Archives and Special Collections

Archives, Historical Records, Special Collections

Women’s History Month in the Archive: Remembering Phyllis Ryan

This Women's History Month we're proud to highlight the collection of  Boston-based activist Phyllis Ryan. The Phyllis M. Ryan papers at the Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections trace the arc Ryan’s career trajectory through the 1960s to late '80s in Boston, documenting her role as a communicator, facilitator, and radical activist. However, Ryan is not the only figure present in her own collection. While the papers cover her work in Boston’s civil rights scene, combating institutional and political discrimination on the basis of race, ability, class, and faith, Ryan’s name and image appear alongside those of other public figures of the time.

A large portion of the papers are composed of newspaper clippings from and press releases to a wide range of publications. Many of Ryan’s most effective roles were operating as a go-between for progressive candidates and causes which she would relate to the press. The nature of Ryan's work frequently relegated her to a voluntary role of background character in the many political narratives she shaped, promoting movements and voices without promoting herself, creating access and elevating the voices of the marginalized without taking personal advantage.

Phyllis Ryan’s work in political activism began in school clubs while she attended Northeastern University, supporting local progressive campaigns, writing for the Northeastern News, and promoting collegiate activism on campus. After obtaining her degree, Ryan’s first major political successes began with raising awareness of housing discrimination in the Boston area with the Fair Housing Federation of Greater Boston. Ryan continued on to work in advisement and press representation for the Boston Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and was particularly active in the movement for racial integration of the Boston Public Schools. In response to the church bombings in Birmingham, Ala., during the 1960s, Ryan organized marches, sit ins, and a rally of 30,000 people on the Boston Common to raise awareness and solidarity. Significantly, she also organized Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit to Boston in April of 1965, working with local religious leaders to spend hours briefing Dr. King on the difficulties facing the Boston communities, and writing the speeches that he would give throughout his stay.

Ryan’s final political act of her long public career was a successful unification of Newton's local politicians to create wheelchair access for a nearby public lake. This act of path-making, public service, and barrier lifting is beautifully characteristic of Ryan’s public career.

Ryan’s careful voice and clear mind were operating influentially behind the scenes of so many political and social advances in Massachusetts, from combating right-wing extremist political campaigns to protesting the misuse of urban renewal funds, suing the New Haven (Conn.) Police Department for illegal wiretapping of politically active citizens’ homes, and advancing reform at Walpole State Prison. We invite you to look further at the life and work of an extraordinary public servant and iconic piece of Boston’s history of activism. While our reading room is currently closed, you can view the digitized collection online in the Digital Repository Service, and we hope to see you in person once the archive reopens!

Honoring “Jeep” Jones’s Legacy through Black History Month and Beyond

Clarence “Jeep” Jones, a former Deputy Mayor of Boston, Chair of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, and lifelong community activist, died Saturday, February 1, 2020. Jones was born a native to Roxbury in 1933, and grew up in a city that was both highly diverse, and divided along racial lines. 

Jones fondly recalled his childhood memories growing up in an interview with the Lower Roxbury Black History Project. He recounted that different friend groups developed rivalries across the neighborhood, but that they found a cathartic outlet through organized (and unorganized) athletic competitions. This resulted in what Jones reported to be “a very close-knit” community in Lower Roxbury, and set Jones on his trajectory to an athletic career in an out of state college. After a brief stint in the army, Jones returned home to Roxbury and worked in a number of youth engagement roles before being scouted for employment by Mayor Kevin White. 

 

While working in the city government, Jones became the first African-American person to hold nearly every role he was appointed to, most notably as the Chairman of the BRA and Deputy Mayor to Mayor White. In his role as Deputy Mayor, Jones played an integral role communicating and moderating between the black community of Boston and city administration through the Boston School Desegregation. Working as Chairman of the BRA, Jones participated in the groundbreaking act of granting the non-profit Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative eminent domain within a thirty acre area. DSNI remains the only non-profit to have received the right to self-determine development and use of land.

 

Jones is also credited with connecting various disadvantaged neighborhoods to the developing downtown area of Boston, encouraging a flow and flux of people and commerce. His services are recognized and honored in many formats across the years, including the naming of “Jeep” Jones Park in Roxbury, and an honorary doctorate in public service through Northeastern University.

You can continue to celebrate the legacy of Clarence “Jeep” Jones by visiting and listening to his oral history in the Lower Roxbury Black History project or view records related to his activism linked below.

 

 

The Real Paper: An Alternative Approach to Real News

With its large college student population, Boston in the 1960s and 70s was fertile ground for the development of alternative newspapers that grew from the counterculture movement. One of these alternative newspapers was Cambridge-based The Real Paper, which was published from 1972 to 1981. Bound volumes of back issues, along with business materials from the paper, were recently donated to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections by former comptroller of The Real Paper Howard Garsh.

Cover image from an issue of The Real PaperOriginally the Cambridge Phoenix (known simply as The Phoenix), The Real Paper was formed in 1972 by the group of staff members left without jobs after the Cambridge Phoenix was sold to Stephen Mindich, owner of the rival alternative newspaper, Boston After Dark. This group of staff built their newspaper so that each employee was an equal shareholder in the company, and the board of directors and editor in chief position were decided on by vote.

Throughout the 1970s The Real Paper continued to publish its weekly newspaper aimed at college students and young adults. Issues of The Real Paper included local news stories on politics and social issues along with major national news. The Real Paper had an extensive arts section reporting on music, movies, and the wide range of concerts, classes, and performances happening in the Boston and Cambridge area.

While The Real Paper ceased publication in 1981, the paper served as a launching pad for many of its writers, including Bruce Springsteen’s manager and producer, Jon Landau; rock biographer Stephen Davis; culinary historian Laura Shapiro; and many others who continued writing at major publications such as Rolling Stone, The New Yorker, and The Boston Globe.

The Real Paper collection, housed in the Library's Archives and Special Collections, includes bound volumes of issues covering all years of publication as well as administrative and financial records pertaining to the creation, selling, and closure of the newspaper. For access to the collection, please contact us at archives@northeastern.edu or visit us in the basement of Snell Library, room 092.

Archives and Special Collections joins New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC)

Northeastern University’s Archives and Special Collections, housed in Snell Library, has joined the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium (NERFC). The NERFC is a collaboration of 30 cultural institutions and repositories across New England whose collections reflect the long and diverse history of the region.

The Archives and Special Collections will host stipended two-week residencies for NERFC fellows starting in 2020. Their research will make use of the University’s unique resources on Boston’s history of social justice activism, neighborhoods and public infrastructure, as well as records from individuals and organizations part of the city’s African American, Asian American, LGBTQA, Latinx and other communities.

The consortium’s fellowship program is designed to promote research across a variety of institutions and metropolitan areas in New England. To that end, the NERFC grants two dozen awards every year. Fellows receive a stipend of $5,000 with the requirement that they conduct their research in at least three of the participating institutions for periods of two weeks each.

The diverse group of institutions in the NERFC offer research opportunities in collections that span the region’s time period, from pre–European contact to the present day. Past awards have funded research on a wide array of topics conducted by scholars and independent researchers from across the US.

The Archives and Special Collections encourages researchers in the Northeastern community and beyond to apply to NERFC’s fellowship program by the February 1, 2020 deadline.

To learn more about the application requirements and other participating institutions, please visit the New England Regional Fellowship Consortium website.

Queer (In)Time: Student Curated Exhibit Using Archives and Special Collections Opens

On October 1, in celebration of “OUTTober” on Northeastern’s campus, an exhibit made in collaboration with the LGBTQA Resource Center and the Archives and Special Collections will open in the Center for Intercultural Engagement at 5:00pm.

The exhibit, titled “Queer (In)Time,” explores the array of Boston LGBTQA history housed in the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections. Student curators, Jess Bardio and Nate Brown, who also work at the LGBTQA Resource Center, selected material for display focusing on four themes: Northeastern University LGBTQA Organizations, AIDS Activism in Boston, Existing LGBTQA organizations in Boston, and Intersectionality in Boston LGBTQA history.

Jess Bardio, who curated the AIDS Activism and Northeastern University LGBTQA Organizations portions of the exhibit, reflected on her curation:

"As an engineering student, I don't often get to work on projects relating to history or culture. Getting the opportunity to go through Snell Library's archives and experience Boston's queer history for myself was really inspiring, and getting to curate an exhibit that I get to share with my community feels really powerful.

This work came at an especially important time in my life—this weekend I attended the Out for Undergrad Engineering conference. Having the time and space to reflect on the progress made by the queer community really helped me put this weekend in perspective and make the most of my time with fellow 'engiqueers'!"

[caption id="attachment_275277" align="alignnone" width="232"] “Ally Card” business card handed out by Northeastern University Bisexual, Lesbian, and Gay Alliance for the Ally Project (1998)[/caption]

Nate Brown, who curated the Existing LGBTQA Organizations and Intersectionality in Boston LGBTQA portions of the exhibit reflected on their work:

"I felt responsible to use this source material carefully, to present the past without erasing anyone's contributions to it, in order to tell a story that could resonate with all queer people and not just the most visible. I spent a lot of time wondering about the people who wrote the articles or were pictured in the photos, and where they had gone since then, or if they were even still around today.

It struck me that the queer community in Boston and across the country used to be much tighter knit and more communal, and over the years (through the AIDS crisis, gentrification, lopsided social acceptance) we've grown apart. It's my hope that examining the past can help us grow back together in the future, and promote a sense of unity and responsibility to lift each other up."

[caption id="attachment_275281" align="alignnone" width="236"] Mass Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus flyer regarding gay & lesbian civil rights bill, 1989[/caption]

Come to the Center for Intercultural Engagement on October 1 at 5pm to celebrate the opening of the exhibit. Find more about the event on the LGBTQA Resource Center site. The exhibit was generously funded through a grant from the Northeastern Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion.

Learn more about our LGBTQA Special Collections by visiting lgbtqahistory.library.northeastern.edu.