Interview with Ellen Jackson

Good, OK, now let me ask you about the meeting on October 11th, ah, that Kevin White called at City Hall, that Erwin Canham moderated between five Board people and five Black people. And remember what Pixie said about the Haitian guy, and what she said to, ah, Mrs. Cass.


We received, several of us received, including Dr. Haynes, Michael Haynes, of Twelfth Baptist Church, and Mrs. Cass, Pat Jones, and myself, ah, and Sandy Young. You see these very, very mysterious calls. I couldn't imagine what was going to come, ah, out of this conversation. But I had to make sure that I was by myself when I talked to this young man. And no one else was in, within ear shot of our telephone conversation. And then he shared with me, ah, the invitation extended by the Mayor Kevin White to attend the luncheon at City Hall, where we would hopefully, ah, come together with five people from South Boston, ah, to talk about our concern and to make a joint statement around violence that, while we may differ about integration, desegregation, and even this strategy to effect that, we were all against violence. And I thought that was a lofty goal. I thought it was an important statement because I truly believed that that was important and still do. Ah, so I accepted the invitation to join with other friends ah in the Black community to attend this, this luncheon. When we got there there was a little bit of conversation going on before we sat down, before Kevin White and Erwin Canham from the Christian Science Monitor came and, and we were certainly, ah, standing with our folks so to speak. I mean no, there was no collegiality, if you will, in that room at that point. Ah, and he had his own staff, Kevin had his own staff. People were trying to make us feel comfortable. Finally we were asked to be seated in two round tables. Ah, and we did and we were, ah, integrated so to speak in terms of the seating arrangement. And Kevin again stated what the objective of the meeting was. And hopefully that we would be prepared at the end of the meeting to sign the statement which would be released to the press that we join together if in, nothing else but to ask for peace in the city and to condemn the violence. Ah, that was fine but there was some concerns. And first of all the first concern from, from most of the Black attendees was the fact that we had not had any disruption in our community. We had taken care even after the very first day of school, what happened, there was no reaction to that. There was no bother, no one bothered the youngsters when they came in the next day to Roxbury and to Dor--North Dorchester. Ah, there was no rock throwing and no bother of those students getting on or off those busses. So in a sense we had to clear the air that both communities were participating in some kind of violent act. Because we were not. And after we articulated that concern, and so in our minds, cleared the record, or got the record cleared, we then started talking about the responsibility of those people in the room. Did they best represent the feelings of the people in their communities? We felt clearly that we did. Because we had enough meetings that went on within our community and we were sent forth with a message most of the time. You know what happens to the messenger. But anyway, we were sent forth with the message. Pixie Palladino began to talk about, ah, I think maybe Dr. Haynes started talking about the, the terrible violence with the young Haitian man and how it was just unprovoked and it was unfair that we could not walk in various parts of, ah, the city without being harmed. That every day we saw bill collectors. We saw postmen, we saw all kinds of business people walk in and out of the Black community. And in most instances, ah, if there was a lot of crime, or violence, it was Black on Black. It was not that they were being attacked during this very volatile time and period of desegregation. However, this young man, certainly from another country, not knowing in a sense what was going on, what all this commotion was about, going about his work to be attacked in the vicious way that he was attacked was not in the spirit that we thought we could enter an agreement with or even to make a statement about until we had admitted, or they had admitted that they would take some control, or take some responsibility if you will, for the kinds of actions that seemingly were coming from their part of the, of the town. Well Pixie decided that since he didn't understand English and he didn't know where he was going, and he had no business over there, that he got just what he deserved. That was a little hard for a lot of us to take. It was very hard for a lot of us to take. And we sort of dialogued back and forth and disagreed about that feeling and equal access on the streets. Or access to the streets. Ah, to walk and to work and to move around freely in the city of Boston where we all pay taxes by the way. And, and we make that very clear. Ah, then she said, "Well it's like name calling. And, ah, you know, you just sometime have to understand some people are different than others. You know, Ellen, you know, ah, it's like, you know someone call you a nigger. You, you know, we've been, we've known each other, we dealt with each other in the State Department of Education. You know I don't have any problems with you but some of those niggers, you know just get on my nerves." Well Mrs. Cass then said well you know, in her very calm and soothing voice, and very, very, ah, positive way said, "You know my dear, this is a problem for us. You think that you can call, sit here and ask us to join in a statement of peace when in fact you have no respect for us and have shown by the way you talk about us, how you describe us." And she said, in a way in moving her hand, you know like, "Shut up old lady." You know she didn't use exactly that word, but, "You're out of touch. You don't know what's going. This is the new wave. You know and furthermore I'm not talking to you. Furthermore I'm not really talking to you," is what she said. "I'm talking to Ellen." And when she said that, I just, I don't know what happened. I just jumped up. I felt like my ears were going to pop. And I said, "There's no way that I can sit here." And I turned to Kevin White. And I said, "I am not going to be party to this. First of all, if this woman can not respect a senior citizen and a matriarch of our community, a leader of the Black community, not just here in Boston but nationwide. She cannot have respect for our babies and that's what we're all about. I can not, in good consciousness sit here and have her disrespect Mrs. Cass. Because when she does that she, truly, is disrespecting me. She's disrespecting other Black people and she's certainly disrespecting those children. I'm not going to be party to any, any joint venture to sign a statement." And I got up and I walked out the room. She was calling, "Oh Ellen, come back, come back." And, ah, Mike Haynes got up and Pat Jones got up. And Mrs. Cass, the lady she was, she sat for a minute. And we got up and Ira Jackson who was then on Kevin White's staff, asked us if we would step into the side room for moment because there was a lot of press outside. And I really wasn't in the mood for even talking to them. It wasn't about getting press for this, ink as you call it. It was about a feeling that this was just not going to work and we had to take a stand. And we had to demonstrate that by saying, "We're not going to have you disrespect the young children. And you're not certainly going to disrespect the seniors in our community." Ah, so no statement was forthcoming and the meeting ended abruptly. The mayor tried to, you know, get us back into the room. And I said, "No I'm not going back into that room. I will never," you know you talk about never, but that's one time I meant never sit "in the room with this woman again." I had had my previous experiences, as I said earlier with her, so this was, you know, typical of her and I just felt that she was just vicious. And the venom that came out of her and the hatred. And it was in her face. And she thought, actually you know when I think about it now, she, it was funny to her. This was not serious. It was like, you know, let me see how far I can irk them. How far can I take this because I, I know I can get away with this. It was almost like a joke to her. And that, that was very sad. And truly very frightening.