Living history project builds understanding of community’s past
Oral historian Lolita Parker, Jr. is keeping Lower Roxbury’s history alive.
The photographer and documentary-film researcher has collected hundreds of photos and 3-D artifacts and conducted more than 40 interviews with longtime residents of the neighborhood to preserve the community’s history and share it with generations to come.
“We need to tell the story in a way that is easily accessible,” says Parker, who calls herself an “above-ground archaeologist.”
“We have to find people who lived it.”
The Lower Roxbury Oral History Project grew out of a meeting between Northeastern President Joseph Aoun and Roxbury clergy, who urged him to commit Northeastern to capturing the neighborhood history that was slipping away as residents died or moved out. It is a collaborative effort among university administrators and faculty, Massachusetts Rep. Byron Rushing, whom many regard as Roxbury’s official African-American historian, and Rev. Michael Haynes, a Roxbury community activist and former state legislator.
Lower Roxbury is sometimes mapped as Harrison Avenue in the southeast to the MBTA tracks in the northwest, and Massachusetts Avenue in the east to Melnea Cass Boulevard on the west. Joseph Warren, special assistant to the director of government relations and community affairs at Northeastern, says that it’s particularly important for Lower Roxbury residents to understand their history because, it’s where Boston’s black community developed and evolved over a 50 year period from the early to mid-1900s.
“History evokes a kind of memory, knowledge and pride that is lost as generations go by,” he says. “Understanding and appreciating Lower Roxbury’s history is especially important because nothing of this kind has ever been done before. It’s especially amazing to see how many children are interested in how their neighborhood has evolved."