Boston black community ponders secession
Boston — Some Boston blacks are threatening to vote themselves out of the city of Boston. A new organization, the Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project (GRIP), is demanding a referendum aimed at giving Roxbury, the city's black community, the right to secede. ``We want to govern ourselves. We want Roxbury [plus most of the city's black communities] to be incorporated as a new city,'' say GRIP co-founders Andrew P. Jones and Curtis Davis.
Blacks should try this in big cities where they have numbers but receive second-class treatment from public officials, say local black officeholders who support GRIP.
One black community that has successfully applied the plebiscite to achieve corporate status as a city is East Palo Alto, Calif., first settled by blacks in World War II.
Unhappy with crime, drugs, poverty, and lack of strong industry, residents voted June 7, 1983, by just 15 ballots, to reject control by San Mateo County and incorporate as a city. The 18,000 people there felt the affluent county was not helping resolve black problems.
``We are now a full city operation,'' says Fred Howell, city manager of East Palo Alto since July 1, 1983. ``Our police force appeared on the streets last July as we completed our step-by-step transition . . . . People tell me they are proud to have their own police force, and proud to make their own decisions.''
The city has not cleared all legal barriers, Mr. Howell says, because a lawsuit against it awaits its first hearing before the California Supreme Court Dec. 9. ``It's far too early for quantitative analysis,'' he says about the city's progress. ``But I can say we are fiscally sound and we haven't raised taxes.''
In Boston GRIP leaders have pushed their campaign with these steps: a letter to Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, asking him to call a plebiscite Jan. 14, 1986, to poll Roxbury and black precincts of Boston on secession; a press conference announcing the letter and black grievances against the city; and a campaign promoting GRIP plans for ``a new municipality.''
The GRIP proposal comes at a time when Mayor Flynn is orchestrating a $750 million plan to revitalize Roxbury. ``This is no time for separation,'' he says through a press aide. ``We're trying to bring people together.''
In office only two years, Mayor Flynn heads a city reviving from 10 years of court-ordered desegregation.He defeated black mayoral candidate, Melvin H. King, on a pledge to improve race relations.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Davis propose incorporating black Boston as a city 12.5 square miles, cradled on three sides by Boston and on the other by Brookline, a prosperous suburb. The new Roxbury of 150,000 people would be two-thirds black, about 15 percent white, and about 18 percent Hispanic and other minorities.
The new Roxbury would include such institutions as the Museum of Fine Arts, Northeastern University, and the Harvard Medical School complex. ``But it includes no tax base,'' say GRIP's detractors. Roxbury has a strong financial base, counter GRIP supporters, citing property values and income of local blacks.
``The city is not providing our community with the services it gives other neighborhoods,'' says state Rep. Byron Rushing, GRIP's most ardent spokesman. ``Our streets are not cleaned. Our garbage is not picked up as it should be. We don't get proper police and fire protection. We can do a better job if we control our own turf.''
Lois Woodley, community activist, is skeptical. ``Our community isn't ready for independence,'' she says. ``We have no jobs to offer our young. Where are our black businesses? We have no tax base.''
``Black people have a right to express their feelings and opinions about what they see in Roxbury,'' says ``neutral'' councillor Bruce Bolling, who represents Roxbury residents in the Boston City Council. ``I have to study the issue before I take a stand on this question.''
Flynn is not living up to his commitments to the black community, says the Rev. Bruce Wall, co-founder along with Georgette Watson of Drop-a-Dime, a hot line to report drug dealing. ``He is planning a revitalization of Roxbury, but the Boston Redevelopment Authority [the city's planning agency] doesn't have a permanent black on its board,'' he says. ``The mayor promised to support Drop-a-Dime, but has given us no funds.''
The GRIP plan is neither new nor devisive for Boston, says state Rep. Gloria Fox, for years a community activist. ``Roxbury is already segregated,'' she says. ``We can succeed in self-government as has East Palo Alto.''