JP Observer: Local people asked to help choose new name for city street in Arboretum 

​In a “Call for Community Input” (CCI), people connected to Jamaica Plain and Roslindale are being asked this spring to consider five possible new, historic local peoples’ names for the city street that bisects the Arboretum. Responses are due by Sat., April 27.

​“Bussey Street is named after Benjamin Bussey. whose legacy, like many of his peers, was complicated by some of his wealth deriving from the profits of trade in products produced by enslaved people in the American South and the Caribbean,” according to the 9-page CCI information packet issued by the Bussey Street Renaming Initiative (BSRI) at the beginning of the community renaming input period on March 11.

​That CCI information, including an appendix of biographies of name nominees, accompanies the unput form people are asked to fill out to express their preferences.

​No one involved is suggesting that the names of Bussey Hill, Bussey Brook and Bussey Brook Meadow on the Arboretum landscape be changed.

​According to CCI organizers, 472 people had already responded to the call for input—having read the CCI, rated the nominees, and submitted a filled-out form—as of mid-afternoon on April 7.

​This is a fabulous opportunity for local people to affect local history positively and in the present, thanks to some committed, hardworking community volunteers and officials.

​The working group of the BSRI has purposely created “the rare opportunity to rename a street and honor a new individual whose meaningful story deserves recognition,” according to the CCI.

​Community groups in JP and Roslindale, with the two District City Councilors, put the working group together in June 2023 “to lead the effort to “recognize, elevate and honor a new individual whose story will be meaningful and in concert with current community values.”

​The working group is composed of community residents, the councilors and representatives of local organizations.

​JP Centre/South Main Streets and the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, District City Councilors (since January) Enrique Pepén and Ben Weber, and Roslindale residents Steve Gag and Jerry Mogul, are just some of the groups and individuals listed in the CCI as members and affilitated organizations.

​The working group is composed of “dedicated and passionate community stakeholders who have taken great care to include the community as much as possible,” Centre/South Main Streets Director Ginger Brown said in an email.

​“They are committed to recognizing the under-recognized, the unnamed, the unknown, because these stories, too, are a part of our community and need to be heard. JP Centre/South Main Streets is proud to be a part of this endeavor.”

​The two criteria for any new City street names set by the City of Boston Public Improvement Commission (PIC)—the body that oversees street renaming—were given the most weight by the working group: If the proposed name is for a person, the person can’t be living. The proposed name cannot be identical to any other street name in the City of Boston either.

​The BSRI working group developed further criteria, including the one it gave the most weight: that the nominee has a direct connection to the land at Arnold Arboretum.

​Other BSRI qualities required of nominees included: having a story “meaningful and consistent with present day values (e.g. equal rights, inclusion)”; being from an “under-represented community historically and/or currently”; having “achieved something of value that had a positive impact on society.” The group is giving a lower priority to people whose names are currently recognized in other Boston places.

​Five finalists were chosen from 20 suggestions submitted by the community, and their names appear on the input form with brief biographies:

​ Cuffe – An 18th century Black man, married with five children, enslaved by Rev. Nathaniel Walter, minister of the Second Parish Church of Roxbury, on what became Arboretum grounds.

​Dick Welsh – Born into slavery on what became Arboretum land, sold at age 5 to the Greenough family as an indentured servant (when slavery was abolished in MA), and escaped at age 19, two years prior to the end of his indenture.

​Flora – An 18th century older Black woman enslaved by Col. William Dudley on a farm near the land that became the Arboretum across Walter Street.

​Margaret Fuller – A pre-eminent 19th century feminist, Transcendentalist, writer, journalist, reformer and activist who frequented what became Hemlock Hill in the Arboretum when she lived in Jamaica Plain.

​Shiu-ying Hu – A 20th century internationally-recognized botanist, scholar, writer and teacher in both China and the U.S. who was instrumental in founding the Flora of China project at the Arnold Arboretum, where she was an Emeritus Senior Research Fellow.

​Longer biographies are in an appendix that’s part of the CCI information provided with every input form.

​People who are used to quickly selecting one name from a list when they color in circles need to pay more attention in this process. People are being asked to express their preferences by rating all five nominees, each from 0 to 4. Two nominees might actually be given the same number in this system, for example.

​People can easily access the CCI materials and the input form to fill out and return by April 27 in one of four ways:

​1) Email [email protected] to get the CCI materials and input form to submit.

​2) Access the CCI materials and input form and respond at

​3) Visit Curtis Hall or the Connolly Branch of the Boston Public Library and ask for the CCI materials and input form. After people fill it out by hand, they give it to a staff person. In Roslindale people can express themselves at the Roslindale Library branch, Roslindale Community Center or the Menino/Archdale Community Center. 

​4) Find the materials and input form and respond through a newsletter received from a local organization they may belong to.

​The input form asks for people responding to give an email address, a ZIP Code, and any affiliation they might have with a local group to show that they are from the two neighborhoods and/or connected to a local organization.

​ The process of renaming a Boston street is usually more difficult than it is in this case, because all the abutters to a street are required to sign a petition making the change request.

​“As the only abutters, the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department are eager to consider the community input so they can file the petition to the City of Boston to request the name change,” the CCI material says.

​“The Arnold Arboretum has been supportive of interest in changing the name of Bussey Street since the idea was first raised by the community over a year ago,” an Arboretum spokesperson said in an April 4 statement.

​In a truly cooperative process, after April 27, the BSRI working group will compile and analyze the responses from the community and share that information with the Arboretum and the Boston Parks Department. The two abutters will consider the advice provided by the community and consult the city councilors to choose a name to submit to PIC. PIC will hold a public hearing before it makes a decision.

​“From the outset, we expressed the determination to allow the process to be driven by community stakeholders and to review their feedback before making any commitment to pursuing a name change,” the Arboretum statement says.

​Working group member Mogul said in a recent interview he got interested in the topic of local history around slavery after he read the report of the Presidential Committee on Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery that came out in 2022. After learning about Bussey Street, he said he saw “an opportunity to elevate another name” that “better reflects present-day values.”

​The BSRI working group has pledged to stay involved past the renaming. “Long term, we are committed to working with the Arboretum and the Parks Department to provide ongoing community education about the new person who the street will be named after,” the CCI says.

​Gag, who has been very active in the BSRI since the beginning, said in an interview last week that he is looking forward to doing the ongoing community education after the street is renames. “This has been a great project for me,” he said. “It’s about learning and sharing history with family and friends.”​

​Benjamin Bussey “was a Revolutionary War veteran and wealthy nineteenth- century merchant who bequeathed funds and the lands he owned in Jamaica Plain to Harvard University,” according to the CCI materials. “That land would become the Bussey Institute, a school of agriculture, and the Arnold Arboretum with the funding from James Arnold to create the Arboretum. Bussey was a philanthropist to numerous organizations and a prominent member of Boston’s upper class.”

​The working group “made an effort not to demonize him,”Mogul said. “We don’t want to portray him as evil. He was not personally involved in slavery itself, he pointed out.

​“His name will remain visible and remembered through Bussey Hill, Bussey Brook and Bussey Brook Meadow on the Arboretum grounds,” the BSRI working group said. An Arboretum spokesperson confirmed that last week.

​The BSRI held a community meeting on April 11 (after the Gazette went to press) for people interested in learning more about the project and the community input process.

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