Sunday, April 21, 2024

Having been in love with Boston during my time at Emerson College, I’d stuck close, eschewing even a semester abroad in Europe. By the end of the four years, during which Charles Stuart’s murderous lies revealed a readiness to fear and humiliate black males, Southie kept reeling from busing tensions and reverberations hit when Rodney King’s assailants largely escaped punishment in Los Angeles, I was feeling claustrophobic, all too aware of Boston’s hermetic whiteness and how it ended in a shock crossing the street into Roxbury and Dorchester. Just as one can go to the Museum of Science and be entertained by hopping back and forth Boston-Cambridge-Boston-Cambridge while looking out at the Charles River, it was possible to play a grimmer version on these dirty streets: white boston-black boston-white boston-black boston. The scale of the city had seemed cute, and the ability to walk from one well-defined section to the next seemed charming. At the end of the four years, though, they felt cloying and I felt caged.

In a white, middle-class, liberal kind of way, that is.

It took leaving Boston to appreciate it anew, and the city’s increasing diversity is encouraging, although some of it is taking place with the taint of gentrification, more an invasion of black areas than a mutual crossing of boundaries. I’d already crossed the river for Cambridge anyway and found it incrementally more soothing. Slowly, I am learning to understand why. In fact, slowly, I am learning to understand all of this better.

So. Another piece of that growth in understanding, from “A Tale of Three Cities in One,” by George H. Hanford (Cambridge Historical Society, 1996):

In the 1880s Boston was engaged in a bitter fight over the issue of segregated versus integrated public schools. Segregation won, with the result that many African-American families moved to Cambridge, whose schools were integrated.

More than a decade after the Civil War, Boston, home of the great abolitionists, voted to segregate its schools.

Cambridge, to my great relief, did not.