Insights Into Mayor Kevin White And His Era

By WGBH News

Jan. 31, 2012

BOSTON — As the ceremonies for former mayor Kevin White continue — he will lie in state Jan. 31, 2:00 p.m.–8:00 p.m., at Parkman House on Beacon Hill, followed by a Feb. 1 funeral and motorcade in the Back Bay — a range of luminaries remembered White and his era.

"Greater Boston" examines White's legacy with Ted Landsmark, George Regan and former Boston mayor Ray Flynn, among other guests, and WGBH archival video.

TED LANDSMARK, president of Boston Architectural College; as a young lawyer he was attacked by anti-desegregation protestors in Boston City Hall Plaza in 1976, captured in a photo that went on to win a Pulitzer:

"There were many parts of that city at that point whether it was going to a sporting event at the Boston Garden or going to Fenway Park where African Americans were simply not welcome to go. … whatever the perception of his public face was, at the time it has to be remembered there was a lot of back-channel work that was going on, trying to work with the churches, trying to work with the police, trying to work with neighborhood leaders, trying to work together to bring some peace back to the city."

ted landsmark

BILL OWENS, former Massachusetts state senator:

"The mayor wanted some money from the Legislature. I think it was about $25 million. And I held that money up. … I wanted Deer Island, I wanted a black superintendent, I wanted Community Development Block Grant money and I wanted blacks raised up in the Fire Department into administration because there were none."

bill owens

KENNETH GUSCOTT, president of Boston's NAACP branch from 1963–1968:

"I couldn't get a taxi driver to take me from the airport into Roxbury … the climate was very tense and people were very much afraid that we would have a riot in the City of Boston similar to what was happening across the country. And when [city councilor] Tom Atkins pushed the issue with the mayor of having the [James Brown] concert down at Boston Garden, it took a lot of nerve on both their sides." 

kenneth guscott

Photos by Will Roseliep/WGBH. Listen to the full conversation with Guscott, Landsmark and Owens. 

MICHO SPRING was chief of staff and deputy mayor to White from 1976 to 1984.

"It was very usual to get a phone call for a Sunday-afternoon meeting at the Parkman House because the mayor had been thinking all weekend about something he wanted done on Monday morning.

And I remember being called up one Sunday morning and I arrived and the mayor announced to us that as of Monday he was reversing Charles Street to be the other way. ... We all looked at him and said, 'Without any community meetings?' And he said, 'I’m doing it. I’m just doing it. It’s the right thing for the neighborhood. People are just going by Charles Street to get to the other side. It’s destroying the sense of community we have and the small shops and I’m just going to do it. I’ve talked to a couple of storeowners. It’s the right thing to do. It’ll be a much better thing for Beacon Hill as a neighborhood and I’m just doing it.' And we were all like, 'No, Mayor, you can’t mean this.'

"And course, A, he did it, and B, he was totally right and it changed the character of Charles Street big-time and the neighborhood loved it. But who today, would think about doing something like this without processing it?" Full discussion with Spring.

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