Dudley Street: A Case Study of Bostonian History

Cassandra Lanson

The Importance of the Story of Dudley

     This story map focuses on the community-unit of Dudley and the neighborhood's interactions with greater Boston. Oftentimes struggle and hardship are felt most potently by residents. Dudley is proof of this. However, the community unit is a powerful force when residents are willing to unite and raise their voices. Again, Dudley is a great example. The purpose of this tour is to follow the development of the Dudley community chronologically to discover what changes throughout the 20th and 21st centuries led to the culture of activism in the community today.

     As a narrator, my goal is to piece together resident narratives and historical events to build a story of Dudley for people to explore. The tour starts by looking at the greater context of Dudley’s location. Dudley sits in northern Roxbury in Massachusetts. The earliest stops on the StoryMap highlight problems that affected the lives of people in the greater Roxbury area. These events - often occurring over long periods - undoubtedly affected Dudley’s community as well. In some cases, after discussing the broader events, the tour will address Dudley’s unique response. As we move forward, the focus of the tour shifts from larger historical events to more intimate pieces of Dudley's history. This shift reflects the growth of identity and power that developed in the Dudley community. These stops highlight aspects of the Dudley community that differentiate the neighborhood from the areas surrounding it. As the tour pieces together Dudley’s story, the StoryMap aims to highlight the power of the community-unit in inciting broader change. Boston’s modern government is influenced by top-down thinking. Dudley’s narrative is an example of the possibilities bottom-up activism can create. 

     The tour connects Dudley's history to the Emerald Necklace - the six-park system designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted - through Franklin Park. Franklin Park is an obvious choice due to the proximity of the park to the greater Roxbury area. However, the motivations for highlighting this connection run much deeper than location. While the public often celebrates it as a triumph, the Emerald Necklace is not immune to inequality. Franklin Park is the largest park on the Emerald Necklace and is also historically the most underfunded. The reason for this neglect is due to its proximity to communities of color (such as Dudley). The StoryMap highlights the funding disparity to draw attention to the injustice laced into the park system. The Dudley activists spent much of their time fighting against and undoing the inequitable forces that act upon the neighborhood. As such, Franklin Park becomes a parallel story.

     Dilapidated houses and garbage piles often characterize the neglect of the Dudley neighborhood, but the neglect of Franklin Park can also reveal some of the community's history. I highlight these mirrored stories at the beginning of my tour to change how outsiders view the park system. Olmstead’s Parks - created to emulate the countryside, preserve wilderness in the city, and benefit all Bostonians - suffer from historic racialization. 

     Following the sentiments of Laura Barraclough, Franklin Park’s disinvestment also represents relational racialization. The city of Boston neglected Franklin Park throughout history, while other areas along the Necklace received more attention. Greater funding and resource opportunities for the Boston Public Gardens and the Fens allowed more people to experience and promote these parks. The city's investment disparities lead to the destruction of one park at the expense of other prosperous areas. Again, this presents a parallel in the story of Dudley. The city of Boston actively ignored Roxbury, while policy-makers invested in areas such as the Back Bay and the West End. 

     Much of Dudley’s community activism stems from the landscape. When their houses were in ruins, the community members pushed for the power to rebuild. Curiously, when we consider the fight for a better place to live in the Boston context, we think of residents demanding more green, open space. For the Dudley community, bettering their living conditions meant investing in more gray space - more infrastructure - to support their lives.

     Through the rebuilding process, the community did recognize the importance of green space. The community sectioned off many new parks. Youth involvement programs helped to maintain these new open spaces. The main goal of community reconstruction, however, was to establish affordable housing units and local businesses to support the community economically. 

     This development pattern in Dudley speaks to the privileges experienced by other Bostonians. The government-led development of affluent neighborhoods during the 20th and 21st centuries is focused on aesthetics. City-wide development has been synonymous with greener spaces and fewer cars. Dudley’s community began to redevelop with fewer resources at their disposal and needed to address housing as a top priority. The neighborhood did not experience the privilege of having stable homes in the first place. This disparity is most likely why the redevelopment pattern in Dudley seems to contrast what other areas in the city went through. 

     Affluent members of Boston’s society push for green spaces to breathe air into the city. Contrastingly, underprivileged areas fight back so that they can establish homes and businesses. This tug of war is a result of racism and the ways it has manifested into our governmental systems.

     Racist governmental tendencies underline and influence much of Dudley’s history. These beliefs of inferiority manifest in a variety of ways. The StoryMap explores these manifestations at various stops. Inspired but Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law, I discuss how redlining has shaped the Dudley neighborhood. My tour also pulls heavily from Karilyn Crockett’s research and book People Not Highways to grapple with the benefits and costs of city infrastructure. The tour emphasizes Dudley’s issues with modern gentrification in a manner that is inspired by the Boston Globe's A People’s Guide to Greater Boston. 

     The history of the Dudley neighborhood proves small units of people can create large changes, despite facing obstacles of massive proportions. Experiencing hardship leads to one of two outcomes: giving up, or persevering. Many communities around Boston, and the cities around the Nation, have chosen the latter. Dudley’s story sheds light on these local triumphs and inspires hope in the rest of us, who are looking to positively impact the world.