'The Voice of the Ghetto'

Report on Two Meetings In Boston Neighborhoods

The Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights conducted two open meetings in March and April of 1966 to receive information about the civil rights problems of the residents of the Negro ghettos of Roxbury, North Dorchester, and the South End of Boston from the residents themselves.

The Committee heard from more than 60 residents, as well as community and civil rights workers who live and work in the ghetto. There was also participation by some public officials who discussed their programs and responded to questions raised at the meeting, but many officials chose to ignore the Committee's invitation. Because of the fragmentary response by public officials, this report is limited to the remarks of the ghetto dwellers. It is not intended to be a full scale analysis by the Committee of the problems of employment, housing, education, welfare, and municipal services. However, through this report, the Committee hopes to increase public understanding of what it means to be a Negro in Boston.

Both meetings were purposely kept informal to permit spontaneity of expression. Hence many of the participants gave a vivid portrayal of life in the Negro ghetto. Many of the complaints heard at the Roxbury-North Dorchester meeting were reiterated at the South End meeting. Feelings of alienation, bitterness, discouragement, and hopelessness were evident in the statements of almost every person. The ghetto residents told the Committee of their constant struggle against the damaging effects of both poverty and prejudice.

An Overview

Ten percent of the residents of Boston are Negro. Almost the entire Negro population is concentrated in Roxbury, part of the South End and, increasingly, North Dorchester. The Negro in this ghetto is subjected to inferior schooling, sub-standard housing, restricted job opportunities, and a lifetime of underachievement.

It is harder for the Negro than for the White person to survive physically in Boston. Thirty-one nonwhite babies of every 1,000 live births die before they are on-year-old, compared to 18.8 of every 1,000 white babies.

According to 1960 census data, more than one-fourth of all the non-white families in the Metropolitan Boston Area had no male head of household. In Boston, 46 percent of all families receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) are nonwhite.

The 1960 median annual income for nonwhites was $4,447 and $6,753 for whites. About 30.6 percent of all nonwhites earned less than $3,000, compared to 10.4 percent of all whites. The unemployment rate for nonwhites was 7.8 percent, and for whites, 4.1 percent.

Though some jobs are opening up, for every Negro newly hired, large numbers are being let go from unskilled or semi-skilled employment because of automation, to flood the job market.

On the average, the Negro with the same education as a white person earns less. Therefore, the Negro community believes that Negroes generally receive fewer benefits from education than whites do.

Of 201 public schools in Boston, 45 had at least 51 percent nonwhite enrollment. Twenty of these had atleast 95 percent nonwhite enrollment. The degree of segregation is intensifying.

The 1960 census showed that almost one-half of all the Negro housing was dilapidated or deteriorating, compared to 18 percent of white housing. Urban renewal has resulted in the relocation of families from slum neighborhoods to adjacent areas where equally bad situations are developing. Despite fair housing laws, Negroes are still largely restricted to the areas where they now live.

Integration of Boston's public housing has been token. Most projects still can be clearly identified as predominantly white or predominantly Negro.


A recurring theme during the four days of meeting was the powerlessness of the Negro community. Whether the people were discussing housing, employment, Welfare, the poverty program, education, or municipal services, they inevitably made the point that no one listen to them, no one consults them, no one considers their needs.