Alison and the Number One bus

At a Fenway literary evening in April, I read with my publisher Letta and another writer-neighbor, Alison Barnet. I had never met Alison in person before, though I knew her name. She seems quiet at first but has fiery opinions. I took home a copy of her book, South End Character: Speaking Out On Neighborhood Change, and was delighted with its deft mix of the graceful and acerbic. Here she is reflecting on public transit:

I also started [in 1970] teaching nights at OIC, a black-run adult education center (now Hibernian Hall) in Roxbury, where I tutored an old woman who had been coming there for years in a futile attempt to learn to read. It amazed me that she didn’t even recognize the word “Boston,” even though she took public transportation to get to her job out on Route 128. “How do you know which bus to take?” I asked. Her answer was simple: if the riders were black, she knew it was her bus; if they were white, it wasn’t. I thought about the Harvard-Dudley bus: white from Harvard to Mass. Station (Auditorium) and black from there to Dudley. I often said “If you think there’s no racial segregation in Boston, take a ride on the #1 bus.”

This is still true of the Number One bus route today, forty years later—although in my experience the changeover occurs at Albany Street, a mile further up Mass Ave from the station once known as Auditorium. I guess the extension of the white leg is down to gentrification. Not very long from now, the bus may stay white all the way to Dudley Square, which is undergoing its own convulsion of “improvement.” “Dudley is going to change and it’s going to change fast,” Alison said to me. “It won’t be black anymore. I saw it happen in the South End.”

Alison doesn’t have an Internet presence. She just doesn’t do those things. If you’d like to buy her book, a whole lot of Boston history cheap at ten dollars, e-mail or tweet me and I’ll put you in touch with her.

By the way, this is what the Boston Redevelopment Authority would like you to know about Dudley:

Then in the 1960s and 1970s Dudley Square, like many urban neighborhoods around the country, lost population and businesses to the suburbs. Its train station was removed in 1987, and the neighborhood fell into a challenging period of disinvestment.

What a delicate piece of phrasing. Who in the world could have been behind those mysterious changes? Compare this summary:

Madison Park Development Corporation (MPDC) was forged in the heat of crisis in the mid 1960’s. The survival of the Lower Roxbury community was literally at stake in 1966 as bulldozers—in the name of “urban renewal” and the expansion of Interstate 95—were razing homes and businesses . . . In the early 1960’s, through its urban renewal program, the City of Boston acquired and demolished hundreds of homes, churches and commercial buildings in Lower Roxbury, including Madison Park, a former city park. . . . Due in part to federal housing policies and discrimination, Roxbury experienced “white flight.” It had become a predominantly minority community of African Americans, Latinos, and Cape Verdeans—and one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

That train station just got up and walked away, huh?

2 comments

  1. Adam Gaffin says:

    Interesting post. The fate of the old Dudley train station itself speaks volumes about the way Roxbury has been treated over the decades, but it’s not directly related to the highway project.

    Indirectly, though … The state eventually canceled the Southwest Expressway (after, as you note, large numbers of houses and businesses had already been condemned) and instead used at least part of the money to replace the old elevated Orange Line with a brand-spanking new Orange Line. But instead of burrowing underground along the el route, theysbuilt it alongside the Amtrak line – basically where the highway was going to go – some distance to the west of the el. Roxbury and the South End were promised replacement service that was as good as the el. What they got was the Silver Line. A bus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *