Black veterans gather at Edward Gourdin Park
New park will honor former general and African American war veterans
Before the Veteran’s Day program began on Guild Row, Robert Santiago, the city’s commissioner of Veteran’s Affairs, took a peek at the fenced-off General Edward O. Gourdin and African American Veterans Park — a triangle-shaped parcel of green space at the intersection of Malcolm X Boulevard and Washington Street.
Inside the park, which is still under construction, a pink granite wall punctuated by tall crenulations rises above a concrete plaza, facing Washington Street. Ten bas-relief plaques commemorating veterans from the Revolutionary War through the Afghanistan War have not yet been installed. Nor has the 8-foot-tall statue of Gourdin, the first Black Superior Court justice in Massachusetts and the commander of the 372nd Infantry Regiment, which fought for 191 days on the frontlines during World War II, and the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion of the Massachusetts National Guard during the Korean War.
“It’s been 10 years in the making,” Santiago said of the park. “It’s great to see the progress.”
Santiago joined elected officials and community members Friday for the first Veteran’s Day observance held at the park. City workers closed Guild Row for the event.
Mayor Michelle Wu, speaking to the gathered veterans and community members, said the monument, the first in the city to honor Black veterans, comes after decades of discrimination.
“In so many ways our Black veterans have been denied the dignity, respect and gratitude that they deserve [for what] they have poured and invested into our country,” she said. “This is one small step in the right direction.”
Gourdin, who was born in Florida in 1897, moved to Cambridge as a teenager and matriculated at Harvard College in 1918. In 1920, he set a National College Athletic Association record for the long jump, clearing 24 feet and 6 inches. In 1921, he set a world record with a jump of 25 feet and 3 inches. He was the national pentathlon champion in 1921 and 1922.
After completing his studies at Harvard Law School, Gourdin competed in the 1924 Paris Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in the long jump. In 1936, he secured a position in the U.S. Attorney Office for Massachusetts and became chief of the Civil Division.
After completing his military service with the rank of brigadier general, Gourdin was appointed special justice in Roxbury District Court. In 1958, Governor Foster Furcolo appointed Gourdin to the Supreme Judicial Court, the first time an African American served on that body.
The Roxbury park, long neglected, gained the interest of a group of veterans organized under the auspices of the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion Association, who began raising funds to design and build the memorial and park. The activists formed Friends of the Roxbury Justice Edward O. Gourdin Memorial Park in 2016 to raise funds for a sculpture.
Work began on the park last year. It is expected to be completed in spring.