Mapping Transformation: How Changing Neighborhood Identities Affect Civic Life

Eileen O’Grady, Ruth Hunger and Jordan Erb Design by Szu Yu Chen

Mapping Transformation: How Changing Neighborhood Identities Affect Civic Life

Mapping Transformation: How Changing Neighborhood Identities Affect Civic Life

Eileen O’Grady, Ruth Hunger and Jordan Erb Design by Szu Yu Chen
June 19, 2020

 

 

When Annie Le and other members of the Networking Organization of Vietnamese Americans started planning to make Fields Corner a cultural district, they turned to other Boston neighborhoods as a blueprint.

The North End and Chinatown have long been known as hubs of Italian and Chinese culture.

But it was the Fenway Cultural District, established in 1998, that was the first Boston neighborhood to be officially recognised for its artistic institutions, historic sites and parklands. It encompasses the area around Huntington Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and the Back Bay Fens.

Then, between 2014 and 2018, the Back Bay and downtown’s Literary Cultural District, Jamaica Plain’s Latin Quarter, and the Roxbury Cultural District, which includes Nubian Square and John Eliot Square, were established. 

“Seeing what’s available in Chinatown, and in the Latin Quarter, and seeing all the Roxbury happenings, and even in the Haitian community, they have their own thing,” Le said. “I’m just like, why aren’t we doing something?”

In December 2019, after months of work, including meetings and letter writing, the Boston City Council approved the group’s plan for an area called “Little Saigon Cultural District” in Fields Corner –– a move that will, if approved by the Mass Cultural Society, reflect the neighborhood’s population, where out of Boston’s 10,000 Vietnamese residents, nearly 8,000 live.

This rebranding is just the latest of many name changes that have happened over the years in Boston that reflect changing values and demographics in communities city-wide. In December 2019, Dudley Square in Roxbury was changed to Nubian Square. Before that, in 2018, the famous Yawkey Way in Boston’s Fenway Neighborhood was renamed Jersey Street. And as far back as the 1990s, Washington Park in Roxbury was changed to Malcolm X Park and New Dudley Street was changed to Malcolm X Boulevard. 

For the activists behind the changes, this rebranding often represents a desire to reclaim communities and break ties with the history of racism and slavery in America.

While some residents feel name changes are merely ceremonial and some don’t even follow them, others believe the name placed on a community has a deep and lasting effect on community psyche.

Rosalyn Negrón is an associate professor of anthropology at UMass Boston who researches linguistics, race and ethnicity and social environments. She says the renaming of a community is significant, both linguistically and politically.

“Whenever you name something, you claim it as your own,” Negrón said. “There’s the idea that community members demand a greater say over the community and how it is shaped and how it is understood, both from the inside and from the outside.”

 

 

Little Saigon Cultural District

little-saigon

 

Since his first day on the job nine years ago, Boston City Councilor Frank Baker, who represents District 3 and Dorchester, said he was approached by members of the Vietnamese community seeking to create a cultural district in Field’s Corner. 

It wasn’t until a new generation of residents took charge about a year and a half ago that the initiative gathered momentum, Baker said.

“This new organization of younger people, they really want to feel their Vietnamese roots,” Baker said. “For them, there was an urgency to celebrate who they are and where they came from.”

The demographics of Dorchester’s Vietnamese Americans group skew toward the younger side. President Annie Le is 35, Vice President Nina Truong is 28 and the organization’s internal events coordinator, Mahn Truong, is 22. Nha Truong, the organization’s youngest committee member, is only 15. 

For them, the creation of a cultural district is as much about remembering and honoring their heritage as it is about enlivening the neighborhood. The goal, despite some initial misperceptions, is not to rename Field’s Corner entirely. Rather, the group wanted a cultural district designation, which would allow the area to receive state and city funding to boost tourism, business and the arts.

“When my parents took us to New York, when we were younger, there was Chinatown there, there was Korea town, and there’s Little Italy. Seeing all those enclaves of cultural groups is really cool,” said Nina Truong. 

Boston currently has four cultural districts: the Fenway Cultural District, Roxbury Cultural District, Latin Quarter Cultural District, and the Boston Literary Cultural District. Designated districts are popular areas of the city that boast a number of cultural facilities and programs. Cultural districts are aimed at helping strengthen local economies and adding to the area’s culture.

Areas must apply for the designation, get approved by Boston City Council, and then by the Mass Cultural Council. Little Saigon has been approved by City Council, and is awaiting approval from the state, which could happen at a board meeting in either May or August.

What the Networking Organization of Vietnamese Americans found while talking to community members is that residents seemed to agree with the cultural district designation, but renaming the area was a harder selling point. They wavered between several ideas including Field’s Corner Cultural District, Field’s Corner Cultural Crossroads, Little Saigon Cultural District and some other Vietnamese-related names, like Viet-town.

After a group vote, they ultimately settled on Little Saigon Cultural District, mostly due to the success the name has achieved elsewhere.

In other areas around the United States, including in Orange County, California and Houston, Texas, areas designated as Little Saigon cultural districts have thrived. The moniker Little Saigon is a callback to the former name of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam’s former capital. The name was changed by the communist government of North Vietnam in 1975 after the Vietnam War, and the country’s capital is now Hanoi.

“A lot of people in Vietnam and here today, still refer to the capital city as Saigon, just to pay respect and homage to democracy and how Saigon was before the war and everyone had to flee their home country to come here,” Nina Truong said. “We’re trying to recreate that. People here support that name because of the meaning behind it.”

According to Jackie West Devine, executive director of Field’s Corner Main Streets, the name creates a uniting sense of nostalgia. 

“Little Saigon reflects a memory of a place,” West Devine said, “a time before the war. It’s a time before immigrants had to leave Vietnam, and I think that to the community, it reflects a neighborhood. It reflects a shared sense of nostalgia, which is largely a uniting force –– especially for Bostonians, who love nostalgia.”

Ho Chi Minh City is now a metropolis of almost 9 million people, and Little Saigon is a name that incorporates both its modern feel with its rich culture and history, according to Manh Truong, the Vietnamese American group’s internal events coordinator. 

“Little Saigon kind of encompasses the cultural aspect of Vietnam and Vietnamese culture, but it also has the urban-twist feel to it,” he said. “Saigon is an actual city, a modern city in Vietnam, so we’re kind of mimicking that vibe, and incorporating that culture here in this city. It incorporates both — it’s like a hybrid of the two.”

Of Boston’s 9,403 Vietnamese residents, nearly three-quarters live in Dorchester. Much of the area’s population came in the late 1970s after the Vietnam war, during and after bussing, according to West Devine. Much of the population of Dorchester had left, leaving vacant properties that the Vietnamese population ultimately filled.

“When the Vietnamese population came in and made Field’s Corner their home, Dorchester was largely abandoned at that time,” West Devine said. “A lot of the people who have been in Dorchester for 30, 40 years, are really excited about this. A lot of people have really good feelings towards the Vietnamese population, because they really saved this neighborhood in Dorchester.”


“You can’t just say Little Saigon, this town is not Vietnamese only. You know, everybody lives here — Chinese, Spanish, Black — everybody together.”

“It helps to protect the people here. We have been here in this area for a long time, like over 30 years already. A lot of Vietnamese people live here and work here. You have a designated area here, and you have a lot of businesses that can benefit from that –– a lot of new restaurants and supermarkets opening here as well, so that would help a lot culturally.”

The Latin Quarter

latin quarter

 

The Latin Quarter is a cultural district in Jamaica Plain, an area that houses 125 businesses, Latin American restaurants and a Spanish-language newspaper. The Latin Quarter, a project started by the Hyde Square Task Force, hosts cultural events that draw people in from around the city to shop and spend time in Jamaica Plain, and seeks to preserve affordable housing for Latinos in the area and find ways to develop more.

“It means to protect our art, our culture, our music, our values,” said Damaris Pimentel, who owns Ultra Beauty Salon on Centre Street, in an interview in Spanish in 2019. “So that when people hear about the Latin Quarter, they can come to a geographical place where they feel part of the Latino community.” 

In the late 2010s, a group of small business owners and activists in Jamaica Plain had a very similar idea as the activists looking to create Little Saigon. They wanted to rebrand the Hyde Square and Jackson Square area of the neighborhood (most likely named after London’s Hyde Park and Revolutionary War General Henry Jackson) to become a cultural district known as the Latin Quarter, a dynamic Latino business center that would be a destination for tourists seeking Latin American cuisine, specialty goods, art and entertainment. 

In the late 1980s, that area of Jamaica Plain was considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city. Economic recession had many residents living in poverty, and drugs and gang violence were prevalent. Boston Police once labeled the neighborhood the “cocaine capital of New England.”

Initiatives from residents and the neighborhood organization Hyde Square Task Force improved the area dramatically in both public safety and economic empowerment over the next 30 years. But as the place became more desirable to live and wealthier white Bostonians and students began to move in, the Hyde Square Task Force became concerned that gentrification would displace current residents.

“A lot of the housing that had been, for decades, for working class Latino families, suddenly became luxury condos,” said former Task Force member Ken Tangvik, in a 2015 Ted Talk. “So now we had another challenge which was how do we preserve the Latino identity of the neighborhood?” 

It was a group of small business owners who came up with the idea of rebranding the area to be Boston’s Latin Quarter. The reasoning behind it was that Boston’s Chinatown and the North End’s Italian district were successful tourist destinations that helped the neighborhoods economically. 

“One of the critical aspects of having a Latin Quarter, a location ,a sense of place, is that we are pushing and making sure that as a community, we are seen,” said Celina Miranda, executive director of the Hyde Square Task Force in a 2019 interview. “We cannot be ignored. We are here. It gives us definitely a physical location, but also a symbolic location.

Negrón says rebranding areas to represent the demographics of the people who live there is an example of how communities claim space and force outsiders to recognize the population that is already there.

“That naming has a very concrete message and a claim to ‘official’ dimensions,” Negrón said. “If this is recognized as a community with a distinct character and identity, it might be easier to push back against economic and political forces. There is a sense of ownership that happens.”

 

Nubian Square

nubian square

 

On Dec. 19, 2019, Dudley Square, the neighborhood’s primary commercial shopping district, was renamed Nubian Square, after Roxbury-area voters elected for a name change in a citywide election in November. 

The switch rid the area of its controversial moniker, which honors Thomas Dudley, the 17th century British colonial governor with supposed ties to slavery. Dudley was said to have allowed laws establishing slavery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The new name also pays homage to Africa’s Nubian Empire, according to Sadiki Kambon, a local activist, chair of the Nubian Square Coalition and founder of the Black Community Information Center.

According to Kambon, the name change is about more than changing signage. It’s about bringing power back to the people and making changes that will ultimately improve the quality of life in the neighborhood. 

“We want people to know that not only are we renaming it, we are reclaiming it and we want to stay on top of the gentrification in the neighborhood to make sure it is not pushing our people out,” Kambon said. “We want to make people know it is a new day for Nubian Square.” 

Negrón says the Nubian name is unique and powerful linguistically, because it invokes Africa and the African Diaspora in an American urban setting.

“Nubian is a way to reflect Black excellence, Black history without necessarily tying it to American Blackness,” Negrón said. 

Since the win in December, the landscape around Nubian Square has been changing. The MBTA has declared it will be changing the name of Dudley Station, the bus depot in the middle of the neighborhood. Google Maps has been updated to reflect the new name, and stores around the area are rebranding to reflect the Nubian name. 

But though the landscape around Nubian Square may be evolving, residents still grapple with whether or not the name change will change anything.

David Krarkpat, 58, doesn’t think the new name will change the identity of the neighborhood. 

“I think that it’s more of a teaching and learning process for the newer generations. Because people are going to say, ‘I’ve lived here all my life and to me, it’s always going to be Dudley Square, regardless of the history,’” Krarkpat said. 

There are still some who call it by its former name, whether out of habit or resistance to change. One of those people is Glenn Williams, 50, a resident of Mattapan.

While Williams said he would likely continue to call it Dudley Square, he also acknowledged the significance of a name change to different groups. 

“Names that are associated with slave owners –– I can see where that could be problematic for minorities who are trying to get past that legacy,” Williams said. “In a lot of ways, it is a challenge. I know I wouldn’t want to live in a community named after a former slave-owner. I know I wouldn’t want to live in a community named after an oppressive figure in history. Getting these names changed helps us make progress, helps us move forward.”

“The whole name change thing, I wouldn’t say I wake up with that on my mind. I will say I wake up wondering if I’ll be able to obtain housing for a long period of time, or if I can put food on the table by the end of the day. Those are the things that have my interests and my concerns.”

misha thomas

“There’s a lot of power in words. So, being able to change the name of an area to reflect something more positive than a negative colonial history is important. Changing the name to something that reflects the people that live here is relevant to me.”

Jersey Street

jersey street

 

Bustling Fenway Park spills out into the surrounding streets before and after every game and event. People walk along a stretch of Jersey Street, picking up snacks and drinks and t-shirts from vendors. Although this scene has been the same for years, important changes have taken place that can’t be seen with the naked eye. 

The idea to change the name of the famous street from Yawkey Way to Jersey Street was proposed by the Boston Red Sox in February 2018. Red Sox owner John Henry expressed an interest in removing the name of Thomas A. Yawkey, the former Red Sox owner who was at least partially responsible for the team being the last to integrate in Major League Baseball. The Red Sox did not begin allowing non-white players until 1959.

The street in front of Fenway Park, which was originally called Jersey Street, was given the name Yawkey Way in 1976 to honor Thomas Yawkey after his death.

jersey street

Photo by Ruth Hunger

The Red Sox petition, which sought to remove the Yawkey title and return the street to its original name, quickly made its way to Boston’s Public Improvement Commission where it was unanimously approved. 

Howard Bryant, sports writer and author of the book “Shut Out: A story of race and baseball in Boston,” said in an August 2017 interview with WBUR that he was worried switching the name back to Jersey Street would erase baseball history.

Fans have historically viewed Yawkey as an idol and a saviour, for bringing the team back from an abysmal record. However, critics say Yawkey’s reluctance to sign any Black players and his poor defense of these actions taints his relationship to the team. 

“I have no feeling against colored people,” Yawkey said in a 1965 interview with Sports Illustrated. “I employ a lot of them in the South. But they are clannish, and when that story got around that we didn’t want Negroes, they all decided to sign with some other club. Actually, we scouted them all along, but we didn’t want one because he was a Negro, we wanted a ballplayer.”

This last statement is widely acknowledged to be false, since Yawkey chose not to recruit Black baseball hall-of-famer Willie Mays in 1949 when Red Sox scout George Digby suggested it as an opportunity to break the color line. Mays went on to play for the New York-turned-San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets instead, and the Red Sox remained white for another 10 years.

Nicole Wheeler, 46, of Dorchester, doesn’t fully agree with changing a name with a negative backstory. 

“We need to learn where we came from,” Wheeler said, “and if we erase the past we are just going to repeat it in the future, so leave it. Let us learn why it was named that way and get the lesson out of it versus pretending like it didn’t happen.”

Negrón says that when name changes happen, it requires a community to socialize into the use of the new name, and that identity is formed through the repetitive correction and learning process. 

“If someone uses an old name, like Yawkey Way, the act of being corrected is part of building that sense of empowerment and awareness and identity formation,” Negrón said. “It creates teaching moments, ‘so why was it this and now it’s this?’ that opens up an opportunity to teach about the history and tell a story about the community.”

Although the street no longer bears his name, Yawkey’s legacy lives on in the form of the plaque next to the Jersey Street club entrance.

nicole wheeler

Q: Do you think names with a negative backstory should be changed?

A: “No, because we need to learn where we came from and if we erase the past we are just going to repeat it in the future, so leave it. Let us learn why it was named that way and get the lesson out of it versus pretending like it didn’t happen.”

Faneuil Hall

fanueil

 

While some name change proposals have been widely accepted and supported by the city, others have not. 

One of those is Faneuil Hall, which was at the center of an activist movement two years ago that was unsuccessful. 

The idea to rename Faneuil Hall to Crispus Attucks Freedom Hall first began in the summer of 2018, at the same time that other landmark name changes were occurring, like Yawkey Way becoming Jersey Street.

Faneuil Hall has been a landmark in Boston since the 1740s, when was a public marketplace and a meetinghouse integral to state and national history. It was named for Peter Faneuil, a wealthy Franco-American merchant and philanthropist who paid for the hall to be built as a public market space for the city in 1742. Faneuil owned five slaves, and was involved in the slave trade.

In early summer 2018, a nonprofit called the New Democracy Coalition submitted a petition to Boston City Council, asking that Faneuil’s name be removed from the hall. The petition recommended renaming the hall in honor of Crispus Attucks, a Black sailor who worked in Boston shipyards, and who was the first man killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770.

Faneuil Hall’s prominence as an iconic historic site makes changing the name of it complicated. 

Elif Murat, 28, of East Boston, says such an iconic place changing its name would be too confusing.

“Since many people won’t know about the history behind the name, it doesn’t really matter,” Murat said.

These feelings echo what Mayor Marty Walsh said to the New York Times while this name change proposition was happening. 

“If we were to change the name of Faneuil Hall today, 30 years from now, no one would know why we did it,” he said.

Walsh also told the Times that many good things have happened at Faneuil Hall since its original naming, including Frederick Douglass calling for the end to slavery in 1849, and citizenship ceremonies for new Americans.

Mayor Walsh did, however, support an alternative way to recognize the history: artist Steve Locke’s “Auction Block Memorial at Faneuil Hall.” 

This art installation, with the complete title “A Site Dedicated to Those Enslaved Africans and African-Americans Whose Kidnapping and Sale Here Took Place and Whose Labor and Trafficking Through the Triangular Trade Financed the Building of Faneuil Hall” was Locke’s attempt to honor the past in a transparent way. It was started separately from the name change initiative.

The installation was to be the footprint of an auction block, where slaves once stood waiting to be sold, as a bronze plate embedded in the cobblestones outside Faneuil Hall. Raised text and images would explain the slave trade to viewers. 

However, after the Boston NAACP announced that they opposed the installation, due to a lack of community input, Locke withdrew the proposal and issued his own statement surrounding the issue in The Globe. Some people complained that the art project was detracting attention from the renaming initiative.

Boston Globe columnist, Adrian Walker, wrote in August 2018 that Boston “has bigger racial problems than the name of Faneuil Hall.”

“Without question, Boston needs to come to terms with issues of race and equity, past and present,” Walker wrote in the column, “We need a conversation — and we need to figure out how to move beyond conversation.”

In June 2020, amid nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, the New Democracy Coalition renewed its efforts to get the name of the hall changed. 

“We can’t just say it’s a name,” New Democracy Coalition’s executive director Kevin Peterson told WBUR June 9.”We would not have a Hitler Hall in the city of Boston.”

elif murat

“Well-known places shouldn’t change their names because people will be confused. Also, since many people won’t know about the history behind the name, it doesn’t really matter.”

Malcolm X Park

malcom X Park

 

Malcolm X Park, which sprawls across 10 acres in the center of Roxbury, is an oasis of green space for the urban neighborhood and hub of social life for families in the community. Residents gather at the basketball court to play pick-up games and beside the turf fields for little league baseball practice. They walk their dogs on the wooded trails and swim in the outdoor pool beside the Shelburne Community Center.

The area was once called Washington Park, and was renamed in 1986 for minister and civil rights leader Malcolm X (formerly Malcolm Little), who lived beside the park as a teenager in the 1940s. 

Removing the Washington name from the majority-Black community was Sadiki Kambon’s first foray into rebranding activism.

George Washington became a slave owner at age 11 when he inherited his father’s farm in 1743 along with the 10 slaves who worked there. By the time of his death he owned 123 individuals, who were freed by Martha Washington in 1800.

“We felt it was inappropriate to have a park in our community named after a former slave owner,” Kambon said. “We wanted to celebrate it with putting the name of someone from our community who could command respect and who was respected.”

Malcolm X lived in Massachusetts during his rambunctious teenage years, when he struggled to keep a job and frequently got in trouble. It was during the seven years he spent in Massachusetts prison that he became educated and religious and developed an interest in civil rights activism. The two-story home where he lived at 72 Dale Street on the edge of the park belonged to his older half-sister, Ella Little Collins, and is a Massachusetts historic landmark today.  

“Behind the bars of Massachusetts prisons [Malcolm X] educated and remade himself into a disciplined, religious man with the backbone to stand up for his people,” Kenneth J. Cooper, a Harvard Kennedy School fellow at the time, wrote in the Bay State Banner in 2006. “More than a half century after he moved away from Boston, there are still many places in and around the city where anyone can look at and say, ‘Malcolm was here.’”

Malcolm X Park by Eileen O'Grady

Photo by Eileen O’Grady

To get the park’s name changed, Kabon said he filed paperwork with Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department, and presented before the Boston Parks Commission.

On April 28, 1986, the Commission held a community meeting at the Shelburne Community Center, where citizens could come to share their opinion on the name change. 

They did not expect to have such a large turnout. Roxbury residents who supported the name change filled up the community room until it was standing room only.

“There were young people and older people there,” said former Parks and Recreation Commissioner Robert McCoy, in a May 1986 article in the Boston Globe. “It was one of the best community meetings I’ve ever been to. When the board saw that, there was no question.” 

“The chair of the board said, before they even took the vote, based on the turnout, ‘it looks like we are going to have a Malcolm X Park,’” Kambon said. “And then they took the vote and it was unanimous for the name change.”

On May 19, 1986, there was a small renaming ceremony held on the park’s baseball diamond. A wooden platform was erected for speakers, and decorated with a red, black and green banner, colors of the pan-African flag representing Black liberation. A 10-year-old girl named Amefika Varris sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a song often referred to as the Black national anthem.

Kambon, who worked on the project with the group he founded, the Black Community Information Center, said changing the name of the park was important to the neighborhood’s identity, especially to the identity of young people who were growing up in the community.

“We thought it was really important, particularly in light of the fact that a lot of our young people use the park…it was important for them to celebrate heroes who reflect who they are,” Kambon said. “For our young people, being able to talk about the fact that they were going through Malcolm X Park, you could hear a certain amount of pride in their voice.”

Negrón said that the act of naming a location is an important way to mark that community as special and unique, which is important for residents’ sense of identity.

“There are so many places named Washington,” Negrón said. “It is such an indistinct name. Malcolm X is also becoming more popular, but it creates a marker for that community. It’s us in relation to…the rest of the city, to Boston, to city officials.”

Today, the name’s significance differs for older and younger residents, mostly based on whatever name they were most familiar with growing up in the neighborhood.

Gary Jerome, 58, has lived in Roxbury for over 30 years. He says many people he knows still call it Washington Park because they are used to the name, despite the amount of time that has passed. 

“The young people call it Malcolm X Park, but most of the older people call it Washington Park because it was what they grew up with,” Jerome said. “Names don’t really matter, no one really bothers about it because people call it whatever they want to.”

nicole fullerton

“When you tell kids ‘this is called Malcolm X Park,’ as a child you just call it that. You don’t even know the meaning behind it, you just know that’s what it’s called. It’s not until you become a teenager in school and you learn the greater impact of names and meanings to you.”

tony robertson

“We’re always going to call it Washington Park. It doesn’t really change for us, but younger people are all about using the new name.”

Malcolm X Boulevard

malcom X Boulvard

 

Malcolm X Boulevard is a four-lane highway that runs for 0.6 miles from Nubian Square to Roxbury Crossing Station, connecting Washington Street with Columbus Avenue in Roxbury. 

The street, which was previously called New Dudley Street, was changed in the 1990s and was the second rebranding initiative Kambon and his group took on. 

New Dudley Street was named after the same New England colonial family with ties to slavery that Dudley Square was named after. 

The boulevard runs past the John D. O’Bryant School of Math and Science (named after the first African American elected to Boston School Committee), Madison Park High School and Islamic Society of Boston’s mosque and cultural center. 

“On that stretch you have Madison Park High School, you also have the largest mosque in New England,” Kambon said. “We said it made no sense to have New Dudley Street enhancing the name of the Dudley family.”

Kambon and his group went through the process with the city of Boston, and recieved a good deal of help and support along the way from former District 7 City Councilor Chuck Turner.

They put out information to the community, including to the director at the high school, and circulated information throughout the neighborhood. Eventually, city officials approved the name change.

Kambon thinks it was important for community morale to have the name of the street changed.

“I had some young people tell me that it felt good for them to be leaving school and waiting for the bus on Malcolm X Boulevard,” Kambon said. “Subconsciously or consciously, it is good for young people to be feeling good about themselves and to be hearing about somebody in their community who commanded respect.” 

Preparing for the Future

Kambon says the fight to separate the names of communities from historic racism is far from over. He hopes that the next generation of young people will be interested in continuing the work. 

“We are hopeful that young people will in fact grab the baton and continue to take down these names like Ruggles, Codman, Washington,” he said.

Negrón says that much of the renaming activism she has observed in recent years has been from young people. The most prominent examples are student activists at colleges and universities, pushing back against the names of buildings and statues and monuments with ties to historic racism.

“They are growing up with a greater sense of their agency, an interest in politics and their sense of being able to change things,” Negrón said. “And they don’t have a nostalgia from the past.”

In 2016, student protesters at Harvard University successfully advocated for the removal of slaveholder Isaac Royal Jr.’s family seal from the official crest of Harvard Law School.

Negrón said it’s one example of the ways communities are increasingly unwilling to be associated with historic racism.

“It has to do with reclaiming a particular space and recognizing that the people who are currently there are demanding greater control over their spaces and greater power over dictating the meaning of the spaces and pushing back against racist history,” she said.

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