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Article Title

Commentary

Abstract

It’s an explanation often heard around Boston. Why hasn’t the city ever elected a black mayor? Because the black community is “too small.” Why can’t the community sustain an FM radio station? And why does it have difficulty keeping afloat a weekly newspaper, even a soul food restaurant? Again, the answer comes: the community is too small. The irreconcilable flaw of this line of reasoning is exposed when it is expanded to the whole country. Black mayors have been elected in any number of cities with smaller black populations, proportionally, than the 25 percent in Boston—Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver, to name but three. Black-owned media and soul food restaurants manage to survive in those cities too.

Boston’s black community, functionally, feels smaller than it is because it is so divided, into the old-line black Brahmins, the relative newcomers from the South, and the immigrants from the islands of the Caribbean, from Cape Verde and the rest of Africa. Except for mainland African immigrants, the presence of these groups is not new in the Commonwealth. As far back as the 1880s, West Indians who lived in Boston had the heft to publish a weekly newspaper, one, by the way, designed to appeal to a general black audience. The Cape Verdean population predates, by a century, the influx of southerners during the Great Migration.

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