Massachusetts: History of the South Shore Coalition for Human Rights

The South Shore Coalition for Human Rights is a grassroots membership-based civil rights organization. It was founded in the spring of 1977 by a group of concerned people who were seeking affirmatively to assure fair practices to all, while working to create a positive racial consciousness. A “coalition” took shape, proud of its rich diversity in terms of backgrounds and beliefs, and united to work tirelessly for equality and multicultural understanding in our community.

The organization’s statement of purpose sums up its goals: ‘To promote equality of opportunity regardless of race, color, creed or national origin in the South Shore area, with specific emphasis on housing, education, and employment; and to assist in providing a climate for multicultural understanding.’

Our program evolved on two levels. We felt a special responsibility for developing understanding among our white neighbors and coworkers as to the vital importance of unity for all of us. At the same time, we grew to understand that actual equality could only be achieved through the vigorous application of affirmative action in such areas as housing, education and employment. Projecting the aims of the Coalition to the South Shore community was accomplished in a variety of ways: statements to the press that dealt with current racial issues, presenting educational forums and films, and conducting workshops on racism and affirmative action.

In 1979, the Coalition began to tackle its first concrete area of concern, that being “fair housing.” The purpose of our fair housing program has been to assist in increasing opportunities for housing available to people of color in the South Shore area. Most of our work has consisted in cooperating with various housing developers and housing authorities in assisting them to develop and implement affirmative action plans for tenant selection and assignment. From 1979 to 1985 we directly placed sixty people of color in housing on the South Shore, assisted by a part-time staff hired with assistance of a grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

Our work with several private developers in a variety of communities on the South Shore has been marked by mutual cooperation. The only exception was in Milton where we filed a successful administrative complaint against a private developer in 1982 for discrimination in their application process.

With housing authorities, our principle obstacle has been the state ‘local preference’ law. This law requires that local housing authorities give preference in their application process to applicants who reside and work in that particular community. The law further went on to state that this shall be done in a way so as to comply with the existing fair housing laws. We found that, in every instance, local housing authorities were strictly applying the first part of the local preference law while turning a deaf ear to the second part. Further, when approached in a constructive fashion to discuss this situation, they all refused any communication at all on the matter.

As a result, in 1982, we sued the Quincy Housing Authority in Federal District Court. Then in 1983 we filed administrative complaints against the Holbrook Housing Authority when they were opening new housing. In 1984 the Holbrook complaint was found in our favor and people of color were placed in the new housing. In 1985 the Federal Court suit was resolved in our favor by way of a consent decree. Since that time, the Quincy Housing Authority has greatly increased the integration of its housing. Further, after many years of lobbying, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Communities and Development promulgated new regulations for tenant selection and tenant transfer which once and for all resolved the local preference issue in a manner similar to our prior litigation. We had tried to work on this issue with the Weymouth Housing Authority since 1979. With the backdrop of the new state regulation, our offer to draft new procedures for the Weymouth Housing Authority was accepted in 1986 and our plan was then enacted. While the other housing authorities in the South Shore offer considerably less units, they all, for the first time, have been mandated to implement an affirmative action plan that requires them to integrate their housing.

We have also assisted people of color to apply for the Section 8 rental subsidy program in several communities in the South Shore. In 1980 we successfully sued the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Communities and Development in Federal District Court for discrimination in the implementation of their Section 8 application process.

More recently we placed major emphasis on education. We have assisted several school systems to implement awareness programs, equity curriculum as well as the World of Difference program. Working with school systems, we have contributed to the development of an antidiscrimination curriculum published by “Facing History and Ourselves” which is now used nationally. We spoke out on the ‘Aunt Jemima’ incident in a local school where a cafeteria worker in black greasepaint and kerchief promoted the sale of pancakes. We worked with residents of Rockland to oppose the opening of a franchise of a ‘Sambo’ restaurant, thus helping to sensitize the South Shore on the racist aspects of our heritage.

Our principal work in the area of employment has been in relation to the Fore River shipyard. We first worked in support of Black workers who had charged the management with racist harassment and discriminatory firings. We later worked to assure that the property continued to be used in a viable fashion, insuring the employment of workers in the blue-collar trades. The Coalition is in the process of gearing up to work to help assure equality of employment opportunity as a new enterprise becomes established at the Fore River shipyard.

At the same time, we have supported issues of social justice outside of the South Shore. These included condemning the actions of the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan, while supporting movements that have racial overtones such as freeing ‘The Wilmington 10.’ We have endorsed unionizing drives such as the JP Stevens Textile Co. in the South, and all of the efforts of the United Farm Workers Union to achieve their aims. Our membership has been urged to participate in boycotts such as the one against the Nestlé Corporation for its efforts to replace breast with bottle feeding both in Third World countries and here at home. We have continuously mobilized our membership to fight against any changes in the federal law that would weaken affirmative action and civil rights.

One cannot be concerned with human rights without taking a stand to prevent the spread of conventional wars and the dangers of nuclear proliferation and warfare. The Coalition has participated in and sponsored educational programs on both of these issues. We have been especially concerned with the events in Southern Africa and Central America. As a result we conducted pickets of local stores selling South African products such as the Krugerrand gold coin and Granny Smith apples. We have urged that our government cease US military and economic aid to repressive regimes, and instead give greater support to the progressive governments in these areas.

We have actively participated in campaigns for jobs, peace, freedom and economic justice, including participation in the 1981 Solidarity Day in Washington, DC, the June 12, 1982, New York City Peace Rally, the August 27, 1983, 20th Anniversary March on Washington, DC, and the November 1, 1986, demonstration in Boston for peace, jobs and justice. We marched in Washington in January, 1991, in a vain attempt to forestall the outbreak of the Gulf War, and participated in the weekly vigil on the steps of the Church of the Presidents in Quincy during the course of the fighting. We sent a delegation to the 30th Anniversary March on Washington in 1993.

We have traditionally sponsored a number of cultural events. For a number of years we presented our “Citizen of the Year” award. This goes to the person who, we feel, has done the most to further the causes of affirmative action and equal opportunity as well as create a climate for multicultural understanding on the South Shore. In 1987 we named this award after longtime Coalition activist and leader Mandy Cohen. In December we have our International Pot Luck Dinner to celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Over the years, in conjunction with our spring fund-raisers, we have brought such talent to the South Shore as Semenya McCord and Herbie King, Odetta, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Rebecca Parris. In addition there are occasional theater parties and field trips.

The Coalition issues a quarterly news bulletin to our supporters. This bulletin keeps the membership informed on day to day activities, achievements and needs. It contains brief educational articles and many notices of coming events in which we urge our members to participate.

We have had much welcome help in recent years. To our great delight, we have seen the cities and towns in the South Shore take on much responsibility themselves to assure that goals of equality were an integral part of their community. In Quincy, for example, the Quincy Human Rights Commission has become an active, and activist, part of the City. Its leadership in sparking the now well-established Martin Luther King celebration, and ongoing recognition of individuals who have taken stands against racism in Quincy makes this a better place in which to live. Such community institutions as Quincy Community Action now carry on the housing work we had initiated. Such groups as the Germantown Human Rights Committee and Impact Quincy’s People of Color and Gay-Straight Alliances work hard to create the climate of understanding to which we aspire. The Coalition takes no small pride in creating the impetus which influenced the South Shore communities to take these actions, and appreciates the leadership of those cities and towns.

This has given our membership latitude to continue its work in many areas. Our concern around the issue of housing resulted in the Coalition receiving the first national award from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for a volunteer organization in the area of equal housing opportunity.

Our support of issues central to the Coalition’s beliefs continues. We have seen celebrations along the way, as the election of Nelson Mandela, and disappointments, as the failure to move the consciousness of people around the issue of respect for Native American culture and heritage. Working with concerned educators and residents, we helped bring forward our opposition to the objectively racist caricature used as a mascot by North Quincy High School’s ‘Red Raiders’ sports teams. Wampanoag leader Russell Peters, known as Fast Turtle, sensitized us on being an American Indian in Massachusetts today. We proudly stood with the Quincy Committee on Burma and many others who successfully brought forward Quincy’s selective purchasing ordinance. When able, we have endorsed the activities of the Coalition for a Strong United Nations. Our most recent efforts to develop community education around racism, a panel discussion on the racist uses of such issues as immigration, welfare, crime and affirmative action in the 1996 election and a stirring presentation by Nathan Rutstein on “Healing Racism in America,” were strongly bolstered by our close cooperation with the South Shore Baha’i Community. To our great delight, we have seen our Coalition membership continue to grow and expand in new directions. ...

“Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and unalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” - Opening of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights

(May, 1998)