Boston blacks made exodus to Roxbury

Small Beacon Hill community moved to south neighborhoods

Yawu Miller | 2/9/2018, 6 a.m.

In the ’70s and early ’80s, many blacks were displaced from the South End as that neighborhood went through a period of gentrification. The black population there declined from 11,000 in 1970 to just under 9,000 in 1980.

In the same period elsewhere in the city, racial attacks and skirmishes were frequent, particularly in areas where blacks and whites lived in close proximity. Race riots in the Columbia Point projects underscored the difficulty of integrating public housing developments. Through the late ’80s, headline-grabbing racial incidents including the 1982 William Atkinson murder confirmed Boston’s image as a racist city. During that time, blacks moving into white sections of Dorchester faced harassment and violence.

Housing barriers come down

While blacks continued to expand into the city’s neighborhoods throughout the ’80s, many barriers existed. A 1985 Boston Fair Housing Commission study found that blacks, Hispanics and Southeast Asians seeking housing were routinely discriminated against in Dorchester and Allston-Brighton when seeking to rent or buy apartments, condominiums and houses.

More significantly, investigations by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP uncovered wide-spread discrimination in housing assignments made by the Boston Housing Authority. Blacks seeking BHA housing faced longer waits on lists for units than did their white counterparts who were concentrated in the city’s predominantly white developments.

After a year of litigation, the NAACP was able to secure a $3.8 million settlement plan for victims of past housing discrimination and the BHA began to implement a housing desegregation plan that, so far, has done more to integrate the formerly all-white strongholds of South Boston and Charlestown than any other effort before or since.

Neighborhoods embrace diversity

While the black community in recent decades has remained concentrated in Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and Hyde Park, its boundaries have lost the sharp dividing lines that defined it throughout much of the 20th century.

In contrast to the white flight of the late ’60s and early ’70s, the ongoing changes in Boston’s neighborhood reflect whites’ renewed interest in city living, and the rising wealth and income inequality in the city that cleaves along race lines.