Help me understand Hyde Park (Boston, Norwood: crime rates, buying a house, neighborhood)
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My husband's family is from Hyde Park. I hear them talk about Hyde Park all the time, especially about a kid who went to jail for bothering a black family. I'm interested in learning more about Hyde Park? Anyone willing to share some insights? What was going on in Hyde Park? Did a kid really go to jail?
Hyde Park developed in stages, with a lot of it not getting built until around WWII and afterwards. The oldest section, Fairmount, goes back to the mid-1800's. It's still one of the most appealing parts of the neighborhood with its Victorian houses. The homes' original owners built them with the proceeds from mills and factories which went up in the low-lying area adjoining Milton. Until the '80s, Westinghouse and Sprague Electric had major manufacturing facilities there; now the buildings have mainly either been demolished, or they house operations like storage facilities.
Cleary Square, near the high school, is still the principal commercial district for Hyde Park, but residents have to leave the area for major food shopping and other large-scale purchases. That means a quick excursion across the city line to Dedham, a local hub for megasupermarkets, big-box stores, chain restaurants, etc.
The original settlers of HP were Yankees and Irish immigrants, but when ranch houses and Capes proliferated during the '40s and '50s the community took on a strongly Italian-American flavor. (Boston's Mayor Menino resides there.) "Going to jail for bothering a Black family" would've almost certainly happened between around 1974 and 1982. South Boston got most of the attention during the school busing uproar, but Hyde Park High saw quite a few nasty incidents of its own. It's a good bit less true today, but at the time Boston was a highly turf-conscious place - meaning that even people who weren't racist by nature took offense at "forced relocation" of their children to schools outside home territory while "outsiders" were brought in. School-bus stonings, brawls, etc were everyday news as the '70s wore on.
All the busing ugliness brought on a considerable amount of "White flight" from Hyde Park. At the same time, AA families saw an opportunity for improving their housing circumstances from deteriorating sections of the adjacent Mattapan neighborhood. "Pioneers" from there, as well as folks looking to buy up and out of Roxbury and Dorchester, were given a far from warm welcome from the incumbent residents who were already stoked to a fever pitch from the busing battles. Firebombings, window-smashings, and "drive-by shoutings" greeted the newcomers. Even little kids were in on the action, making life miserable for their recently-arrived classmates. But as time moved on into the '80s, the tension died down, for by then the HP denizens who were dead-set against "integration" had pulled up stakes. During the ensuing decade or so, enclaves such as Ross Field and Wood Ave achieved a measure of stability with a diverse population. Now a goodly portion of the community is on a downhill trend again, with adolescent gangs prowling what are still otherwise well-kept blocks. All resembles serene suburbia until night falls and the gunfire starts erupting. Thus far, most of the bad stuff is confined to the northern and eastern sectors, and throughout the area the "good guys" are fighting back.
Since the TO's question has nothing to do with a potential move into Hyde Park, I'll leave this narrative here. Although I don't have a whole lot of firsthand knowledge of the '70s-80s turmoil, having not relocated here until late '79, I still saw more than enough with my own eyes to be glad I wasn't around during the worst of it. People (mostly, but not all, teens) who "bothered" fellow humans who didn't look like them numbered in the thousands in that era. Many probably wound up in court, but few saw jail unless they'd perpetrated an especially violent attack or were caught destroying property. I hope that at least partly answers the questions.
Very good post, goyguy. I don't have much to add to it for Lady7775, except that there is another section of Hyde Park called Readville which is the real suburban area there. That's where the mayor lives and the residents usually refer to themselves as being from Readville, and not Hyde Park.
"that even people who weren't racist by nature took offense at "forced relocation" of their children to schools outside home territory" - good description of the attitude of most of the families I know who lived in Hyde Park at the time. A friend of mine's family moved to Norwood when her kindergarten-aged brother was going to be bused to North Dorchester everyday for school.
There was a poster here who grew up in Hyde Park, I'll see if I can track down her name and she might be able to provide some additional information.
It's always been a curious thing to me that HP almost never made the news during the early years of busing. Talk about a poorly-planned social experiment, which in reality brought out class bias more than anything else. None of the surrounding suburbs, which remain nearly all-White to this day for the most part, were included. The people impacted were in the middle of the economic spectrum or lower; those who had the money either scrammed from the city or helped private and parochial schools fill to bursting. And while those who hurled bricks at little kids on buses or jumped motorists who were "in the wrong part of town" got all the press, the majority of folks was simply freaked out over sending little Joanie or Johnny across the city to a school which was no better (if not worse) than the one down the street.
Cross-district busing is still going on, but it's a joke that few are in favor of keeping. All it does today is transport Black children from one end of town to another, where a predominantly Black school awaits them. At least now the city's been segmented into zones, within which parents have some say in where they'd prefer their offspring to be educated. The public system is still based on the 19th Century model, starting from the top with neighborhood-based "general" high schools, along with three HS's where an entrance exam has to be taken for admission. On the one hand, you have Boston Latin - a "highway to Harvard" at the top of rankings even nationwide; on the other, there are "chalkboard jungles" like Brighton and - yes - Hyde Park High's where the graduation rate is abysmal and almost no one continues their educations. And while many of the elementary schools are quite good, no one likes the prospect of the middle schools serving Grades 5 through 8. For that's where all the burnt-out and otherwise "troubled" youth wind up, marking the days (largely skipping classes) until they can age out at 16.
I have two personal stories involving Hyde Park which illustrate its situation pretty well. From becoming good friends with a member of a family which had immigrated from Jamaica, I got to know the northern fringe of the neighborhood well, and to get a glimpse at duelling perspectives thanks to also having a mutual acquaintance of Italian background whose folks dwelled nearby. Back in those times (early '80s), one could walk to a destination from Mattapan Square without hassles. Chirping birds would be all you heard once you turned from Cummins Highway or River St. The community had weathered significant racial turnover, but a visible population of Whites (largely elderly) was still there. All seemed copacetic to my eyes and ears, despite all the news accounts of troubles not far away. That was my take on it, though. One day while I was visiting my local friend, since it was nice outside I suggested that we stroll around so I could see the area in the other direction from Mattapan. He emphatically shook his head. "NO WAY! See that stop sign?" He pointed two blocks south. "Yeah" "You can walk past there, but I can't!"
Then, in 1986 while I lived and attended college in western Mass., one day out of the blue a UMass student struck up a conversation with me on a bus. The guy was a bright young Caucasian who hailed from Hyde Park and had attended parochial schools. We instantly hit it off (one of the gifts of adolescence) though it turned out we'd never see each other again. Not once had our wide-ranging chat gone near what'd been transpiring in his home town, when he suddenly looked me in the eye and asked, "How do you talk to a Black person?" I knew right away that he didn't want to know what slang to use to sound "down," he simply didn't know how to socialize across the color line at any level.
Ross Field was the epicenter of the "changing neighborhood" struggles. An AA family relocated from Columbus, Ohio had the misfortune of buying a house on Westminster St which (true to the style of the era in which it was built) had a big picture window in the living room. The Boston Globe and Boston Phoenix spotlit them as an example of the community's anxieties after that window had been shattered for the twenty-second time. The scenario was mostly gloomy, with neighbors either refusing to talk or vocally announcing their intentions to split while giving lip service to the injustice of the harassment. Then, of course, there were others who felt that the new folks on the block were getting what they deserved. One, only one, household was a young White couple, recently married, who had just bought their first home and were embracing the prospect of an "integrated" street. The neighborhood did become just that, for a spell. But spiralling crime rates and the establishment + growth of gangs have meant the departure of most of the paler people along with many others who have the means to leave the aggravations behind. In other words, tour around Ross Field by day - preferably during the morning. The residential properties remain well-maintained as a rule. But you'll see sullen kids loafing on street corners or porches, or ambling along, while few if any neighborly interactions are in evidence. As sundown draws closer, more cars will be "rolling" through with hiphop thundering, and once darkness has descended there's always a chance that shooting will start.
Beyond Hyde Park Ave - headed southward - the "complexion" of the community varies by street. Even Fairmount and Readville are no strangers to some degree of diversity. But the difference in the level of perceived security is pretty drastic. There are also a few enclaves such as Thatcher St or Elm St where you'll find oases of calm and friendliness. Blake St I'm not certain of today; an energetic block association got off the ground a few years back and was gaining ground against crime while its AA, Italian-American, and West Indian members traded recipes + car-repair tips + flower seeds + gossip as all good neighbors do. More recent reports of a gang bearing that street's name have me pessimistic.
To end this ramble, I want to mention a film called "Friendship Road." It's either a documentary video or a PBS show, which was made during the '70s and perhaps into the '80s. Friendship Rd is an actual street in Mattapan, near the Hyde Park line. Like the majority of blocks southwest of Mattapan Square, it went from a White community to a "mixed" phase to mostly if not all Black between 1970 and 1985. Might be worth a watch if you can scare up a copy.
It's always been a curious thing to me that HP almost never made the news during the early years of busing. Talk about a poorly-planned social experiment, which in reality brought out class bias more than anything else. None of the surrounding suburbs, which remain nearly all-White to this day for the most part, were included.
I don't want to rehash the whole story, but that's neither the fault of Judge Garrity nor the Boston School Committee, who are often blamed.
Before the Boston case was decided, the U.S. Supreme Court held in a decision (about the Detroit area schools) that suburban districts could not be included in any desegregation remedy unless they had themselves been proven guilty of intentional segregation. Since there were even fewer people of color in many Boston suburbs then, compared to now, it was effectively impossible to make the required showing. As a result, the plan was limited to the city school district.
Particularly in Boston, this class aspect of the situation was truly toxic, though the national media focused almost exclusivley on the racial aspects.
Goyguy, you wrote: An AA family relocated from Columbus, Ohio had the misfortune of buying a house on Westminster St which (true to the style of the era in which it was built) had a big picture window in the living room.
Can anyone tell me more about the African American family on Westminster Street?
Goyguy: I haven't been able to locate Friendship Rd. Do you have anymore information regarding the film?
There really wasn't more to tell beyond that episode. All the local print media had features on Hyde Park fairly often during the early '80s. My educated guess would be that the family from Columbus stayed put. The Ross Field section of the neighborhood, which includes Westminster St, is only somewhat diverse today. Sporadic gang problems - lately concentrated more to the east around the Mattapan line - and public schools which never get better at the district level continue to fuel not only White but "green" (money) flight. But to this day there are still some nice blocks such as along Elm, Blake, Thatcher, and Wood which may or may not have a "mixed" population but maintain a safe and neighborly atmosphere.
"Friendship Road" was one of those "independent" sorts of productions that may not have been saved to modern media like DVD's. I couldn't say now where I learned of it, but I don't think it was ever broadcast over PBS or anything like that.
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