre-1600 manuscripts ever mounted in North America,” “Beyond Words” features more than 260 items spanning the 9th to the 17th centuries donated by 19 Boston-area libraries and museums.

Northeastern’s contribution is a Dominican Prayer Book of more than 500 pages, with text in Latin handwritten in the Gothic bookhand style. It has just a single illustration—a grotesque inside a large blue “R” on the first page—but red and blue text is sprinkled throughout. The decorations are what characterize it as “illuminated.” The manuscript includes components of a Book of Hours, prayers that were to be said at specified hours of the day, and the prayer cycle Office of the Dead, among other devotions. Tiny tabs extending from the edges of certain pages indicate where particular sections begin.

“It is our earliest book and our only medieval manuscript,” says Giordana Mecagni, head of special collections and university archivist at Northeastern. An article in the February 1976 faculty and staff edition of Northeastern Today lists its acquisition along with other rare books in Northeastern’s collection, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Hanging of the Crane, from 1875, and Charles Dickens’ The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, from 1909.

Mecagni and her staff turned to the Northeast Document Conservation Center, in Andover, Massachusetts, to prepare for the exhibit, including mending the lining of its parchment spine and re-attaching some leather that was separating from its binding. The NEDCC also produced a digitized version of the book, which resides in Snell’s repository.

This summer, students in the class “History of Books,” team-taught by Erika Boeckeler and Ryan Cordell, both assistant professors of English at Northeastern, more precisely determined the date of the book’s creation. Careful research revealed that a book including prayers related to St. Vincent and Catherine of Siena, as their book did, would have been created after 1461.

Our special collections are growing. They show the lineage of changes in the book industry and are garnering interest on the national scale.
— Giordana Mecagni, head of special collections

In the exhibit, Northeastern’s rare book joins others from institutions including Harvard University, Brandeis University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Armenian Museum and Library of America, and the Boston Athenaeum. The materials are displayed in three locations, each with a specific theme: Harvard’s Houghton Library features manuscripts for the monastery; Boston College’s McMullen Museum, where the Dominican Prayer Book is displayed, focuses on those that are meant for private libraries; and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum concentrates on Italian Renaissance books.

“One of our missions is to provide access to materials that professors can use as teaching tools,” says Mecagni, citing the “History of Books” class. “Our special collections are growing. They show the lineage of changes in the book industry and are garnering interest on the national scale.”

The Dominican Prayer Book will be on display at Boston College’s McMullen Museum, 2101 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, through Dec. 11, 2016. For more information, call 617.552.8587 or email

Boston Data Projects

haymarketHere is a scratch pad of mapping, data, history projects related to Boston.  I will continually update it as I come across additional projects




Tufts’ Boston Streets Project (2004)

Collection consists of 11 Boston City directories converted in to structured data, >3000 images from Bostonian Society photographic collections, and browse-able atlases from 1874, 1898, and 1928.  “Orthographic images of modern day boston, and vector data from the boston redevelopment authority and MassGIS are used to ground the Boston in its modern context:”

Mapping Boston at HistoryPin

Mapping Boston’s Religions, 1800-1880: Brandeis Omeka project

USGS Historical Coastal Topographic Map Image

City of Boston’s Enterprise GIS system   

It also has a great indexed property viewer.  Each parcel in the city has a number

Boston Redevelopment Authority’s links to available current maps:

Massachusetts Historical Society digitized maps, 1648 (depicted)- 1814

Boston Public Library’s Leventhal digitized map collection

Boston Area Research Initiative (via the Dataverse)

Metro Boston DataCommon: An interactive data portal and mapping tool with information about the region’s people, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and environmental resources.

Boston Public Library’s open data initiative


Boston Displacement mapping project

Citizen Noise sensing project

Archivist sees bright future in collections of past — Northeastern News

GiordanaNortheasternNortheastern News, September 13, 2013 by Joe O’Connell

In the basement of Snell Library, new university archivist and head of special collections Giordana Mecagni is settling in among thousands of papers, photos, and films that document the past of both Northeastern and the city of Boston. Mecagni started working at Northeastern about three months ago and is excited to grow the University Archives and Special Collections (within the Northeastern University Libraries), which collects, preserves, and describes a vast array of historical documents. She comes to Northeastern after working at Har­vard University’s Archives and Special Collections for 11 years. “There is so much to do,” Mecagni said. “There is still quite a lot of material to collect, and we are actively collecting.” The extensive collections include correspondence from former university presidents, 1,667 reels of film from athletic events, and scrapbooks from camps at the YMCA where Northeastern was founded as a night school in 1898. Pieces are available to students, faculty, and staff for research. The archives boast both online collections and physical materials housed in two secure stacks at Snell Library. The second area was recently built, and Mecagni said it is her job to fill it. In addition to Northeastern history, the archives’ collections house a broad collection of Boston’s social justice history, including the history of the city’s African-​​American, Asian, Latino, and LBGTQ communities. Mecagni said the library would soon embark on a project to accumulate pieces related to the relationship between built environments and natural environments throughout Boston’s history. One of Mecagni’s roles as an archivist is to make people and groups comfortable with contributing something to her department. “We need to spend a lot of time convincing people we will keep it, take care of it, and preserve it,” Mecagni explained. “Once it is here, people are so proud and that is really a great thing. It gives it some stature.” As the world continues to evolve in the digital age, Mecagni said the archives will soon follow suit. The infrastructure is set for the library’s new digital repository to collect pieces electronically on a grander scale, some­thing that was not available to previous archivists. To get familiar with history between Northeastern and the surrounding community, Mecagni has embarked on a listening tour in which she has met with various cultural organizations. She has also met with faculty to learn how pieces from the archives are being used in classrooms. Mecagni said her goal is to incorporate the archives across all facets of Northeastern’s campus. “I think the archives could be used in every aspect,” she said. “There are data sets that should be in the archives and available for research. For the arts, there are posters from past Northeastern activities. It’s just a matter of knowing it’s here.”

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