November 4, 2016, marks 30 years since the historic referendum in which close to 50,000 citizens of Boston living in or near the predominantly Black area of “Greater Roxbury” voted on whether the area should leave Boston and incorporate as a separate municipality to be named in honor of former South African president Nelson and Winnie Mandela, or remain a part of Boston. The new community, what planners called “Greater Roxbury,” would have included wards in much or all of the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, the Fenway, the South End, and what was then known as Columbia Point. Although it was defeated by a 3-to-1 margin in 1986, the measure was raised again in 1988, with a different organizing strategy that spoke to the more turbulent climate of the late 1980s. This campaign included an expanded focus on issues of gang violence, drug abuse, and other forms of lawlessness that plagued the Black community. This attempt, too, went down in defeat. Conceived a mere 12 years after court-ordered school desegregation in Boston, Mandela symbolized in many ways attempts to address equity issues that were never completely resolved after the school desegregation crisis of the 1970s.


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