Author to speak on JP’s activist history

A Boston author is coming to Jamaica Plain to talk about the role women and people of color—including some JP residents—played in the diverse “New Boston” following the 1960s and ’70s.

Jim Vrabel, author of “A People’s History of the New Boston,” will come to the Jamaica Plain Forum on Wed., Sept. 17, to discuss a grassroots perspective of the activism and protests that shaped modern Boston.

“The book arose from a conviction that activists and neighborhood residents had not receiving enough credit for all they did to build the New Boston,” Vrabel told the Gazette. “I think discussion of the stories contained in the book is a good fit for Jamaica Plain … because many of the issues—particularly involving affordable housing, diversity, and gentrification—are current today.”

Using interviews, contemporary news accounts and other sources, Vrabel writes about the demonstrations, sit-ins, picket lines, boycotts, and other negotiations through which residents exerted their influence on the city.

Among the JP subjects in the book are the 1960s battle against a planned freeway through what is now the Southwest Corridor Park, and the era of public housing organizing, including the Tenant Management Corporation that long operated Jackson Square’s Bromley-Heath.

Many JP activists and leaders are featured in the book. Among them are Henry Allen, a former chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and the Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard; Boston Foundation President Paul Grogan; civil rights activist Ted Landsmark; Urban Edge community development corporation founder Ron Hafer; and former Doyle’s Café owner Gerry Burke.

“While some of the stories contained in the book have been told before, others hadn’t been told, and putting them together in one place would show how interconnected they were and introduce them to people who had forgotten or never known them,” he said.

“While the Jamaica Plain Forum invites nationally renowned speakers regularly, we value lifting up local voices as a way of honoring our community and its history,” JP Forum Coordinator Tracy Bindel told the Gazette. “Jim Vrabel is an incredibly informed local thinker that can teach us all a lot about the diversity of Boston’s history. His book…reminds us that women, people of color, and community organizers of varied backgrounds had a tremendous effect on shaping Boston in the 1960s and 1970s, not just the wealthy white men we ordinarily hear about.”

Vrabel has long been involved in citywide activism, including as a founder of the Back of the Hill Community Development Corporation in Mission Hill, which created extensive affordable and senior housing along Heath Street.

His “People’s History” book was published in June by the University of Massachusetts Press.

The JP Forum event will be held at First Church in Jamaica Plain, Unitarian Universalist, at 6 Eliot St. in Monument Square. For more information, see

The cover of “A People’s History of the New Boston” by Jim Vrabel. (Courtesy Photo)

The cover of “A People’s History of the New Boston” by Jim Vrabel. (Courtesy Photo)

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