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A divisive name-change campaign

Melvin B. Miller

With so many issues of importance confronting Boston’s black community, it is embarrassing for residents to waste their time on whether the name of Dudley Square should be changed to Nubian Square. Nonetheless, a nonbinding public opinion advisory question will be on the Nov. 5 ballot.

Those supporting the name change insist that it is inappropriate to name the square after the first governor of Britain’s Massachusetts Bay Colony. They assert, without proof, that the Dudleys owned slaves. Indeed, under British law slavery was sanctioned until 1833. The slave trade became unlawful years earlier in 1807.

At any rate, Massachusetts ended slavery in 1783. By that time Roxbury was already blossoming to become the most vibrant village. Dudley Square became the second largest shopping area in Boston. Many blacks have fond memories of the time they spent in Dudley Square.

The usual objective of naming a square is to unite the community behind the memory of a great leader. This campaign has just the opposite effect. Many people believe the effort is foolish. Most people know nothing about the Nubians, except that they were an ancient African civilization. Now the concept is divisive.

Public relations 101 indicates that it is unwise to use an unappealing name or symbol for a brand change. Roxbury has produced numerous outstanding individuals like Melnea Cass. There might be a time in the future to rename Dudley Square to honor a former local resident.

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