Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dr. King in Boston . 2

Continued from Dr. King in Boston . 1

The South End was the center of black middle class life and culture throughout the first half of the 20th century, beginning after 1900 when African Americans moved there from their historic home on the backside, or black-side, of Beacon Hill behind the State House. By 1950, they also shared the densely populated neighborhood with 39 other ethnic groups, many of them recent immigrants to the country: Syrian, Lebanese, Armenian and Chinese.

Martin might have preferred to be closer to campus but racial prejudice prevailed, as we've seen, and he chose a place just over the tracks of the northeast rail lines, on the very dividing line between black and white Boston. This block at the corner of Mass. and Columbus Avenues anchored one of America's great jazz meccas, home to over a dozen different clubs offering every sort of America's own music. Two blocks away, in the white Back Bay, Symphony Hall and the conservatories programmed and studied European classical music.

Boston had always been, and in the postwar years still was, racially segregated, as was most of the country. Unlike the South, segregation wasn't on the books or legislated, but the de facto lines were clearly drawn in black and white and well understood by both races. Blacks weren't allowed to live in most neighborhoods, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants, work in many jobs, sometimes simply walk the streets and most of all mingle with whites.

The one area where these racial rules were relaxed was on this dividing line in the South End where the jazz clubs catered to both races. Here blacks and whites, audiences and musicians, freely met, mingled, dug the music, jammed and romanced.

Continued at Dr. King in Boston . 3.

Image ... 397 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston.

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