On March 18th, the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center in the Boston Public Library (BPL) debuted their exhibit “More or Less in Common: Environment and Justice in the Human Landscape.” The exhibit examines how social justice and injustice are confronted in the study of the “human landscape” and how we can use questions of social justice to help us build healthier and better environments for the future.
Northeastern’s contributions to the exhibit come from our Freedom House, Inc., records and in particular, their records on urban renewal and neighborhood-led clean-up campaigns. The exhibit features two fliers calling Roxbury neighbors to action in various clean-up and maintenance projects. Neighborhood improvement programs designed to protect Upper Roxbury from urban blight began in 1949 when Freedom House joined with community members to organize neighborhood clean-up projects and playground construction.
Freedom House worked closely with the city to improve the services provided to Roxbury. At the same time, Boston was beginning a formal urban renewal campaign that did not initially include Roxbury. A telegram from Freedom House founders Muriel and Otto Snowden to Mayor John F. Collins resulted in the inclusion of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Project in Boston’s campaign. By 1963, Freedom House had entered into formal contracts with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Action Boston Community Development to serve as a liaison between the planners and technicians and the residents of Washington Park. This relationship lasted until the BRA withdrew from Roxbury in the late 1960s, leaving much of its work undone.
The Leventhal Center’s exhibit takes our Freedom House records, and many other institutions’ records, and composes them into a complicated vision of how human landscapes were confronted and contended with in the past and how they can be reimagined for the future.
Visit the exhibit in person at the BPL’s historic McKim Building during the BPL’s visiting hours, which can be found here.
Or you can view the digital exhibit, along with lesson plans and resources for further study, here.
Find out more about the Freedom House records, the Snowdens, and Roxbury neighborhood history here.
Introduction Part of the digitization process includes the creation of metadata for each record so that people can find an individual item with the sea of documents. Metadata is the identifying information of a record, such as its title, author, creation date, and other components.
Recently, archivists have placed greater emphasis on the subject heading aspect of cataloging records.1 Archivists now recognize that the creation of subjects and descriptions as access points to a record is an inherently biased activity that can influence how one approaches and perceives the record itself and the topics it contains. While these access points are extremely helpful in improving search results, these pathways are created by archivists, i.e. people. Since archivists create metadata, the data reflects our perspectives, thereby making it imperative that we be mindfully aware of our unconscious biases. We must do the necessary self-evaluative work about ourselves, the power dynamics in which we function, and the multifarious impacts of our decisions on various groups.
Records are created within certain settings for certain purposes—whether political or social—and an archivist inserts the meta-narrative layer of collecting and making accessible those records. There is power in that process and traditionally the process has privileged dominant social systems, which then reinforces social inequities. The myth of neutrality in subject cataloging has led to subject headings that can reinforce biases, stereotypes, and offensive representations, as well as misrepresent and alienate marginalized communities. For instance, a reclassification project at GBH recognized the negative false equivalence of police only interacting with criminals in their legacy subject term “Law Enforcement & Crimes,” which they have changed to “Legal System.”2
Recently, many archivists have risen to the challenge of acknowledging the persistency of power dynamics and are actively seeking to infuse their metadata creation with inclusion, diversity, and social justice practices. I myself have recently undertaken the ethical reasoning behind the use of certain subject headings to achieve descriptions that not only increase searchability and accuracy but also are respectful and empowering to subjects previously ignored. It is my hope that by developing cultural competency, the records will be more accessible to the communities reflected in their content, which may be one small step towards actively dismantling oppressive systems.
The Collection and Daniela Saunders As I digitized the Freedom House Inc. Records, I stumbled upon an eye-opening folder about the Police-Community Relations Committee. The records from this folder of items from 1960 to 1966 document a growing awareness in Roxbury of police-community relation issues. At the time, there were community memories of problems and instances a decade prior. Back in 1952, the murder of Rabbi Zuber sparked meetings calling for community action. However, the initial uproar dwindled and while close relations and neighbors continued to fight for change, it was a small endeavor.
Some larger efforts did persist, including a Police-Community Relations Institute Conference held in 1960 that connected with religious organizations to discuss the relations between mass media, social work agencies, the judicial court system, civil rights, legislation, and the police. However, the improvements called for in the decade of discussions did not become sweeping real-world improvements. As a result, over the course of a year between the summers of 1962 and 1963, there were a number of stranglings of women in the greater Boston area.3
On January 5, 1963, 16-year-old Daniela Saunders was murdered in an alleyway between Warren Street and Elm Hill Park, just a few blocks from her home. The next day, 500 members of her community met with Otto P. Snowden and Freedom House to discuss what underlying social problems led to the tragedy. Initiated by a small group of mothers voicing the need to prevent such violence, the meeting expanded to the 500-person turnout. Many individuals voiced their perspectives on the issue:
Dewey Duckett outlined the general disinterest of the Boston Police Department Division 9 towards the community it was supposed to protect. He talked about how “the local police had clearly evidenced an incapacity to understand or respect either the local citizens themselves or their simple desire for minimal adequate protection.”4
Attorney Benjamin Johnson called for the creation of a 100-person auxiliary police of community members.
Mrs. Leona Tynes cited the practical issue of poor lighting facilities.
Mrs. Oswald Jordan recalled the aftermath of Rabbi Zuber’s murder and described the emotional toll of these types of meetings over the last decade since they had not led to any actual change.
At the end of the meeting, the goal was set to create a committee to meet with city officials, namely Commissioner Edmund L. McNamara, Captain Paul Sullivan, and Sergeant Kelly of Division 9. The other four main suggestions were to add foot patrolmen; ensure that police answered complaints with courtesy instead of their current lack of sensitivity; increase the effort to improve problem areas; and fire police that demonstrated bias towards the black community.
Another meeting held January 8, 1962, at the Jeremiah E. Burke School further expanded the four main issues. About 1,500 citizens gathered to demand change. Kenneth Guscott, representing the NAACP, called for a Villante Committee similar to what the Peace Corps created in Harlem. Police Commissioner McNamara personally attended this meeting, although he was met with objections when he attempted to downplay his former neglect by referring to his personal connection with a black member of the police force.
The various efforts aimed to “promote a better understanding between the protected and the protector.”5 The end goal was a positive coordinated action program formulated and carried out by neighborhood associations in affiliation with the local police. Along with Mayor John F. Collins and Commissioner McNamara’s immediate pledges to increase training in criminal investigation and compulsory attendance of courses at Northwest University and the FBI National Academy, the events led to long-term communication between the Roxbury community, city officials, and the police. The Freedom House Inc. Records reflect and display these sustained efforts.
Daniela Saunders’ Impact The events of Daniela Saunders’ murder and the aftermath from Roxbury’s community response are integral components to the larger historic narrative of the police-community relations documented in the Freedom House Inc. Records. Her story may be limited to a folder in this vast collection but her impact disseminates through many boxes. So many activities were initiated by her tragic demise.
However, most metadata elements do not provide space for Daniela. She wasn’t the author or creator of the records, she was not included in the title of the records, and her name was often eliminated in the documents themselves. Within the records of Folder 1015, Daniela was more of a ghost, a whisper, trickled throughout the newspaper articles, letters, meeting minutes, and reports. She may have been the impetus for change, but she didn’t have agency in these metadata components.
Additionally, in the larger historic narrative, Daniela has been forgotten. She is currently not listed as one of the Boston Strangler’s 13 victims despite the connection to the “Phantom Strangler” made in 1963.6
When making the metadata for items in Folder 1015, I wanted to allow Daniela to regain her own agency in being remembered. The power of remembering is enormous—it becomes public memory and informs current events. Therefore, archival records provide an opportunity to bear witness to an event when it has been lost to time. I knew I needed a way to provide a pathway to Daniela and link her to these records. I produced these conditions by making Daniela a Name Subject Heading, a practice that we are not often implementing in the Freedom House Inc. digitization project. Due to the large scope of the collection and the logistical issues of maintaining authorized subject headings over 83 containers, Name Subject Headings for individuals are a rare occurrence.
However, with the addition of this metadata component, Daniela’s story becomes accessible to the public. She is no longer a passive victim, marginalized and obscured, but is now an active agent at the forefront of police-community relations in 1963 Roxbury. People can now find the records related to Daniela and they can situate her contribution within the larger Freedom House and Roxbury narratives.
Additionally, the records can give the public a resource for holding historical agents accountable. The 1960s were fraught with many issues between communities of color and the police nationwide. The events of 1963 in Roxbury become a part of that larger context.
Finally, by recognizing Daniela and the events of 1963, I hope that the records and their metadata have an enduring impact on our current society. Police brutality, racism, abuse, systematic oppression, and unnecessary force are all topics that we see in the news every day. Past calls for better training and systematic changes to the police force are similar to present-day news stories. We are constantly exposed to the reality of this violence and our nation collectively feels an emotional toll possibly similar to the one described by Mrs. Oswald Jordan in January 1963. Maybe these historic records can help inform our present discourse. By knowing what happened in the past, maybe we can make more informed decisions, and ultimately, be the change we strive to see.
1A non-comprehensive list of recent literature includes, Jillian Ewalt, “Toward Inclusive Description: Reparations through Community-Driven Metadata,” NEA Newsletter 46, no. 2 (April 2019): 4-7; Rosale de Mattos, “The Representation of Archival Information in Controlled Vocabularies: The Context of the Archival Institutions in Rio de Janeiro,” Knowledge Organization 47, no. 7 (2019): 548-557; Samuel J. Edge, “A Subject “Queer”-y: A Literature Review on Subject Access to LGBTIQ Materials,” Serials Librarian 75, no. 1-4 (Jul-Dec 2018): 81-90; Gracen Brilmyer, “Archival assemblages: applying disability studies’ political/relational model to archival description,” Archival Science 18, no. 2 (Jun 2018): 95-118. 2Miranda Villesvik and Raananah Sarid-Segal, “Making Metadata Inclusive to Marginalized Voices” (presentation, Archives for a Changing World, NEA Spring Conference, Virtual, March 27, 2021). 3The Boston Strangler continued to murder young women in the Boston area until 1964. For more information, see Ronald Lettieri, “Boston Strangler.” Salem Press Encyclopedia (2019); Jess Bidgood, “50 Years Later, a Break in a Boston Strangler Case,” New York Times, July 11, 2013; Paul Hoblin, Boston Strangler (Unsolved Mysteries). Abdo Publishing, 2012; Susan Kelly, The Boston Stranglers: The Public Conviction of Albert DeSalvo and the True Story of Eleven Shocking Murders. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Pub. Group, 1995. 4“Report from special community meeting about police issues, Daniela Saunders and Rabbi Zuber murders, and race relations held January 6, 1096.” January 6, 1963. Freedom House Inc. Records (M16). Northeastern University Library. Archives and Special Collections Department. Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts. Box 30, Folder 1015. 5“Outline on various phases of police activities.” April 28, 1964. UASC identifier: M16_B030_F1015_005. Freedom House Inc. Series 3: Programs. Sub-Series B: Urban Renewal. Neighborhood Associations. Police-Community Relations Committee, 1960-1966. 6Jack Thomas, “Victims of the Boston Strangler,” The Boston Globe, July 11, 2013. https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2013/07/11/victims-boston-strangler/CwbsZlSNcfwmhSetpqNlhL/story.html
Joan Krizack, University Archivist and Head of Special Collections, will depart Northeastern University after 17 years since her arrival as the founding archivist. Joan resigned her position on July 7th to pursue a career as a freelance consultant. Joan leaves a legacy at the University of several hundred historical collections that document the struggles and triumphs of Boston’s African American, Chinese, Latino and GLBTQ communities. She has also received numerous awards; most recently the Champions of Freedom Award for her work managing Northeastern University’s collection of the historical records of Boston’s Freedom House and digitizing the Freedom House photograph collection.
View the press release in its entirety below:
Joan Krizack, University Archivist and Head of Special Collections, received the Freedom House Champions of Freedom Award on April 5, 2011. The award recognized Joan for preserving the historical records of Freedom House in Northeastern University’s archives, including digitizing the Freedom House photographs and making them available online: http://www.lib.neu.edu/freedomhouse/.
Freedom House was founded in 1949 by African American social workers Muriel S. and Otto P. Snowden to centralize community activism in the fight for neighborhood improvement, good schools, and harmony among racial, ethnic, and religious groups in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Freedom House Awards are given annually to outstanding individuals, non-profit organizations, and corporations in recognition of their commitment to diversity, educational achievement, and business development.
To learn more Joan’s award, read this article from the Jewish Women’s Archive Blog: http://jwablog.jwa.org/Joan-Krizack-wins-Champion-of-Freedom-Award
Established in 1949 by two African American social workers, Muriel S. and Otto P. Snowden, Freedom House was created to centralize community activism in Roxbury, MA, a middle-class, racially mixed neighborhood. The hope of its founders was to link community members to existing services and to create new services in areas that were lacking by focusing on neighborhood improvement, good schools, and harmony among racial, ethnic, and religious groups.
Eventually, archives from the Freedom House came to Northeastern University and were digitized creating the Northeastern University Libraries’ Freedom House Collection consisting of 2,265 photographs, negatives, and slides. These images document a variety of topics including the organization’s early activities to create an integrated Roxbury, to initiate citizen participation in the urban renewal of Roxbury, and the early oversight of Boston Public Schools desegregation. The images also include representations of well-known figures like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator John F. Kennedy.
More recently, on March 18, 2011, the The Scout Report listed NU Libraries’ Freedom House Collection as a featured research and education source. The article can be found here. The The Scout Report is a weekly publication that provides information on new or newly discovered online resources of interest to researchers and educators. To sign up to receive the The Scout Report in text or HTML format go to: http://scout.wisc.edu/About/subscribe.php
To find out more about Northeastern University’s Digital Collections go to http://www.lib.neu.edu/archives/digital_collections/