For more than 100 years Carson Beach has been the site of the New Year’s Day dip into the icy Atlantic. Not so long ago, Carson Beach was patrolled by police, so that non-white residents could enjoy the water without threat of physical violence. An attitude of horrific, self-righteous racial prejudice was alive and well in Boston, as in much of the United States in the 1960’s, 70’s and beyond. It was institutionalized and ubiquitous, and it fueled the fires of Civil Rights for African-Americans, Latinos and eventually Native Indians.
Prejudice even rexisted in education of all places. The Boston School Committee was accused of racism through their specific policies. “The committee refused to do simple acts that might have reduced racial imbalance, such as redistricting or locating new schools on the borders of neighborhoods.” This writes historian, Ronald P. Formiso writes in his BOSTON AGAINST BUSING: RACE, CLASS AND ETHNICITY IN THE 1960’S AND 70”S .
And on Boston’s City Hall Plaza April 5, 1976, the Pulitzer prize-winning “Photograph That Shocked America” was taken by Stanley J. Forman. The man being assaulted ironically and unbelievably with the American flag, in that photo, for no other reason that the color of his skin, is Ted Landmark, who holds a law degree and a PhD and who is the President of the B President of the Boston Architectural College.
Carson Beach comes up repeatedly. Those sandy beaches were once one of the many battlegrounds where the warriors of racism faced off. In 1975, after a few blacks had gone to enjoy the beach, they were attacked not by an organized gang as was reported, but by the “gang” of other beach-goers. One of the African-Americans was hospitalized. In protest a thousand blacks drove to the beach for a peaceful “wade-in” The Coast Guard boats patrolled offshore, and onshore they were accompanied by eight hundred uniformed police officers. The cameras rolled.
The year prior at a news conference, then Boston Mayor Kevin White, was asked if Carson Beach was “presently open to everyone. White did not answer the question. And Susan Moir a (white South Boston resident) brings up that her son is white; “…he gets insulted at Carson Beach because he has dark skin. (Be reminded, all non-whites were “colored,” and subject to discrimination as much at that time.) Moir adds that she has “brought African American children to the beach,” with her; that “the children have been hassled by white beachgoers. Moyer says that non-white people cannot use the beach.”
BLACK ENTERPRISE in February 1984, wrote of Boston that “It has been called the Athens of American and the Hub of the Universe. Yet probably no other major city so isolates its minority population from the mainstream of social activities ad does Boston, whether it is at Carson Beach, Fenway Park the Boston Garden, the symphony or the museums. ‘You name it and there is a kind of disengagement,’” explains Hubert Jones dean of Boston University’s School of Social Work.”
FBI agent Tom Larnard claims the experience of racism in Boston encouraged him choose his career path. “…racial tensions were extremely high in Boston: “I would read the newspaper accounts of riots on Carson Beach and the Orange Line.”
In 1988 when Mayor Flynn wanted to integrate the Old Colony public housing project in South Boston, trouble was promised. “Around the corner, 22-year-old Ann Marie Good sat in an open window of a first-floor apartment and pointed toward a strip of red paint across the top of a nearby building.”It used to say `niggers go home,’ “she said.”If they move in, it’s going to be war.”
This year, 2011 on January 1, 2011, Carson Beach, Boston was covered with those fearless and fearful but not of one another. They were afraid of the bone-chilling rush to which they were about to subject themselves as part of the New Year’s Day plunge. As over the past decade, the L Street Brownies had an Irish band and those who accompanied them into the ocean. They were as always, all ages. This year there were other races. There were a couple of African Americans, though to be fair it must be noted that this “tradition” is not that popular with the African American community. Additionally, there were others. The video below depicts Brazilian journalist, Amelia Andrade, taking her first New Year’s dip on Carson Beach. Perhaps at long last, Boston is living up to its names as the Athens of American and the Hub of the Universe.