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NAACP comes home to Boston

Melvin B. Miller
NAACP comes home to Boston
“Good! Now we can really take on some serious national issues.”

The NAACP was established in 1910 with Moorefield Storey as president. He was a Harvard educated constitutional lawyer from Roxbury, and a descendant of the early immigrants to America. Also, the NAACP’s first local branch was established in Boston, a strategic choice because Boston had been the center of national efforts to end slavery. It is appropriate for the NAACP to schedule its 2020 national convention in Boston as America confronts a pivotal presidential election.

An early NAACP effort to achieve racial equality was to make lynching a federal crime. When a sense of justice did not influence the segregationists, the civil rights campaign moved to direct action. A young Morehouse College graduate, Martin Luther King, came to Boston University for his theology doctorate. When he left town in 1955, Dr. King became the leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and the battle for equality became more assertive.

The Civil Rights Act outlawing racial discrimination in employment, education and places of public accommodation soon followed and became effective in 1964. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 and the Housing Rights Act became law in 1968. Imaginative blacks in Boston became aware that it was now time for them to become more entrepreneurial.

In 1986, Ken Guscott and others organized a group to build a million square foot skyscraper that is at One Lincoln Street, the headquarters of State Street Bank. There have been few comparable black-owned real estate projects in the U.S.

But another similar venture is underway. Richard Taylor has developed a project to build one of Boston’s largest hotels. He has plans for a $550 million, 1,054 room hotel opposite Boston’s Convention and Exposition Center. It will be built on a ground lease from the Massachusetts Port Authority. Usually white developers have a plan and invite some blacks to participate for the sake of diversity. Thomas P. Glynn, then CEO of the port authority, handled the matter the other way around. Competent white-owned companies were invited to participate if they accept a 25 percent racial involvement in every aspect of the project.

The new Seaport District hotel under development. PHOTO: OMNI RESORTS AND HOTELS AND NEW BOSTON HOSPITALITY, LLC.

The new Seaport District hotel under development. PHOTO: OMNI RESORTS AND HOTELS AND NEW BOSTON HOSPITALITY, LLC.

This will not be the first hotel in Boston with black owners. In 1998, Thomas Welch and Kirk Sykes began development on the Crosstown Center which included a Hampton Inn and Suites hotel. Welch and Sykes continue to have a substantial equity in Crosstown Center.

In another imaginatively conceived development, Elma Lewis Partners, LLC has the development rights for property opposite Boston Police Headquarters on Tremont Street. This will be mixed use with retail, office space, residential units and a parking garage. The space will also contain the Museum of National Afro-American Artists. Revenue from the project will provide income for the museum. The project is called Tremont Crossing, and is about to break ground after many delays.

Visitors to Boston will see that the public school headquarters, named after Bruce Bolling, is located in a new building in Dudley Square, a predominantly black community. Proposals are now under consideration for several other buildings in the Dudley Square area. These decisions will determine the demographics of the future area residents and what kind of shops will be able to prosper there.

Blacks in Boston fully understand that the Jim Crow era is over. Racial discrimination still exists, but it is rarely powerful enough to divert a committed African American from pursuing his or her goals. For those of the older generation, who had to battle for every forward step, the path is relatively clear.

As we go forward there will be a competitive response from others, but do not believe that always stems from racial discrimination. Bostonians are a salty, competitive bunch, but everyone anticipates an illuminating experience from visitors for the 2020 NAACP national convention.

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