This blog post is not about the usual suspects discussed when the phrase “Black on Black Crime” is discussed. I’m not talking about boys in the hood, domestic violence or drug wars.
I’m talking about the Black-on-Black crime of the eradication of Black cultural businesses and institutions in Boston.
Taken as individual cases, each may make sense for the people involved. Taken together, I see a pattern of Black people either hurting other Black people by selling Black businesses or helping set up the failure of Black politicians or losing community-based organizations (CBOs).
In a city like Boston where the population of Black people is small to begin with, any loss of a political seat, a restaurant or club, or a CBO has a deleterious impact because a business or institutions is lost, they tend to be loss forever. (Anyone remember Connolly’s?)
I started to thinking about this the other night and these examples jumped quickly to my mind:
The selling of WILD Radio 1090 by the widow of its original owner to Black-owned Radio One who summarily moved the offices from their beloved community-based space to a suburban office. They got rid of the local talent and put the station up for sale. It languishes a shadow of its former self, while it waits for someone to purchase it. Radio One didn’t care about preserving a community institution or Black presence on radio in Boston. (Worth noting that the station was always limited because of the lack of evening programming.)
The former Bob-the-Chef’s restaurant, which existed for 50 years, was a place you could count on to get your soul food grub on. Located at the edge of Roxbury, on Columbus Ave. near Mass. Ave., it was just over the border from the South End. A new Black owner buys it, remodels it, changes the name and the atmosphere, broadens the food selection a little (and adds liquor) – all of it within his right. It is no longer a spot where families will come so much but it is lively. Then he sells it. The restaurant/bistro no longer exists. (A white owner gutted the space and opened something that stayed open less than six months.)
Because of this sale there is no sit-down restaurant in Roxbury or Dorchester where you can have soulful Southern cuisines in comfort or that you would bring out-of-town guests to. (Yes there are a few places that sell soul food like Slade’s but Slade’s is a bar that sells food and has a limited menu. Chef Lee’s is no longer located in Uphams Corner with a few tables, it is now in Grove Hall and is basically take-out.) With Bob’s gone, there’s one less reminder that this part of Roxbury was home to the African-American community and not to Northeastern College students – not that there’s anything wrong with college students.
Speaking of Slade’s – the son of the original owner sold it and it is now owned by someone who’s not Black. So far the music and food haven’t changed but the countdown to a change has begun. (Just down the street, Estelle’s changed from Black ownership and patronage a few years ago.)
Does anyone remember Café Dudley, which had ambience and delicious food (if slow service)? It was right next to Dudley Station and it’s demise was a Black-on-Black catastrophe.
Thank goodness that Wally’s is holding on and remains owned by its original Black family and the last example of the jazz clubs that thrived in the area.
OF COURSE OWNERS HAVE THE RIGHT TO SELL WHAT THEY OWN. Like I said at the start of this entry – taken alone these incidents don’t seem like much, but taken together and looking at the fact that this has all happened within the last 5 years, it feels like there’s a pattern…only this time “the man” is “the us.” We are doing it to ourselves, getting rid of our own businesses and organizations, cutting off our legacy, and erasing living evidence that Black people owned businesses, restaurants, and nightclubs in Boston that thrived for a good while.
Ron Wilburn, a Black businessman who wanted to open a jazz club in Roxbury dropped a dime on former State Senator Dianne Wilkerson (the only state senator of color) when she asked him to pay for her to help him get a liquor license. (I thought everybody had to pay to play especially when it comes to liquor licenses.) Now, Dianne’s financial house has been in disarray for sometime and she has done her share of tacky stuff, but she was a brilliant politician who’d put in years of service and had some clout and pull. So this brother helped set her up. Now, after a few months, he realizes that he was used by “the man” to help eliminate her and Councilor Chuck Turner…too bad he couldn’t have seen this ahead of time.
Chuck’s not going down, however, without a fight. Luckily he has run his organization professionally and has a reputation that is sterling which means that many more people will go to bat on his behalf.
A Nubian Notion, Inc.(ANN), a family owned business for almost 40 years and an anchor store in the Dudley Business district throughout the lean years with two locations a half-block apart was done in by “the community man.” Nuestra Comunidad who rehabbed the Dartmouth Hotel where ANN was located and ANN anchor store, a freestanding one story building. (Like many people, I’d always assumed that ANN owned that building – turns out, they didn’t.) A new but much smaller space was given to ANN. Things went south and now the cultural store (where led many shopping tours for Discover Roxbury) is now back in one space – cramped inside the convenience store.
While Nuestra, a CBO, wasn’t headed by a Black or other person of color – it was still a CBO that was supposed to help not hinder or help eliminate the best interests of the community. In presentations I attended when Nuestra was acquiring the Dartmouth Hotel, they pledged to support the existing business. Now ANN is a shadow of its former self. (Perhaps the original crime was that the A Nubian Notion Family didn’t buy a building back when no developers were looking at Dudley and the getting was good.)
(I do give props to Nuestra for restoring the Dartmouth hotel and removing decades of grime and renovating and occupying the upper floors with residential units. Congrats to them on erecting the new building where ANN was, although, since the ground floor retains retail it seems that they could have added floors to the original building and kept ANN in that space where they were doing, to quote Mary J. Blige “just fine-fine-fine-fine-fine!)
Ownership nearly always trumps renting.
On the brink:
Lena Park, Roxbury Multiservice Center, and the Urban League are being dismantled or are on life-support. Ditto ACT Roxbury, my old haunt. The reasons include lack of proper stewardship, lack of investment before the economic downturn, paltry giving by individuals, leadership that doesn’t represent community interests (not that anyone can agree what this means), and over-reliance on philanthropic dollars (a fickle source of support if there was one).
Boston’s Black community is hurting from a steady erosion of its institutions and political power. And the shame is – we are doing it to ourselves!
(Yeah, I know, the white power structure over the years has done the lion’s share of damage to the Black community. But I expect that. Depending on the project, the Boston Redevelopment Authority has been foe or friend. Connolly’s Tavern/ played live jazz for 55 years but was shut down in 1997 by the BRA. The parcel still sits vacant. At the very least, the music could still have been going on until a developer was actually ready to start building. Currently, the National Center of African-American Artists is in a struggle to secure funding for their vision for the parcel, because the BRA has de-designated them as developers.)
What we’ve done to ourselves as Black people is short-sighted and self-destructive. Power comes from the ability to employ our own family members and neighbors, have our own gathering spots, donate to our own schools and organizations, and have voices* that represent our own interest. At this, we are failing Black Boston.
Can you imagine all the Irish pubs, Italian restaurants, Latino bodegas going down one-after-the-other like Black businesses have?
A Parting Thought
Thank goodness for more than 45 years of the Bay State Banner, Boston’s Black newspaper, but, wait-a-minute, there is potential trouble there as well. I don’t know what publisher Mel Miller’s succession plan is. Our lone Black newspaper could be owned, upon its owner’s death, by his white wife (who has toiled there and improved its marketing and advertising) but who, champion that she is, is not Black. And another Black-founded and owned cultural institution could bite-the-dust.
(*I acknowledge the efforts of Touch 106.1 FM but they lack the bandwidth that WILD had.)
You and I are on the same page at the same time. I am not surprised. This subject has come up in conversation many times over the past year. Just this morning I had a conversation about a particular black-owned retail store the Dudley area staying alive in the downturned economy.
We have no idea, how many other less visible businesses have had to close. For the record, you can add Funky Fresh Records and Freedom House to your list.
Obviously, its not just our community. There was an article on 14 bricks and mortar galleries in the Boston area that closed last year. How about Strawberries, Tower Records, and Circuit City?
There will be many casualties at a time like this. The problem is the devastating effect it will have in communities of color who were struggling even when thing were ok. The loss of the enterprises you mentioned have so much impact because there were so few to begin with.
How do we change this pattern? In our efforts to support people of color, a lot of our energies go to folks on the bottom rung. Folks in jail, pregnant teens, folks who need a GED or who have no health care. The homeless and the hungry. But very little support goes into business development and entrepreneurship within Roxbury. For all of the MBA’s and other degrees we have acquired, where are the enterprises that contribute to a healthy local economy? How can we expect to employ our teens and young adults when few of us have any positions to offer? How can we expect other communities to do it for us?
The way we do business is changing with options like the web and social networking, but the basics are the same. Deliver a product or service that people need at a fair price with a pleasant and appreciative attitude and your customers will come back again and again. Where is the entrepreneurial spirit?
I appreciate the work you’ve done over the years to support local cultural businesses. We just need more- more enterprise, more collaboration, more creativity, more community focus, more courage and we need it now.
I understand your point here, the strength of a community is in its people’s ability to control their own sources of income, power and change. To that extent, the loss of black ownership is damaging, but it is not necessarily so nor is it limited to black ownership.
In a racially and ethnically diverse community where barriers to ownership aren’t necessarily based on color, there is still reason to despair over the loss of self-reliance. Small businesses are under siege. They have been for a while. Restaurants, which I know from first hand knowledge, must have multiple licenses to operate, each with it’s own price tag: Food, Milk, Frozen Desserts, Beer and Wine, Catering, Site Cleanliness, Entertainment, Egress, and more. It requires an attorney to keep up with it all and every mom and pop who owns their own store will tell you there’s no room in the profits for an attorney.
Each successful small business or organization requires a person at its helm who is capable of dozens of tasks that in a big organization are each handled by a department or at least an individual or outsourced, for example, marketing, advertising, sales, IT, accounting, payroll management, health care, publishing, personnel management, cleaning, delivery, and more. The people who are capable of doing all of these things PLUS their primary task, black or white are becoming increasingly rare as the world becomes increasingly complex and our basic schooling which now is up to 16 years does not equip any but the most exceptional graduate to handle. And when a shopkeeper or leader does manage to do it all, the price for the product at the cash register is almost always higher than in the chain stores. It takes a very well educated customer to realize that the extra dollar they spend for a sandwich at the mom and pop makes their community a healthier place.
Is it the responsibility of any individual storeowner to stay in business when she has an offer to sell out that will make her life more comfortable or even more bearable? Perhaps even more to the point, would you expect a parent to encourage her child to follow in her footsteps if a college education can help her child to a less complicated career that pays better?
Neighborhood centers and their surrounding areas are the focus of the Boston Main Streets program and while it has had some effect strengthening the hand of small business owners, it is fighting a losing battle as the conditions for doing business become more complex and virtually unattractive to the next generation who in the past would have assumed ownership from their parents. It is not black on black crime that is hurting black communities; it is the wider culture that imposes steep costs on small businesses, costs that bigger businesses and better healed individuals can absorb because of their size or their talent. Running these small organizations is a herculean task and after two years in recession, it’s no wonder that more are closing.
As for Dianne Wilkerson, she was hurt by her own greed. There is no such rule as pay to play, not in the way that she demanded. If she were white you would not excuse her by saying it was someone else’s fault for turning her in. I empathize with her. She was done in by her own inability as a small businesswoman to handle all that there is to handle in a job like hers. She was an excellent advocate, but not such an excellent manager. She has only herself to blame; Ron Wilburn was not the only man who could have taken her down. Once someone heads down the wrong path, it’s very hard to prevent them from falling off the cliff. As a Senator who represented everyone in her district, she disappointed everyone by taking the wrong fork in the road. If hers was a black on black crime, she was both perpetrator and victim.
Thanks for taking the time to make such thoughtful comments. I understand every bit of what you’re saying.
If you’re Black and you want to go to a place with Black ambience in Boston, some place nice, it’s getting harder and harder to find a public place to do that. If I were Asian – I could find several places, if I wanted Dominican orJamaican or other Caribbean food, I could find places. It’s a whole category of places that is being wiped out and, of course, now that the economy is truly tanking that doesn’t bode well at all.
I can go to Charlotte, Atlanta, Chicago, New York, DC, St. Louis, Philly, etc. and fine those cultural institutions without difficulty because they have more than one. Boston is a different story and people have lamented this for years.
So what are you going to do about it? Instead of bemoaning the situation, people need to take initiative, support causes, businesses, become entrepreneurs, not blame others alone. Dianne Wilkerson and Chuck Turner set themselves up. Ron Wilburn was a good man for calling out the truth. And imagine if a white person wrote about the horrors of a business possibly landing in *oh no* black hands! Racism goes both ways.
I did run a cultural organization for nearly 10 years that is now sinking. I also have a business and have supported businesses owned by Blacks, whites and other people of color by leading shopping tours, etc.
There’s nothing racist about my comments. The reality is that because so few businesses, especially in Boston, are owned by Blacks, they are usually lost once they are sold.
A very thoughtful piece here. How about the newly opened Hen House for soul food? It’s certainly family friendly. And though the Haley House doesn’t serve soul food exclusively, it’s certainly serving the Dudley community. Flames in Grove Hall?
I was on my way though Dudley on my way to the Footlight Club a month ago, and I was shocked to see that Nubian Notion was closed (or rather, the nice half, not the weird convenience store half).
There are a half dozen other stores in the area that I don’t see lasting much longer… not to mention what’s going to happen to a lot of them when the Ferdinand (sp?) building is finally re-done and opened.
However, there is that feeling or “entitlement” in a lot of communities that sometime allow these things to fester and happen. The “It’ll never happen here”, or “That place will ways be open” attitude.
Parcel 3 (or is it 6) would make a nice parking lot, don’t you think =)
I do have to say that Corporate America does make it harder and harder for the “small businesses” & “entrepreneurs”…. and it is magnified in communities like Roxbury.
And this is coming from a white; conservative that’s worked in Roxbury for 7 years.
Very insightful piece speaking to the culture and history of our community. Having grown up in Roxbury, I’ve seen the neighborhood transform every year of my life. From the expansion of Northeastern (which is slowly moving our people out) to the failing/selling of many black businesses of which not only the business, but the owners were major community figures as well.
Your words go beyond supporting black businesses, and they are most certainly not racist. It’s easy to say, “If you were speaking about a white owned business…” because they don’t have to worry about losing their cultural businesses (which in black communities are normally ingrained in the environment and community) in the ways we do. Most of the cause for corporate businesses, such as Walgreens, moving into our neighborhoods is corporate greed. Our people are good enough to prey on by developing in the Mecca of Grove Hall and offering options that were not presently accessible, but raising the prices well above that of a predominately white neighborhood not 10 minutes away. As a on of the highest spending demographics, we drive consumerism and sales, therefore we should be more responsible and support our black business owners to preserve this history, without it we will lose who we are and why it made us this way.
Diane Wilkerson has done a number of “tacky” things in her career, and she should have thought twice about what she did, however should the standards for conduct be higher if you’re black? Many white politicians engage in this same behaviors and seldom crucified the way she was in the press and community. I’m not her biggest fan, but I can appreciate what she has done for the community-at-large. It’s important that we support her because she was the only State Senator of color and that put the needs of every person of color on her shoulders. She carried not only our burdens, but those of every other disenfranchised group without representation in the State House, with her gone…we have to wonder whether Northeastern will be given a plot over the line on Tremont St and move further into the neighborhood, something that Wilkerson has fought hard to keep from happening for decades.
There’s a quote that I think about when people ask why support black businesses, politicians, etc and I simply say, “First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist Then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then . . . they came for me . . . and by that time there was no one left to speak up.” This poem speaks to what’s happening in the community and the responsibility of each community member to speak up now, before there isn’t anyone left.”
Well written Ms. Candy…I enjoy your writing ver much, it always keeps me on my toes thinking.
That is a real shame. There is nothing racist about your comments at all as suggested by another reader. This is part of your community and social history that is being eroded and its knd of sad that no-one is stepping up to the plate to carry on the businesses. I guess this is where the local community needs to step up to the plate to support businesses as best they can. Times are hard and I guess more and more will be closing their doors across cities too. The local community landscape seems to be changing in lots of cities across the world.
Thanks for your comments. I am glad that you understood what I was trying to say.
You feel my pain.
Yes, community-based businesses are losing out. What made a community a specific place changes not only because the demographics of the people change but also because people don’t always value what they have or those of us who value and support while we can aren’t able to own…. It happens so steathliy and then all of a sudden – POOF – it’s gone.
Even when communities are spruced up and abandoned lots built on, etc., there is can often be a loss of what was the soul of the community.
Anyhow, thanks for your comments.
Checking back in. Thanks Can!
I’m glad to see that people are responding to this piece. It’s important. What I think a lot of people don’t realize is that the problems you describe here are not racial or ethnic problems. They are economic and cultural. To the extent that poorer GROUPS are affected they become racialized or ethnicized and certainly disenfranchised, but the movement of insensitive and remote corporate entities whose only motive is profit into small town centers like Dudley or Grove Hall or just about anywhere else are not a movement by whites to exploit blacks, or blacks to exploit blacks they are almost entirely based on profits. Walmart has been doing it for a long time in little white communities across the entire country. There is a way of life that Candelaria rightfully bemoans losing in which people who own and run the stores and the banks and the restaurants and clubs come from the towns and communities that they are in. We should be supporting good business who are run by our neighbors and whose profits go into their children and their homes and their neighborhoods. If you live in a black neighborhood, then those owners will be black, if you live in a white neighborhood, they will be white and if you live in a mixed neighborhood, they will be mixed. So don’t let the color of someone’s skin determine where you will shop and frequent. If a black man lives in a white neighborhood and invests his money in a shop there and runs a good business, by all means he should be supported. The competition from greedy businesses is fierce.
In a way, the recent shift from local ownership to more distant ownership is a sign of just the opposite of racism: it is a recognition by people with money, (say white if you want but the real color is of money) that there is profit to be made in areas that once were considered blighted and a waste of corporate investment. If those same companies were putting money back into the communities, I don’t care who they are, they’re good corporate citizens. The problem is that they don’t re-invest in the people who buy their goods and services. They take the money to Wall Street, to Newton, to Sri Lanka, to corporate box seats and national advertising agencies and on and on and on it goes until gone forever.
Dianne Wilkerson may have stood as a bulwark against the kind of institutional expansion that cheapens our localities, but she did the community a deep disservice when she took a bribe for the work we already pay her to do. I don’t see that there is a different standard applied to white politicians. Who are these local politicians who have been allowed to continue in office after being indicted? 99% of all politicians are there because they want to do a good job and they are pretty good politicians. The bad ones are bad and should all be thrown out. If you accept bribery as a way of doing business, you get what you deserve and heaven help you if you ever need anything done.
Thanks so much for posting this. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in Boston and even longer since I was last in Roxbury. It’s sad to read that the many things that I came to enjoy about Roxbury (all that you introduced me to the summer I worked for you) have started to diminish. While I no longer serve the Roxbury community, it is still a part of my heart and I hoping and praying for its revitalization and rejuvenation in the coming years.
On another note, hope that life has been treating you and yours absolutely wonderfully!
Hello, I was trying to find anything about the Slade’s restraunt somewhere in Boston.My Grandparents used to take me there in the 50’s.It was family owned and they served the best fried chicken in the world.On the walls they had old pictures of Southern chicken bakes.I believe some of their folks were slaves in the 1860’s down south who were cooking then.Is this the same Slade’s you are referring to on this site? Thanx for reading.
Yes, it is the same Slade’s on Tremont Street. It is now a bar that serves food on the side. Most people order the chicken wings.
Thanks for reading my blog.
Thank You Candelaria for replying.If you ever had the chance to eat at the original Slade’s,you would understand why I was inquiring.The food was the best,and everyone there including the bakers in the front window were the most friendly people you could ever meet.
There used to be rotisserie int he window of Slade’s. People would go after church – or so I’m told. This was before I came to Boston. I remember Freddy Parker’s in Dudley. There were a number of community-based restaurants when I first visited Roxbury – there was a wonderful small place on Dudley Street and another place near the old Boy’s Club Building. When the Banner’s offices were on Ruggles Street, I would stop by (I used to write reviews for them), and then the editor and I would go for lunch at some of these places.
In the front window of slades,there was an upright rotisserie that cooked maybe 20-30 chickens at a time anf there would always be a Black gentleman watching them.We would peek and watch and was always greeted with a smile and a wave.These were good times.The food was great,and we were always given the feeling we were at home.Just about everyone that worked there was black and even though I was young,I felt a sense of pride in all the people that worked there.My Grandfather loved this place and we went there many times.God I wish I could turn the clocks back.
When I come here, I always feel like you have your finger(s) right on the pulse of what is happening. A life long resident of Boston, I have seen the changes and have been saddened by them. I really wish there was a way to bring all of the knowledge, experience and ideas together to do something now and for our future generations. What ever happens it needs to be done collectively and we need to support each other. I know easily said. It takes a certain passion and energy to do what you did for 10 years. A lot of us benefited from it. Thanks