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Notable Roxbury residents who made their mark in history

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Notable Roxbury residents who made their mark in history
Melnea Cass

H. Carl McCall

David Nelson

Roy Haynes

H. Carl McCall grew up in Roxbury. He went on to Dartmouth College and later became the first African American to win statewide office in New York when he was elected state comptroller in 1993. In 2002, he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York, losing to incumbent Republican Gov. George Pataki.

Harry J. Elam grew up in a three-decker on Elbert Street. he first attended the Henry L. Higginson School and subsequently was accepted at the prestigious Boston Latin School, graduating in 1940. After serving in World War II, he attended Boston University and Boston University School of Law. He became the first black judge appointed to the Boston Municipal Court and went on to serve a five-year term as the first Chief Justice there. In 1983, Governor Michael Dukakis appointed him to serve as an Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court. Judge Elam retired from the judiciary in 1988.

During his close to 20 years on the bench, he served as Chairman of the Affirmative Action Committee of the Trial Court of the Commonwealth, introducing strategies to bring diversity to all of the Commonwealth courts. He was also one of the founders and first president of the Massachusetts Black Judges Conference and was one of the charter members of the National Judicial Council (Organization of Black Judges in the United States).

The “First Lady of Roxbury,” Melnea Agness Cass grew up in Boston before being sent to St. Frances de Sales Convent School, a Catholic school for black and Indian girls in Rock Castle, Virginia, where she graduated in 1914 as valedictorian. Back in Boston, she worked tirelessly as a volunteer, helping women register to vote after the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Over the decades, she helped form the Boston local of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was a founder and charter member of the Freedom House and was the only female charter member to Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), which assisted people who lost their homes to urban renewal efforts. In the early years of the Bay State Banner, Cass contributed a column to the paper.

David Nelson, the first black federal district court judge in Massachusetts, grew up on Munroe Street, along with his brother J.D. Nelson, proprietor of Rhumbline Advisers, the third largest black asset management firm in the nation, according to Black Enterprise.

Clifton R. Wharton was America’s first black Foreign Service Officer. When posted to Rumania in 1958, he became the first black to head a diplomatic mission to a European country. President John F. Kennedy later appointed Wharton ambassador to Norway. His son, Clifton Wharton Jr., attained even greater achievements. As president of Michigan State University, he became the first black to head a white university. As CEO of TIAA-CREF, he became the first black to head a Fortune 500 Company.

Detroit native Malcolm X spent his formative years in Roxbury, working behind the counter of the Townsend Drug Store on the corner of Humboldt Avenue. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan grew up on Shawmut Ave. in Lower Roxbury and graduated from Boston English High School.

Pioneering black journalist William Worthy graduated from Boston Latin School and Bates College in Maine and went on to hold many first-and-only black distinctions, including as an early CBS News correspondent and Nieman fellow at Harvard in the 1950s.

Born in Roxbury 1925, Roxbury native Roy Haynes began playing drums professionally in 1945, playing with many of the most talented luminaries in the jazz world, including Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughn and John Coltrane. He has recorded scores of records as a leader and sideman and continues touring and performing to this day.

Another great jazz drummer Tony Williams grew up on Munroe Street in Roxbury and landed his first major gig at the age of 15 with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, whom he played with at the Lower Roxbury jazz club Connolly’s. After touring with McLean, Williams joined Miles Davis’ groundbreaking quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter.

From the 1970s through his passing in 1997, he performed and recorded as a band leader playing jazz and jazz-rock fusion.

Roxbury native Danny Holgate conducted and arranged for Cab Calloway for two decades. His Broadway credits include, musical director and arranger for “Eubie!” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.”