Boston Social Forum 2004

5,000+ participants, 550+ events, 3 days

People's History

A Chronology of Events in a People's History of Boston and Massachusetts

Compiled by Jim Green

1630 - Massachusetts Bay Colony, centered in Boston, is founded by religious dissenters from the Church of England. 

1637 - Massachusetts Bay militia takes part in a near-genocidal war against the Pequot Indians in Connecticut, involving the burning of a Pequot village and the massacre of men, women, and children trying to escape. 

1638 - First enslaved Africans arrive in Massachusetts on the ship Desire. 

1675-76 - Boston militia joins colonial forces in attempting to defeat native warriors under the Wampanoag chief Manomet, called "King Philip" by the colonists. The cost of King Philip's War is high in the white colonizer community, but it devastates the indigenous people of New England. 

1747 - Boston residents violently resist the "impressments" (forced recruitment) of colonists into the British Royal Navy. Boston residents mob the navy officer and force the ship's captain to flee to a fort on the harbor. 

1765 - Dissident Bostonians form the Sons of Liberty and the Daughters of Liberty to resist obnoxious new taxes imposed by the English Parliament. Gangs of mechanics, apprentices, servants, sailors march on November 5 denouncing the Pope and the King and then they destroy a tax collector's house and sack the Lieutenant Governor's mansion. 

1770 - Boston residents protest the occupation of their city by British imperial troops who shoot and kill five working men on March 5, including Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave of mixed African-American and Native American descent. This event forever known as the "Boston Massacre." The martyrs, memorialized by revolutionary leaders Samuel Adams, become heroes of the revolutionary cause. They are buried together, next to Adams, in the Old Granary Burial Ground on Tremont Street. 

1773 - The poems of Phillis Wheatley, African-born slave living in Boston, are published in London provoking great concern among defenders of white supremacy and black inferiority, including Thomas Jefferson. 

1775 - "The shot heard round the world" is fired in nearby Concord as Massachusetts militiamen-"the minute men"-exchange fire with British imperial troops, who retreat to Boston under withering fire. A few months later in the Battle of Bunker Hill a small band of citizen soldiers hold Breed's Hill in Charlestown against wave after wave of seasoned imperial troops before giving way to the British regulars who suffer 700 fatalities in the conflict. 

1776 - In mid-March, British troops sail away as Boston becomes the first American city to be abandoned by the imperial armed forces. Two months later, the Declaration of Independence is read to an enthusiastic crowd from the Town House (still standing as the Old State House). 

1783 - Following a decade of repeated petitions by Massachusetts slaves asking for their freedom, Massachusetts becomes the first state to abolish slavery entirely, as the Supreme Judicial Court declares that slavery violates the Declaration of Human Rights that was part of the Massachusetts constitution of 1780. 

1788 - Boston merchant ship reaches Canton with pelts of sea otter to trade; it with tea and opens the prosperous China Trade. 

1796 - The African Society for Mutual Aid and Charity is founded among free Bostonians of African descent-dedicated to community welfare and the abolition of slavery in other states. 

1829 - David Walker's Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World is published in Boston-an eloquent tract by a free black tailor who boldly calls for a slave uprising and is later murdered in his shop on "nigger hill"-the free black neighborhood on the west side of Beacon Hill.  

1813-Boston merchants who have accumulated capital from shipping goods all over the world, including slaves, invest in the first modern manufacturing operations in New England in order to produce textiles in a new way with cotton picked by Southern slaves. Their company is capitalized on vast scale compared to small firms, utilizes the power loom to integrate all the steps of manufacturing in a single plant, pays cash wages to laborers and reaches a mass market for coarse machine-made cloth. The factory system the Boston Associates create in Waltham and Lowell becomes the prototype for the mass-production manufacturing enterprise now in use all over the world. 

1825-The Marquis de Lafayette returns to Boston from France to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. The popular memory of the American Revolution and its connection to the French Revolution is recalled during the much- heralded visit of the greatest surviving military hero of the revolutionary war. 

1831 - William Lloyd Garrison, a poor printer, starts publishing his anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator, with the support for the free black community in Boston. The paper will become the beacon of the first modern social justice movement in the US, a movement with strong trans-Atlantic ties to the British abolitionists. 

1835 - Boston ship carpenters strike for the ten-hour work day and young women textile workers in Lowell, Massachusetts "turnout" to protest wage cuts. 

1840 - Brook Farm commune forms outside of Boston by followers of utopian socialist Charles Fourier. These communitarians dreamed of reconciling human conflict in the world "Not through hatred, collision, and depressing competition, not through War, whether Nation against Nation, Class Against Class, or Capital against Labor, but through Union and Harmony." 

1845-Charles Sumner, a young lawyer and abolitionist, gives the Fourth of July Address at Boston's Faneuil Hall. (July 4 is the holiday to celebrate the Declaration of Independence in 1776) In his speech he stuns the audience by denouncing the evils of war, the wastefulness of national defense and the uselessness of the U.S. Military Academy. 

1848 - New England Working Men's Association meets in Faneuil Hall to support the revolutions of 1848 in Europe, to demand the abolition of chattel slavery, a ten- hour day, the end of the wage labor system, and an independent republic of Ireland. 

1849 - A Boston publisher prints Henry David Thoreau's noted essay "Civil Disobedience" urging resistance to the U.S. government and its war against Mexico-an essay that will have lasting world-wide influence. 

1850 - High point of Irish emigration to Boston as The Great Hunger in Ireland produces a diaspora of poor Catholic peasants. Thousands arrive in Boston every year escaping starvation conditions caused by a blight on the potato crop and by a sustained effort on the part of English landlords to drive Irish tenant farmers off the land. 

1859 - John Brown and his band on armed men raid a U.S. armory in Harper's Ferry hoping to provoke a slave uprising. Brown had been aided the Boston abolitionist Thomas Wentworth Higginson who flees to Canada after the raid.. 

1863 - First African-Americans take up arms in the 54th Army Regiment-the first black troops to enter combat against Southern armed forces defending a slave society. 

1864 - The Boston Eight Hour League is formed by the machinist and philosopher Ira Steward and the labor intellectual George McNeill. They initiate a freedom movement to liberate men and women from the tyranny of the dawn-to-dusk work day and from what they call "wage slavery." 

1865 - African-American troops of the Massachusetts 54th Colored Regiment march through the liberated streets of Charleston, South Carolina, a capital of the Southern slave economy, singing "John Brown's body lies mouldering in its grave, but his truth is marching on." 

1866 - The eight-hour movement, originating in Massachusetts, grows and unifies diverse groups of workers in the United States; it also attracts the attention of Karl Marx in London. "Out of the death of slavery, a new life at once arose," Marx writes in Das Captial. "The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours agitation" that ran, he said, like a railroad locomotive at "express speed" from the Atlantic to the Pacific. 

1867 - Lucy Stone, the first woman in Massachusetts to earn a college degree, devotes her full time to women's suffrage as a speaker for the American Suffrage Association she helped to create a year earlier. 

1886 - On May 1 Boston workers join the national, general strike movement for the eight hour day, which establishes the precedent of May Day as the international workers' holiday all over the world except in the United States where the government creates Labor Day in 1894 as a nationalist holiday. 

1889 - Edward Bellamy's world famous utopian novel, Looking Backward is published a projecting a vision of Boston in the year 2000 free from the domination of private capital. 

1890 - W.E.B. DuBois of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, graduates from Harvard University and is the first African American to give a commencement address. He speaks on Jefferson Davis, the president of the Southern Confederate nation founded by slaveholders, whose life represented one thing: "the advance of one part of the world at the expense of the whole." 

1898 - A month after Spain capitulates to United States and the so-called Spanish American War ends, the Anti-Imperialist League is founded in Boston's Faneuil Hall. George McNeill, the city's famous labor reformer, says the war the U.S. wages against Filipinos is wrong and will only strength the corporate trusts. "Choose today," he cries, "the trade unions or the trusts, the Declaration of Independence, or imperial government." The Boston Central Labor Union announces its opposition to the treaty with Spain that gives the U.S. imperial powers in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. 

1903 - American Federation of Labor meets in Boston's Faneuil Hall where the Women's Trade Union League is created and led by a local labor organizer and settlement house worker, Mary Kenney O'Sullivan. 

1905 - Boston's leading black activist and editor, William Monroe Trotter, joins W.E.B. DuBois and a few other radicals in founding the movement that will lead to the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). 

1911 - Second annual convention of the NAACP held in Boston's Park Street Church. 

1912 - The "Bread and Roses" strike erupts among textile workers of sixteen nationalities in Lawrence, Massachusetts. It is supported by the radical Industrial Workers of the World whose leader, "Big Bill" Haywood, says: "the women won the strike." The strike is named for the slogan, "Bread and Roses," later captured in a song: As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread. Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew. Yes, it is bread we fight for-but we fight for roses too. As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men. For they are women's children, and we mother them again, Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes; Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses! 

1918 - Emily Greene Balch, a pacifist, is fired from her teaching job at Wellesley College because of her anti-war activism, She becomes secretary of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1946 Dr. Balch is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  

1919 - A revolutionary year in world politics and in Boston social history: *There are several revolutionary groups operating in the city with international ties and global world views: Italian anarchists, Russian, Lettish and Lithuanian Bolsheviks who organize a May Day march in Boston in 1919 and Irish republicans who support the nationalist uprising against British rule in Ireland. *When Boston's Irish Catholic police officers go on strike in September, they are called "Bolsheviks." Other union members vote to wage a general strike to support the police, but action is delayed, the sympathy strike is called off and the police are defeated in the first significant protest by public workers in U.S. history. *When Boston's Irish Catholic telephone operators do organize a general strike that affects all of New England, the women are supported by male repairmen who belong to the same union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 103. *When textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, again strike for a shorter work week with no reduction in pay, they organize a general strike; they hold meetings of each foreign language group and then send delegates to a central hall where, said one reporter, it was like "listening to a roll call of nations. "A strike for wages is carried on in a revolutionary atmosphere." 

1920 - Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian anarchists, are arrested and charged with armed robbery and murder in a town south of Boston. They will be tried and convicted because, according to the state prosecutors, they were carrying guns when apprehended and appeared to act guilty when arrested. 

1921 - The Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee is formed to save the anarchists from the electric chair. Its support comes first from Italian workers, but within a few years the Committee has triggered off an unprecedented international defense campaign. 

1927 - After days of world-wide protest and a "death march" at the Massachusetts State House, Sacco and Vanzetti are executed in the Charleston Prison. They lie in state at a little funeral home in the North End of Boston for one week, during which time 100,000 people view their remains. A crowd of 50,000 marches with their bodies through the streets of Boston to the crematorium in Forest Hills. 

1936 - A new labor movement comes to Massachusetts; it is organized by the Committee on Industrial Organizations (the CIO) in opposition to the exclusive unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL). CIO unions are open to all regardless of race, nationality or gender. In Boston's garment district (near Chinatown), CIO unions mobilize 4,000 women workers--Italian Catholics, East European Jews, and a few African-American Protestants-- in a militant "living crusade" to attack abuses in some of the worst sweatshops in the country. Despite arrests for mass picketing, the CIO women win union recognition, a minimum wage and reduction of the work week from 52 hours to 40 hours. 

1937-The United Committee for the Support of Labor against Spanish Fascism formed by CIO activists, including Communists and socialists as well as anarchists. The Mayor denies the Committee a permit for the meeting on the Boston Common in support of the Republican government of Spain fighting for survival against fascist forces. 

1947 - Twenty years after the electrocution of Sacco and Vanzetti, the last person sentenced to capital punishment is executed by the state of Massachusetts. The Commonwealth's death penalty law remains on the books, however, until it is blocked by a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1972. Since then, attempts to revive the law have failed. 

1952 - Malcom Little is released from Suffolk County Prison after serving six years for robberies he committed in Harvard Square. While incarcerated, he becomes a Black Muslim, joins the Nation of Islam and changes his name to Malcolm X. He would return to speak at Harvard Law School in 1965 after his pilgrimage to Mecca and his decision to turn away from the Nation of Islam and racial separatism toward a universal vision of human emancipation from capitalism, imperialism and racism. 

1955 - After more than a year out of work, an inter-racial CIO union of meatpackers wins a strike in which black strike breakers are used and union leaders are charged with being communists. Duke Ellington comes to Boston and gives a benefit concert. After the strike, the largely white union membership of meat packers in Boston's North End elects an African American as local union president. 

1965 - Dr. Martin Luther King, who completed his PhD work at Boston University, returns to the city address the legislature and leads a march to the Boston Common where he addresses a joyous crowd. 

1967 - Boston's famous poet Robert Lowell joins other writers opposed to the U.S. war on Vietnam in a massive demonstration at the Department of Defense in Washington, later called the Siege of Pentagon. 1969-Howard Zinn, Boston University professor and peace activist, and other speakers address a massive anti-war rally of more then 200,000 people on Boston Common-the largest protest gathering in the city's history. 1970- Students in Boston colleges and universities strike in protest after the U.S. military in Vietnam extends the ground war to Cambodia. 

1972 - Nine-to-Five: The National Organization of Women Office Workers founded in Boston. 

1973 - Young radicals who have joined the Puerto Rican migration to Boston form a branch to the Puerto Rican Socialist Party to fight for independence and socialism in their homeland. 

1974 - The eyes of the world are on Boston as court ordered busing begins to desegregate the city's apartheid system of public education. School buses are attacked by white crowds in South Boston while in other sections white and black parents mobilize to protect children's right to equal educational opportunity. 

1977 - Robert Lowell publishes his poem "At the Indian Killer's Grave"-a judgement of his Puritan ancestors whose religious piety and zeal drove them to acts of savagery against the native people of Massachusetts three hundred years before. And, in another attempt to acknowledge injustice, Governor Michael Dukakis, a child of immigrants, issues a proclamation saying that Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian anarchists convicted of murder, did not receive a fair trial and therefore were wrongly executed in 1927. 

1979 - The Chinese Progressive Association is formed by young Asian Americans contesting the conservative domination of Boston's Chinatown by merchants and businessmen with close ties to Nationalist China and with interests in charging high rents and paying low wages to immigrant workers from Asia. 

1983 - Civil rights leader and community control advocate Mel King and his followers create the Rainbow Coalition to unite all the city's minority groups and social movements and to campaign to elect King mayor. 

1986 - May Day celebrated for the first time in 50 years as the United Mine Workers and local union organize a rally and sit in at Harvard University to protest Shell Oil's dealing with the white regime in South Africa and its denial of mine workers rights in the US. 

2000 - May Day is celebrated again with a march organized by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO on the Boston Common to demand full human rights of undocumented immigrant workers. 

2004 - Chief Justice Margaret Marshall, a South African anti-apartheid activist in her youth, reads for the Massachusetts Supreme Court the historic decision to legalize civil marriages between couples of the same sex. 

2004 - Boston Social Forum meets at the University of Massachusetts Boston