Monday, July 07, 2003

Hiking History VII

Saturday, before leaving for my week in Wisconsin, I went on a historical walk and talk through the South End of Boston. Offered through the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and organized by Mytown, the two-hour walk included several interesting labor organizing-, multicultural-, and counterculture-related sites, many of which I wasn't familiar with previously.

Starting at the Back Bay T station, we gathered at the statue of A. Philip Randolph, an African-American civil rights leader who helped organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. After walking through Tent City, an affordable housing complex now located on the site of a protest against urban renewal that involved 100 neighborhood activists, including Mel King, we continued to the original location of Harriet Tubman's house.

From there, we walked through the Southwest Corridor Park, a 4.7 mile-long green belt between Back Bay and Forest Hills that was originally planned to be an 8-12 lane highway. That took us to Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, originally opened in 1927. Owner Charlie Poulos served blacks and whites before many establishments in the Boston area, and his restaurant also served as a hang out for jazz musicians and labor organizers. If you go, look for the dice set in the sidewalk in front of the entrance. Lore has it that local craps players left one set -- a lucky 7 -- so Charlie would always have good luck. That set sank, so they left another. The original set rose again, and now there are two sets of lucky 7 gracing the pavement.

Leaving Charlie's we went to the Lucy Parsons Center, a long-running radical bookstore and community center that's also had homes in Central and Davis squares. What I didn't know was that it's now located at the original site of the Academy of Musical Arts, an educational facility run by a Native-American woman who wanted to provide affordable arts programming to disadvantaged area youth. From there, we passed the former residence of Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived in Boston in the early '50s while attending Boston University.

The final stop was Wally's Jazz Cafe, which opened in 1947 across the street from where it is now -- and was part of the Chitlin Circuit of jazz clubs that supported African-American musicans. After the tour ended, I swung back by Lucy Parsons to see if it had opened. It hadn't. Regardless, what a wonderful way to start my vacation!

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