Question on Dudley Square Name Change Goes to Ballot

A question on the Nov. 5 election ballot will ask voters whether or not they agree to change the name of Dudley Square to Nubian Square. The Boston City Council unanimously agreed to add the ballot question on Wednesday.

The question—“Do you support the renaming / changing of Dudley Square to Nubian Square?”—is classified as a citywide non-binding public advisory question.

“Should the question win and a large number of residents support the change to Nubian Square, that will happen this fall into winter, and then the name of the square will be changed,” said Jerome Smith, the chief of Civic Engagement for the City of Boston, at the Aug. 28 Committee on Government Operations meeting. 

By law, the non-binding public advisory question must be asked citywide, though the council promises to pay special attention to how the Roxbury residents vote, considering that the name change will affect them most directly. 

Dudley Square is a commercial center in Roxbury—55.6 percent of the residents are black, according to the City of Boston’s 2010 report. The issue of renaming Dudley Square to Nubian Square was proposed by local residents under the name “Nubian Square Coalition.” 

Dudley Square, as it is currently called, is an homage to 17th century Massachusetts founder and governor Thomas Dudley. Many argue, however, that this is inappropriate considering the Dudley family’s ties to slavery in colonial-era Boston. 

At the Aug. 28 meeting, Chuck Turner, a former city councilor and member of the Nubian Square coalition, emphasized that Dudley sponsored the passage of 1641’s “Body of Liberties.” This document explicitly stated that slavery, in particular African and Native American enslavement, was to be legal in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  

Because of this, many Roxbury residents hope that in changing the name to Nubian Square, a reference to the Northeast African economic and cultural hub, residents will feel like the area more closely reflects the community as a whole. 

“My personal view is that for almost 400 years, we have been under the mental and emotional domination of the Dudley puritanical vision that while people of color do have souls, we are destined, by God, to be under the domination of Whites,” said Turner, at the Aug. 28 committee meeting. 

“It is time for right-thinking people to rid themselves of this devilish, destructive vision with the vision of the African Nubian concept that our ancestors brought into this country—that cooperation between all human beings is the only way.”

Some residents support a name change but have not agreed on “Nubian” as the new name, Flaherty said at the Sept. 18 meeting. There have been objections to the name “Nubian” in particular over concerns that Nubia itself has connections to the European and Arab slave trade. Some residents would rather see the Dudley name changed to something more Boston-specific. 

“I believe strongly that the residents of Roxbury deserve the opportunity to determine for themselves what they would like to be called, and so this ballot question will give them the opportunity to do just that, to vote on November 5 on whether or not they want to change the name from Dudley to Nubian,” said Kim Janey, the councilor for District 7.

Photo Courtesy of Daniel Schwen / Wikimedia Commons

September 22, 2019