Harvard Profs Face Life In Often Harsh Setting

Black Scholars in Boston

While Boston is in many respects a cultural haven for scholars, the city has long struggled with a reputation as a city inhospitable to its Black residents.

Harvard traditionally goes out of its way to court potential faculty members. But for prospective Black professors, who seek a social community and a peaceful place to raise a family, Boston can appear less than receptive.

"I think that Boston is too self-satisfied about its liberal reputation," says Dean of Students Archie C. Peps III. "There are enough horror stories going around to suggest that moving into this environment is a problem, not so much of blatant racism but of subtle racism."

Peps points to area studies that show that when crimes are committed against Black victims, white bystanders are less quick to offer aid.

Active prejudice occasionally manifests in the city, as it did two years ago when Charles Stuart, a white man, killed his wife and then accused a Black man of the murder. But what can make Boston difficult for Black professionals on a daily basis, Peps and other Black academics say, is the apparent absence of Blacks altogether.


The Red Sox and the Celtics have long been criticized for the severe dearth of Black fans in their stands. And some Boston streets, scholars say, are as devoid of Black faces are the city's sports arenas.

It is possible to walk in various sections of Boston, such as Newbury Street and Copley Square, and very rarely see a Black person, says Assistant Professor of English and Afro-American studies Philip Brian Harper.

"My experience had been that Boston was a very difficult place to live in as a Black person," says Harper, who has lived in the Boston area since graduating from Cornell.

And the problems are often more pronounced, he says, for middle class Blacks. Harper describes "an intense invisibility that characterizes professional Blacks in this city."

The Black middle class, Epps says, is often difficult to find, and even harder to access. It is a "small and highly diffuse group," he says. "Except for some social organizations, you won't find much cohesion."

Scholarship, Epps says, often brings Black academics together, making the Boston experience more comfortable.

"I think there are enough Black scholars here to form a real community," he says.

Scholars say a number of organizations reach out to Black families and help make new arrivals to the city feel welcome.

But efforts by the Black community aren'talways sufficient to make Black professionals feelwelcome in Boston.

Many Black professors say they are warned aboutspecific areas--Charlestown, South Boston andsometimes the North End--that they should avoidfor safety's sake.

"Hypersegregated" is the word Professor ofAfro-American Studies K. Anthony Appiah uses todescribe the city he moved to last year.