“The tall ships are coming!” The city buzzed with excitement for Sail Boston, a maritime extravaganza where old and historic ships, built in as far back as the 1800s, traversed the Atlantic and sailed into Boston Harbor for the weekend. It had been many years since the last time these ships had visited, so anticipation was high for their return. Tourists, families, and boat aficionados could tour and see these amazing ships while spending time in the heart of Boston. On Saturday, we had the opportunity to take a sunset harbor tour and view the gorgeous ships from the calm of the water. It was exciting to get a blast from the past, watching old ships that had prevailed through historical events such as World War II, held world records in speed, and hailed from all over the globe to our very port.
The next day, Dr. Malone, our program director, took a few of us on a walking excursion to view the birth place of President John F. Kennedy. We traveled to Brookline, boarding the green line then walking down to Beal St. to the quaint home where he was born. Although we missed the official tour, we spent time in the gift shop, watched a short video on the history of the JFK, his childhood, and ascendance to the U.S presidency before we toured the home. It had antique artifacts, such as the bassinet that all 9 Kennedy children used as babies and the little table that young John dined at with his brother as a child. The structure itself was small, but homey, and the street was picturesque and quiet, hidden from the noise of the city. After our tour, we browsed in a bookshop, grubbed at a local pizza place, then walked through the Fen before returning to the dorm.
The weekend was fun, filled with opportunities to gain familiarity with Boston’s prominent historical figure and an up-close look at Boston’s penchant for ships (the Boston Tea Party anyone?). But I was left with some questions too. JFK was an Irish American immigrant. His family came to America in the 1900’s and within 50 years, they were able to claim the U.S presidency. African American people have been in the U.S since the 1600’s, but it was not until the 2008 election that Barack Obama was able to attain the same position. Additionally, the rebellious act of dumping tea into the river led to the revolution that granted the U.S its freedom, giving us the document asserting that “all men are created equal.” But black men and women in the country were not free. And although slavery was abolished in the Massachusetts in 1783, Boston remained a place where escaped slaves could be captured and returned to their owners in southern states, and racism still prevailed. The dichotomy of JFK’s democratic and progressive movement in the face of poor race relations in the state was a startling idea to grapple with. How did these two interact, and what did it say about race, privilege, and their affects on different communities?
This weekend did more than just give me scenic views of Boston. It challenged me to begin to assemble the many social, political, and economic forces that make Boston a robust and historical hub with the visible good, but also along with the invisible and lesser discussed historical truths. It invoked ideas that I will reflect on during my work with my community partner this summer as we deal with social issues that intersect with race and class and how these can affect education and the outcomes of people’s lives.