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A Research Paper on Worcester, MA Public Pools by Marco Estrella, WSU -’10 October 27, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 6:17 pm

 

December 9th 2009

Marco Estrella

UR 401-Research Seminar

Professor Lisa Boehm

Research Paper

 

Funds Run Dry:

An Analysis On Keeping The Water On For Worcester’s Swimming Pools

 

Adequate public parks and recreational opportunities are a vital part of every great American city.  Aquatic facilities are found in parks where residents can enjoy the summer and stay cool.  Only eight pools remained open during the summer of 2008.  Over the last decade, normally Worcester has operated at least nine municipal pools at any given time.  In addition to the nine, there are two state operated pools.  Eleven publically funded pools in total have provided adequate access for children and families throughout the years to enjoy a number of aquatic activities such as swimming.  These are supplemented by private pools run by the area YWCA, YMCA, JCC, and other organizations.    In fact aquatic opportunities are an ingredient to a city’s existing structure of youth development.  If we do not keep the current model of neighborhood pools, Worcester’s youth will be affected.

            Raised within the city myself, I have a thorough understanding of local needs regarding recreation.  Those born and raised in the city are known as “Worcesterites.” I can recall how exciting it was to walk with friends and family to one of the city’s pools in the summer.  In some cases it served as an all day event for the family during which residents would equip an ice cooler full of food.  Public pools are a great activity that the city’s youth love.  Additionally, parks are a great recreation area for adolescent children.  More importantly public swimming areas give a vital activity of health and exercise to all.  Worcester’s aquatic facilities can be utilized as a deterrent to the increasing juvenile delinquency.  An outdoor pool helps the community’s youth by promoting healthy activities outside of the routine of home and school.

            Worcesterites now find themselves fighting hard to keep the pools open.

Worcester had to close all nine pools this year due to lack of funding.  Worcester’s Telegram and Gazette explains, “No city pools were opened because of budget cuts and their extraordinarily poor condition.”[1]  There were neighborhood advocates debating towards having the pools remain open.  This group formed the “Save Our Poolz” coalition.  Unfortunately only two state pools remained open in addition to city and state beaches this summer of 2009.  Having gone from eleven functioning pools to only two in the city creates unrest in the community.  Accessibility to aquatic activities is hardest hit among all community members.  These beaches are not easily accessible by residents especially for those who do not own a vehicle.  The city’s swim facilities are situated in the neighborhood to enhance their access to the community where as city beaches are distant from the majority of neighborhoods.  The mainstream beaches such as state operated Quinsigamond Lake and Worcester’s Indian Lake are even further away from low-income communities.  For the majority of residents, transportation is required for them to enjoy distant beaches versus walking to a city pool.  At these few existing beaches quality family time has been circumvented due to the limited schedule of public transportation.  Transportation was of little concern to the varied communities of Worcester that benefited from municipal pools because they were in close proximity to where they actually live.  Furthermore the eleven swim facilities were localized in areas that neighborhood residents found ideal for walking. 

 

            Constituents of Worcester have made a huge outcry in an attempt to restore the majority of the closed nine pools.  Over six public hearings took place to discuss ideas about what to do with existing facilities.  Residents have demonstrated their voice through the Save Our Poolz coalition.  Worcester Intefaith, an organization advocating social justice and change also supported requests by residents in restoring the swimming facilities[2].  Civic engagement was certainly measured in Worcester with over 500 residents and advocates attending public hearings.[3]  Constituents tried to make it clear that restoring all aquatic facilities of Worcester is the responsible solution.

 

Accessibility to Pools                 

            Providing fair access to aquatic opportunities for families in the community is paramount.  City government’s decision to abandon all pools in numerous districts decimates community access to public swim activities. Those hurt most by the closing of pool facilities were low-income families.  For example public pools located at Christoforo Colombo Park (East Park), Tacoma Street (Great Brook Valley), and Crompton Park benefit a significant portion of low-income families of Worcester.  Christoforo Colombo Park is known as “East Park” by city residents mainly because of its geographical location than any other characteristic.  Located in walking distance to EastParkis the Plumley Villagehousing complex.  Plumley Village is a series of apartments that provides Section 8 housing to low income families.  There are sixteen buildings with 430-units in total[4].  This complex is one of Worcester’s low income housing projects where families live in apartments that are engineered densely together.  Dr. Lisa Krissoff Boehm best characterizes Plumley Village and its respective location in her book, Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and The Second Great Migration.  Dr. Boehm writes “Plumley Village, the 430-unit, Section 8 complex…stood at the eastern edge of Worceser’s downtown, and the interstate highway entrance ramps and overpasses circled the buildings, bringing with them a hum of traffic.”[5]  Below is Figure 1, a descriptive top view drawing of all the sixteen buildings that make up this housing complex where one can imagine how compact 430-units must be in this area:

Figure 1

 

Source: www.plumleyvillageapts.com[6]

Many families including the youth of Plumley Village traverse up Laurel Street and then down East Shelby Street to the swimming area of East Park. EastParkis one of the recreation sites celebrated by families who live here. PlumleyVillageresidents are now forced to swimming pools that require transportation.  The working class was swiftly cut off access to municipal pools by city government.  Figure 2 below illustrates the proximity of East Park to the families residing in the housing complex in addition to the surrounding community.  Plumley Village begins with Laurel Street at the top-left corner and you will find that East Shelby Street ends with East Park situated at the bottom-right hand corner of the image:

Figure 2

 

Source: Bing Maps[7]

            Many communities similar to that illustrated above are going through the same experience.  A case not unlike Plumley Village exists for Great Brook Valley (GBV) which is also a low-income housing complex.  People here are no longer able to embrace the city’s pool on Tacoma Street because it was closed this year.  By extension the low-income residents here have no access to a swimming pool nearby in the hot summer.  This facility is unique in its location becauseTacoma Streetruns directly through the center ofGreatBrookValley.  In particular GBV is infamous for juvenile delinquency and crime.  Youth development is especially important for members of this community.  Families and community youth development advocates in GBV are further challenged by city government’s decision to close swimming facilities.  The Tacoma Street aquatic facility provided a positive recreation atmosphere for children that will not open for an indefinite amount of years.

            For the city of Worcester heat waves are frequent in the summer months.  The elderly are drastically affected by hot summers.  The geriatric population benefits from swimming areas to keep cool.  Worcesteraffectionately provides senior centers, senior living communities, and aquatic opportunities to the city’s 12% elderly population 65 years and over[8].  The elderly population makes up a significant portion ofWorcester that necessitates awareness.  In various instances there are reports of how seniors succumb to heat stroke among other complications in the summer months.  Seniors living without air conditioning or cool central air are in a dangerous circumstance regarding their health if they are unable to seek refuge from high temperatures.  The risk is significantly higher to the many that do not drive a vehicle.  Municipal pools are among the few resources available to the senior community yet it was decided to close them all and not keep a single one operational.

 

Open Pools & Beaches

           Worcesteris experiencing a fiscal crisis that resulted in closing all municipal pools.  Private organizations emerged to help out the residents by allowing the public to utilize their indoor pools.  Participating organizations are Girls Inc, Boys & Girls Club, YMCA (Central Branch), YMCA (Greendale Branch), and the YWCA located in center city.  Private partnership was a catalyst to establishing the program “Wheels to Water” which provides transportation to private and state pool facilities.  In addition this program provides transportation to beaches that are distant from most communities inWorcester.  This initiative is limited to the locations from which they pick up, and if you missed the time slot in which the bus arrives then you have to wait.  A brochure released to the public by the city lists hours of operations for functioning aquatic facilities.  Please refer to Figure 3 for the Wheels to Water program flyer.  Listed in Table 1 are the six pick up locations throughout the city:

Table 1 – Wheels to Water

  1. Friendly House…………………………….36 Wall Street
  2. South Worcester Neighborhood Center……47 Camp Street
  3. Green Island Neighborhood Center………..50 Canton Street
  4. Worcester Common Ground……………….7-11 Bellevue Street
  5. East Side Community Development Corp…409 Shrewsbury Street
  6. St. Peter’s Church………………………….929 Main Street

Source: Worcester Telegram and Gazette[9]

            Efforts to increase access to existing aquatic facilities were demonstrated by the Wheels to Water initiative.  In Table 2 are the total facilities that were available to Worcester’s residents this summer 2009:

Table 2

Private Facilities

Boys & Girls Club………………………65 Tainter Street

Girls, Inc………………………………..125 Providence Street

YMCA (Central Branch)………………..766 Main Street

YMCA (Greendale Branch)…………….75 Shore Drive

YWCA………………………………….1 Salem Square
State Pools

Bennett Field Pool………………………1260 Main Street

Shine Pool……………………………….87 Providence Street

 

State Beaches

Regatta Point…………………………….10 North Lake Avenue

Quinsigamond Lake……………………..287 Lake Avenue

 

City Beaches

Bell Pond…………………………………238 Belmont Street

Coes Pond……………………………….  Mill Street

Indian Lake………………………………20 Clason Road

Shore Park………………………………..115 Shore Drive

Source: City of Worcester[10]

 

            Despite these efforts the Wheels to Water program can only transport a small portion of people.  Even without this program there were thousands of visitors to municipal pools every summer.  Robert L. Moylan is the Commissioner of Public Works and Parks for the city ofWorcester.  He oversees the operation and maintenance of all aquatic facilities for the city.  Robert Moylan wrote a memo to City Manager Michael V. O’Brien, to report the success of Wheels to Water with respect to the state’s Shine Pool.  Commissioner Moylan helps quantify the amount of visitors to all municipal pools in the statement below:

The Shine Pool opened this July 1st and has been an overwhelming success. This single facility has attracted over 10,000 users during a season that has not been conducive to outdoor aquatics. This use is in direct contrast to the average of 2,500 patrons to each of the city’s eight pools that were open in 2008. Equally impressive is that, according to the pool facilities manager, the Shine Pool attendance was made up of 70% families with ages ranging from infants to octogenarians and the able and disabled alike.[11]

 

With the absence of nine neighborhood pools thousands of youth were unintentionally neglected.  Countless families were left to no avail in the summer heat due to the limited capacity of busing scores of children all over the city.  Commissioner Robert Moylan in the statement above describes that there is an average of 2,500 patrons for each swimming facility owned by the city.  Had all nine swimming locations remained open it would result at least 22,500 visitors which better serves the community.  The action taken by city government to close all swimming areas appears unbalanced when they were originally embraced by 22,500 community members.

            Grace Ross is a Worcesterite and a long-term advocate for restoring the city’s nine aquatic venues.  In an interview with talk show host Hank Stolz on Wake up Worcester, Grace identifies with low-income families who do not own a vehicle.  Grace Ross a candidate for City Councilor illustrated the importance of Worcester’s families having access to city pools, stating “where most of the kids are is where the least of the cars are.”[12]  An overcrowded Shine pool including help of Wheels to Water is no substitute to neighborhood-integrated swimming areas.  The community favors restoring nine existing swimming locations chiefly because they are amicable to the community and accessible.

 

Abandoned Facilities

            Currently the closed swimming areas have accumulated waste and debris.  They are an obvious black-eye to beautiful parks such asEastPark.  East Park has a wonderful baseball field, basketball court, football field, and a tennis court.  Adjacent to the tennis court is the aquatic facility that has been closed this summer.  In visiting the site one can see that it now contains dark filthy water accompanied by trash, leaves, and wood branches.  The swimming pool inEastParkis an unfulfilling spectacle for visitors.  This is undeserving to a highly manicured park such as this one. 

            Another example is Crompton Park. Patrons who walk past the Crompton Park municipal pool are taken a back by the horrible condition city government has left it.  Civic activities are numerous forCromptonParkversusEastParkbecause three-decker neighborhoods directly surround the area.  Both families and organizations use the recreational opportunities offered byCromptonPark. 

            But the city pool here can be mistaken for a city dump area.  Janelle Butler is a senior at Worcester State College.  She conducted a field observation research project for her Research Seminar course.  Janelle was stationed at Crompton Park for her project where she best describes the pool’s present condition:

Inside both pools were various types of large and small pieces of rubbish and debris, such as glass bottles, a tire, garbage bags, tree branches.  I then spotted dog waste, alcohol bottles, needle syringes, used condoms and other drug paraphernalia over by where the children play.  While I was sitting on the bench by the playground located near the pool, I noticed when the wind would blow I would pick up a scent of alcohol and at other times a strong stench of urine [from the abandoned pools].[13]

 

Worcester neighborhoods are exposed to foreclosed properties and now foreclosed pools.  Families should not be required to live near a pseudo dump zone.  In Crompton Park the swimming area is heavily utilized by the community when operational.  It is they city’s responsibility to upkeep the aquatic facilities when closed or open. 

 

Youth Development and Reduced crime

            Healthy recreation is one of the fundamentals necessary for youth development.  This is in addition to skill development, education, and strengths in leadership.  In a city like Worcester with a population of over 165,000 makes municipal recreational facilities paramount for the health benefits of both children and families.  Aquatic facilities are a great medium to serve this overall purpose. 

Urban parks create a productive environment for life enriching program initiatives.  As noted in a recent Journal titled, Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development by Margery Austin Turner, she writes that “Urban parks have long played a vital role in community-based programs for young people.”[14]  Urban parks and aquatic facilities situated in them are opportunities to teach youth leadership, maturity, and problem solving aptitude for adolescents.  The Seven Hills Charter School utilizes East Park during the summer months for advancing child development in addition to recreation.  Similar to Plumley Village the park is in walking distance from the school as well.  The school is located on 51 Gage Street on the eastside of Worcester where one can observe Seven Hills Charter School faculty and staff walk elementary students to the park via East Shelby Street quite frequently.  Worcester’s school districts as well as community-based programs such as the Henry Lee Willis Center embrace parks to help teach children and adolescents ideals such as rules of behavior, values, and essential job skills.  The Henry Lee Willis Center is an organization that provides social and human services to the general public.  They also contribute in large measure to the city’s at-risk youth and operate emergency family shelters.  Margery Austin Turner exemplifies how youth job skills are developed through use of urban parks:

To make a real difference, quality matters in park-based youth programs…Recent experiences among innovative programs launched by urban parks suggest several key lessons to consider.  First, the most effective programs do not try to be all things to all young people.  No single program can or should try to serve all the children and adolescents in the community…Parks are increasingly recognizing this important principle.  [San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners] SLUG, for example, now has two separate programs for teens.  The Youth Garden Intern program is for ages 11-14.  In three sessions—spring, summer, and fall—young teens are taught such skills as beekeeping, rose maintenance, and low-flow watering systems.  As they become proficient, they are promoted to help supervise or teach in the classes.  The Urban Herbals program is for ages 18-24.  These participants, in addition to preparing jams and infused vinegars, are responsible for selling their products.  This involves traveling around the city and making presentations at farmers’ markets, enterprise fairs, and so-on—“learning how to look strangers in the eye and speak authoritatively,” as the Urban Herbals manager puts it.[15]

 

Youth development can be served as barometer to determine if in fact the youth is a priority for the city’s administration. Youth enrichment is highly important for an ever progressing city like Worcester.  As demonstrated with San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, youth leadership enrichment opportunities are also found with Worcester’s aquatic facilities.  Lisa Sciannameo served as the Aquatics Director since 2005 overseeing the city’s swimming locations during the summer months.  Lisa agreed to meet with me to talk about her experience with aquatic facilities.  In an interview with Ms. Sciannameo I learned that she started working as a lifeguard for the pool at East Park in 2000.  She began describing that her first day as a lifeguard was about learning how to effectively communicate with people.  Lisa stated that “the training involved leadership skills in upholding the rules of behavior and emphasizing safety as a priority to children and families.  It was not always easy as a young lifeguard to able to instruct other people on this.  I definitely put on a thick skin and learned to talk to people.  I am thankful that my supervisor was there to teach me, you know.”  As Aquatics Director, Ms. Sciannameo is responsible for hiring, training orientation, demonstrating safety guidelines, teaching instructive leadership, coaching and verifying CPR and First Aid certifications of over 70 lifeguards in the city.  They are mostly adolescent youth between the ages of 16 and 20.  “Managing the [lifeguard] staff is all about coaching” Ms. Sciannameo explains, and states that “I am teaching these kids the basics like calling-in if your late, resolving disagreements with people in a professional way, mediate conflicts if possible, and communicating issues to me that they can’t solve without my help.”  Unfortunately Lisa had a small staff of 18 this year due by the city closing their municipal swimming facilities.  By closing Worcester’s pools youth development was adversely affected because they have no longer the opportunity to work nor volunteer with municipal pools.  This reiterates the fact that municipal pools are a civic asset to be saved for the multifaceted benefits they provide to the community.  Last year Lisa Sciannameo had a team of over 70 and sometimes over 100 people in prior years when all municipal pools were operational.[16]

Urban park recreation and aquatic facilities help minimize the crime rate.  Worcester residents have been affected by rising unemployment amongst the youth as well as the adults.  Ample job opportunities and recreation both work in concert to help the youth sway from delinquent activities.  There has been a significant void in both areas due to rising unemployment and closing public pools during the summer months. 

Lisa Eckelbecker drafted an article for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette describing unemployment amongst the youth:

Unemployment is a distinct problem for young people in the current recession.  About 25.9 percent of U.S. workers ages 16 to 19 were unemployed in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  During the summer, when young people typically take seasonal jobs and new graduates seek permanent employment, unemployment among workers ages 16 to 24 hit 18.5 percent, the highest rate since recordkeeping started in 1948.[17]

 

Adding to the youth unemployment and closed aquatic facilities, is the rise in adolescent delinquent activity.  Headlines on local newspapers have been reading numerous crimes committed by teenagers.  The Worcester Police Department’s website reads “4 Teens Arrested for Armed Robberies”, “Armed Robbery at A1 Cellular” and “Vandalism at Doherty High School.”  These particular incidents have occurred in the last week of November and the parties involved are kids ranging from 12 years to 20 years of age.[18]  Blaming the economy for increased crime is a conspicuous element that is easily agreed upon.  The factor where city government dithers is in acknowledging that closing aquatic facilities have played a part to more adolescent crimes.

For example, the Worcester Police Department [WPD] updates crime statistics with a quarterly report or what are known as Police Statistical Areas (PSA).  This Report illustrates how the dynamics of rogue unemployment and underfunded recreation facilities led an increase in crime.  Also please note that one can observe how low unemployment and eight operational municipal pools helped reduce crime in Worcester last year, when this data is viewed in juxtaposition to recent statistics.  Scott J. Croteau writes for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette and which he published an article that helped compare crime rates of 2008 with those of 2009.  Information described below helps us analyze the societal impact of closing the municipal pools which were last open in 2008:

Aggravated assaults for the first nine months of this year compared to last year are up almost 13 percent.  Motor vehicle theft has increased by almost 22 percent over the same nine-month time frame.  Theft from motor vehicles—electronics, handbags, etc.—has increased as well.  “What we are seeing with the theft from motor vehicles—low level larceny—I’m sure it has a lot to do with the economy and unemployment,” the chief [Gary J. Gemme, Police Chief] said.  A younger age group is committing these thefts and not all can be attributed to the declining economy, the chief said.[19]

 

This analysis sheds light that Worcester indeed has more teenagers playing in the streets due to closing these aquatic facilities.  Children and families last year once enjoyed expensing quality energy in public swimming pools.  Furthermore according to Public Works and Parks Commissioner Robert Moylan, we know that there are at least 22,500 residents that do not have their neighborhood pools.  Of this figure the majority are both children and adolescent teenagers that now sit idle in the summer or are becoming a variable for reports such as Police Statistical Areas.  This analysis identifies how aquatic facilities when in full operational capacity can help reduce crime in the summer months for the city; particularly so in dismal economic periods with soaring unemployment rates.

 

Saving Our Pools

Worcester’s swimming pools were once in excellent condition even after years of use from when they were first constructed.  Like East Park most of the facilities today were built in the 1970s[20].  Now the pools are a public safety issue because of structural damages. Listed in Table 3 are the facilities that were closed this year:

Table 3 – Location of Municipal Pools

  1. Beaver Brook Park
  2. Crompton Park
  3. Cristoforo Colombo “East Park”
  4. Greenwood Park
  5. Harry Sherry Field
  6. Holmes Field
  7. Kendrick Field
  8. Great Brook Valley – Tacoma Street Pool
  9. University Park

          Source: Interview[21]

Ms. Sciannameo described how the walking deck at Holmes Field located on Plantation Street, was “all caved in.”  For this reason the facility based at Holmes Field has been closed for several years now.  This is also the reason why there were only eight facilities open in 2008.  The lack of maintenance and improving these aquatic facilities was obvious.  City government has become more irresponsible towards investing in public pools so that they do not rot away.  The administration neglected the upkeep of these swimming areas and claimed that there were no funds.  Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America, illustrates how municipalities grew distant from servicing inner-city recreation areas such as swimming facilities.  Jeff writes that “poor and working-class Americans suffered mostly directly from the privatizing of swimming pools,” which he states that “when middle-class Americans abandoned municipal pools in favor of private pools, cities downgraded the public importance of swimming pools.”  It could not be more accurate that Worcester’s local government has continuously chosen to overlook fixing municipal pools[22].

The city has departments that are responsible to pursue the first steps of repairing Worcester’s swimming pools.  Failing to repair minor damages in structures involving water always lead to major repair over time.  The share of responsibility involved in identifying structural damages to these facilities is both the Department of Public Works and Parks, and Inspectional Services.  Among others, the Department of Public Works and Parks also inspected the deteriorated deck at Holmes Field and made no action to repair it. Instead they closed Holmes Field indefinitely adding to the local government’s display of willful negligence.  All the pools were closed this year due to the administration’s failure to service these facilities in the past years so that they meet structural and safety requirements.   Why did city government disregard routine preservation over numerous years leading to now, where there are major repairs to municipal pools?  Worcester’s local government chose to let the pools wither away in the same fashion as it is described in Contested Waters: Social History of Swmming in America.  Author Jeff Wiltse best shows the decisions made on how the city administration allows aquatic facilities to decay.  Jeff Wiltes writes:

In addition to not building new pools, many cities closed existing ones – especially those serving minority swimmers – and underfunded maintenance and upkeep.  In Washington, D.C., for example, federal officials let McKinley Pool fall into disrepair…the “pipes were corroded,” the drainage system backed up, and the filtration system did not work properly.  According to city engineers, the pool had become “a health hazard.” Rather than repair it, which is what local residents wanted, the federal government decided to close it.[23]

 

Like McKinley Pool in Washington D.C., residents in Worcester also wanted to repair the neighborhood pools.  But the principal obstacle in having not performed the necessary upkeep is a fiscal one in which there is not enough money in the budget.  Research shows that in fact there are resources accessible to city government that would have made keeping the pools open possible.  Nick Kotsopoulos, a journalist for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, writes about the numerous topics discussed in a council meeting held in October 2009.  One subject that was discussed is how to use a $12 million dollar tax reserve that is available as a resource during poor fiscal climates[24].  In the City of Worcester Fiscal 2010 Annual Budget, it states that “since 1995 the city developed over several years an excess levy capacity of approximately $12 million”[25] which should have been utilized to fix the swimming facilities over time.  Worcester City Councilor Frederick C. Rushton stated that it would have cost “about $410, 000 to open and operate all the pools” for summer 2009 and represents 3% of the accumulated tax reserve which is a responsible community investment[26].  But this was never implemented to save the swimming pools.

In addition to the dollar reserve represented above there could have been savings realized with respect to summer temporary staff required to operate the pools.  This can be done by collaborating with the Worcester Community Action Council (WCAC) where this organization have helped train and hire the majority of employees such as life guards through their YouthWorks Summer Jobs Program.  This cooperation occurred in the 1990s and one would ask why it was not implemented this year to aid in keeping the pools open to the public.  Many jobs are provided to the youth where they can work positions such as general staff or life guard.  Scott Greenberger, a writer for States News Service, describes how “the city opened all nine of its pools…thanks to a federally funded summer jobs programs that employed nearly 100 low-income youth as lifeguards and supervisors.”[27] 

The opportunity is there for city officials to have made a motion to keep the pools open.  Doing so would have helped inner-city youth development, deter youth crime statistics, and provided jobs to hedge against an absurd youth unemployment rate.  Ultimately one can observe how the benefits are multi-dimensional that aquatic facilities provide for society.  They are a civic asset which facilitates peace, health, and providing not only enjoyment but a source of employment for Worcester residents.  Recreational parks including public swimming facilities promote civic engagement in Worcester.  Local communities are fighting for the right to keep the neighborhood pools but have them properly maintained.   Residents want safe swimming areas that remain open every season.  With various resources such as the excess tax reserve, in which less than 3% could have been utilize to service structural damages and have swim facilities meet health safety guidelines, it still remains unclear why all municipal pools closed in 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3

 

Source: United Way of Central Massachusetts[28]

 

End Notes


[1] Nick Kotsopoulos, “Pool issue far from being drained,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, August 13,

2009

 

[2] Worcester Interfaith – information found on website, www.worcesterinterfaith.org accessed October 09,

2009

 

[3] Lee Hammel, “Save Our Poolz’ activists claim city plan is all wet,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

June 11, 2009

 

[4] The Community Builders Inc, Our Projects: Plumley Village, website accessed November 24, 2009

http://www.tcbinc.org/what_we_do/projects/fp_plumley_village.htm

 

[5] Lisa Krissoff Boehm, Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and The Second Great

Migration,  (Jackson: MS,University Press of Mississippi, 2009) pg 199

 

[6] Plumley Village Apartments, Explore Our Community, photo accessed December 1, 2009 on website,

http://www.plumleyvillageapts.com/files/000/000/035/90/sm/sm.jpg  

 

[7] Bing Maps, Microsoft mapping program accessed December 1, 2009 on website www.bing.com  

 

[8] U.S. Census Bureau, Data found for Worcester, Massachusetts on http://www.census.gov/ , accessed

September 23, 2009

 

[9] Samantha Allen, “Wheels’ Takes kids to water spots,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, July 2, 2009

 

[10] City of Worcester, Pools & Beaches 2009, found on city website

www.ci.worcester.ma.us/dpw/parks_rec/pools.html  accessed September 23 2009

 

[11] Moylan, Robert, Memorandum, re: Communication Relative to Pools, memo sent to Michael O’Brien

City Manager on August 26, 2009. Accessed website http://worcester.indymedia.org/node/56443 on October 09, 2009

 

[12] Hank Stolz, “Wake Up Worcester,” the Hank Stolz morning show program on Channel 3 local station.  

Guest  interviewed was Grace Ross, a candidate for Worcester City Councilor. September 25, 2009

 

[13] Janelle Butler, Field Observation Research Project by Janelle Butler on Crompton Park. Submitted on

 September 13, 2009

 

[14] Margery Austin Turner, “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development,” Urban Institute Press 2004,

Washington DC

 

[15] Margery Austin Turner, “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development,” Urban Institute Press 2004,

Washington DC

 

[16] Lisa Sciannameo, interview with Marco Estrella, Worcester, Massachusetts, November 29th 2009

 

[17] Lisa Eckelbecker, “It’s all about jobs,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, October 25, 2009 

 

[18] Worcester Police Department, Press Releases, section accessed December 1, 2009 on website

 http://www.ci.worcester.ma.us/police

 

[19] Scott J. Croteau, “City calmer since shooting spree,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, October 22,

2009

 

[20] Louis J. Salome, “Wading Pools Will Close,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, May 29th, 1969

 

[21] Lisa Sciannameo, interview with Marco Estrella, Worcester, Massachusetts, November 29th 2009

 

[22] Jeff Wilste, Contested Waters: A social History of Swimming Pools in America, (North Carolina,

University Press of North Carolina, 2007) pg183

 

[23] Jeff Wilste, Contested Waters: A social History of Swimming Pools in America, (North Carolina,

 University Press of North Carolina, 2007) pg184

 

[24] Nick Kotsopoulos, “Council candidates mix it up,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, October 08, 2009

 

[25] City of Worcester, “Fiscal 2010 Annual Budget,”

http://www.ci.worcester.ma.us/e-services/document-center/budget/budget-fy10.pdf , pg 10

 

[26] Nick Kotsopoulos, “Effort is on to open some Worcester pools,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, May

19, 2009

 

[27]Scott S. Greenberger, “Everybody out of pool, House says,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, March

21, 1995

 

[28] United Way of Central Massachusetts, News You Can Use, section accessed December 1, 2009 on

 website: www.unitedwaycm.org/nonhtml/NewsYouCanUse/WheelsToWater.pdf  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Primary Sources

 

Bedimo-Rung PhD, Ariane L. “The significance of parks to physical activity and public health: A

conceptual model,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine,Volume 28, Issue 2, Supplement 2, Published by Elsevier Inc., (February 2005), pg 159-168

 

LeGates T. Richard, Frederic Stout. The City Reader. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2007

 

Mumford, Lewis. The city in history: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. Florida:

Harcourt, 1989

 

Shipler, David K. The Working Poor. New York: Vintage Books, 2005

 

Turner, Margery Austin. “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development”. Washington, DC: Urban

Institute Press, 2004

 

Wiltse, Jeff. Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming of Pools in America. North Carolina:

University of North Carolina Press, 2007

 

Archival Material

Worcester Public Library, Worcester, MA

            The Worcester Room

 

Government Records and Publications

Moylan, Robert Commissioner. Memorandum, re: Communication Relative to Pools, (August 26, 2009)

 

Worcester Police Department, “Police Incident Statistics”, Chief Gary J. Gemme, (January 1, 2009-

March 31, 2009)

 

City of Worcester

            Fiscal 2010 Annual Budget

 

U.S. Census Bureau

 

Interviews

Sciannameo, Lisa, interview with Marco Estrella, Worcester, MA (November 29, 2009)

 

Periodicals

Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Worcester, MA

Worcester Magazine

Worcester InCity Times

The Washington Post

 

 

 

Secondary Sources

 

Boehm, Lisa Krissoff. Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and The Second Great

Migration. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2009

 

Butler, Janelle. “Crompton Park,” unpublished, undergraduate field observation paper. (September 13,

2009)

 

Jost, Kenneth. “Racial Diversity in Public Schools,” From Issues In Race and Ethnicity. Washington, DC:

CQ Press, 2009

 

Mathur, Shishir. “Financing community facilities: a case study of the parks and recreational general

obligation bond measure of San Jose, California,” Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management, Published by Academia de Studii Economice Bucuresti, (May 2009), pg34

 

Stolz, Hank. “Wake Up Worcester” television program on channel 3 local station. (September 25, 2009)

 

 

Web Sites

www.bing.com – For maps

www.worcester.indymedia.org – Local news by resident input

www.google.com/Scholar  – Journal Search

www.bpl.org – Boston Public Library, Literature Review

www.worcester.edu – Under Library link for Articles and Journal Search

www.urban.org – Urban Institute, Literature Review

www.worcesterinterfaith.org – Worcester Interfaith, local Non Profit Organization

www.unitedwaycm.org – United Way of Central Massachusetts, Non Profit Organization

 

[1] Nick Kotsopoulos, “Pool issue far from being drained,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, August 13,

2009

 

[1] Worcester Interfaith – information found on website, www.worcesterinterfaith.org accessed October 09,

2009

 

[1] Lee Hammel, “Save Our Poolz’ activists claim city plan is all wet,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette,

June 11, 2009

 

[1] The Community Builders Inc, Our Projects: Plumley Village, website accessed November 24, 2009

http://www.tcbinc.org/what_we_do/projects/fp_plumley_village.htm

 

[1] Lisa Krissoff Boehm, Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and The Second Great

Migration,  (Jackson: MS,University Press of Mississippi, 2009) pg 199

 

[1] Plumley Village Apartments, Explore Our Community, photo accessed December 1, 2009 on website,

http://www.plumleyvillageapts.com/files/000/000/035/90/sm/sm.jpg  

 

[1] Bing Maps, Microsoft mapping program accessed December 1, 2009 on website www.bing.com  

 

[1] U.S. Census Bureau, Data found for Worcester, Massachusetts on http://www.census.gov/ , accessed

September 23, 2009

 

[1] Samantha Allen, “Wheels’ Takes kids to water spots,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, July 2, 2009

 

[1] City of Worcester, Pools & Beaches 2009, found on city website

www.ci.worcester.ma.us/dpw/parks_rec/pools.html  accessed September 23 2009

 

[1] Moylan, Robert, Memorandum, re: Communication Relative to Pools, memo sent to Michael O’Brien

City Manager on August 26, 2009. Accessed website http://worcester.indymedia.org/node/56443 on October 09, 2009

 

[1] Hank Stolz, “Wake Up Worcester,” the Hank Stolz morning show program on Channel 3 local station.  

Guest  interviewed was Grace Ross, a candidate for Worcester City Councilor. September 25, 2009

 

[1] Janelle Butler, Field Observation Research Project by Janelle Butler on Crompton Park. Submitted on

 September 13, 2009

 

[1] Margery Austin Turner, “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development,” Urban Institute Press 2004,

Washington DC

 

[1] Margery Austin Turner, “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development,” Urban Institute Press 2004,

Washington DC

 

[1] Lisa Sciannameo, interview with Marco Estrella, Worcester, Massachusetts, November 29th 2009

 

[1] Lisa Eckelbecker, “It’s all about jobs,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, October 25, 2009 

 

[1] Worcester Police Department, Press Releases, section accessed December 1, 2009 on website

 http://www.ci.worcester.ma.us/police

 

[1] Scott J. Croteau, “City calmer since shooting spree,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, October 22,

2009

 

[1] Louis J. Salome, “Wading Pools Will Close,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, May 29th, 1969

 

[1] Lisa Sciannameo, interview with Marco Estrella, Worcester, Massachusetts, November 29th 2009

 

[1] Jeff Wilste, Contested Waters: A social History of Swimming Pools in America, (North Carolina,

University Press of North Carolina, 2007) pg183

 

[1] Jeff Wilste, Contested Waters: A social History of Swimming Pools in America, (North Carolina,

 University Press of North Carolina, 2007) pg184

 

[1] Nick Kotsopoulos, “Council candidates mix it up,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, October 08, 2009

 

[1] City of Worcester, “Fiscal 2010 Annual Budget,”

http://www.ci.worcester.ma.us/e-services/document-center/budget/budget-fy10.pdf , pg 10

 

[1] Nick Kotsopoulos, “Effort is on to open some Worcester pools,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, May

19, 2009

 

[1]Scott S. Greenberger, “Everybody out of pool, House says,” Worcester Telegram and Gazette, March

21, 1995

 

[1] United Way of Central Massachusetts, News You Can Use, section accessed December 1, 2009 on

 website: www.unitedwaycm.org/nonhtml/NewsYouCanUse/WheelsToWater.pdf  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Primary Sources

 

Bedimo-Rung PhD, Ariane L. “The significance of parks to physical activity and public health: A

conceptual model,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine,Volume 28, Issue 2, Supplement 2, Published by Elsevier Inc., (February 2005), pg 159-168

 

LeGates T. Richard, Frederic Stout. The City Reader. 4th ed. New York: Routledge, 2007

 

Mumford, Lewis. The city in history: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. Florida:

Harcourt, 1989

 

Shipler, David K. The Working Poor. New York: Vintage Books, 2005

 

Turner, Margery Austin. “Urban Parks as Partners in Youth Development”. Washington, DC: Urban

Institute Press, 2004

 

Wiltse, Jeff. Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming of Pools in America. North Carolina:

University of North Carolina Press, 2007

 

Archival Material

Worcester Public Library, Worcester, MA

            The Worcester Room

 

Government Records and Publications

Moylan, Robert Commissioner. Memorandum, re: Communication Relative to Pools, (August 26, 2009)

 

Worcester Police Department, “Police Incident Statistics”, Chief Gary J. Gemme, (January 1, 2009-

March 31, 2009)

 

City of Worcester

            Fiscal 2010 Annual Budget

 

U.S. Census Bureau

 

Interviews

Sciannameo, Lisa, interview with Marco Estrella, Worcester, MA (November 29, 2009)

 

Periodicals

Worcester Telegram and Gazette, Worcester, MA

Worcester Magazine

Worcester InCity Times

The Washington Post

 

 

 

Secondary Sources

 

Boehm, Lisa Krissoff. Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and The Second Great

Migration. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2009

 

Butler, Janelle. “Crompton Park,” unpublished, undergraduate field observation paper. (September 13,

2009)

 

Jost, Kenneth. “Racial Diversity in Public Schools,” From Issues In Race and Ethnicity. Washington, DC:

CQ Press, 2009

 

Mathur, Shishir. “Financing community facilities: a case study of the parks and recreational general

obligation bond measure of San Jose, California,” Theoretical and Empirical Researches in Urban Management, Published by Academia de Studii Economice Bucuresti, (May 2009), pg34

 

Stolz, Hank. “Wake Up Worcester” television program on channel 3 local station. (September 25, 2009)

 

 

Web Sites

www.bing.com – For maps

www.worcester.indymedia.org – Local news by resident input

www.google.com/Scholar  – Journal Search

www.bpl.org – Boston Public Library, Literature Review

www.worcester.edu – Under Library link for Articles and Journal Search

www.urban.org – Urban Institute, Literature Review

www.worcesterinterfaith.org – Worcester Interfaith, local Non Profit Organization

www.unitedwaycm.org – United Way of Central Massachusetts, Non Profit Organization

 

Public Bike Share Programs August 31, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 4:28 pm

 

Bike share programs in large cities just might revolutionize the way urban dwellers and visitors interact with the urban environment.  When I visited Montreal this summer, I witnessed first hand the flurry of bike riders all around me.  It seemed that tourists were the primary users, much to the dismay of cabbies and the rather grumpy tour guide I employed to show me the urban sites.  He yelled at riders, in English (assuming they were stupid Americans), who failed to heed the stated traffic laws.  Although helpful for tourists, the bikes seem even more helpful to those who want to utilize public transportation.  Read all about the public bike’s move to Canada here: http://www.bixisystem.com/

Boston, home of the United States’ first subway and the well-travelled T and commuter rail system, now has followed in Montreal’s footsteps (or rather pedals?).  The Hubway Bike System opened on July 28, 2011 with 61 bike stations and 600 bicycles.  Members can join for $60 a year, or less for just for a day’s ride.  Prices are geared towards the short ride–if a patron keeps a bike for more than a half hour, charges start adding up quickly.  As stations are located near train stations, it is easy to use the bikes to extend the reach of commuter rail.  The city has 38 miles of bike lanes, which can be better utilized with the new rental bikes.  My husband used to take the commuter rail from our home out in the Metrowest suburbs into Boston.  Once his office moved from Faneuil Hall to Brighton, however, the commuter rail was no longer a viable option.  Save taking an expensive taxi every day on top of rail fees, his office was not reachable by public transportation.  (He could have jumped out the window of a train, which passed through Brighton but did not stop. I advised against this, but he always stared whistfully at the trains passing right by his place of work.)  The bike now makes the train a great alternative in good weather, and a light rain jacket extends the possibilities into the fall.  He can ride the train, doing more work or just reading for fun until he arrives in the city.  He can locate a bike and take a short ride to work, and place the bike back in a nearby bike station.  He was all smiles when he first tried it, and now he is hooked.   

The one negative here is the lack of helmets.  It appears that most of the tourists riding bikes in Montreal are doing so without helmets.  Boston riders are urged on the website of the program to always wear helmets, and this is easier to do for commuters who can bring their own.  As someone who has vivid memories of being hit by a car while bike riding, I never like to see anyone riding without a helmet.  The next step would be to offer rental helmets next to the rental bikes.  The Hubway will have roving staff offering helmets at busy bike stations, but certainly some will opt to ride without helmets.

Another option for train riders are foldable bikes.  A folding bike can be brought onto the commuter trains and treated like luggage.  (Full size bikes are not usually allowed.)  Folding bikes could also be an option for those in smaller dwellings.  The NYTimes recently reported that apartment renters are asking for more storage options for their bikes.  Bikes take up a lot of room in relatively small NYC dwellings.  Yet NYC residents rely on their bikes.  A bike hanging from a ceiling hook in the living room clashes with designer couches and original watercolors too.  So renters and those looking to buy a condo are favoring locations with easily accessible bike storage.

Find out more at http://www.thehubway.com/

 

More Musings on The Help August 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 9:29 pm
I have been trying to search for reasons that I am uneasy with the largely passionate, positive response to the book and the film, The Help.
 
In 2009, I published a non-fiction work of my interviews with African American women who had largely worked as domestics and taken part in the Second Great Migration to the North.  About five million women and men left the South for the North between 1940 and 1970, transforming the history of American cities and the nation as a whole.  Yes, I am a white woman, and I even have unruly hair like Skeeter Phelan in The Help.  The Schlesinger Library website even referred to me as “the real Skeeter Phelan” on their website.  (I donated the oral histories from my book to the Schlesinger, which funded the project with its Oral History Grant.)  When I read the novel The Help I could not believe how the process of interviewing in the book sounded like what I had done in real life.  Yet I am still uneasy with the picture of domestic work and the black southern experience as outlined by The Help.  It is incomplete, at best.
 
The Association of Black Women Historians has written an “Open Letter to Fans of The Help, in which they state, in part ” On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help.   The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.”
 
I have been wondering if it is possible to portray the kinds of unrelenting violence that southern blacks encountered in the Jim Crow South in a fictional vehicle, either novel or film, which has as entertainment as its primary purpose.  A non-fiction book or a documentary seems better suited to the subject matter.  So would any novel or film draw the kind of criticism some are heaping on The Help?  Is it this particular subject that cannot be well done in a fictional genre, or is it just this particular story that rubs some people the wrong way?

 I understand the need to work through important themes, emotions, and issues in the past via fiction.  Certainly we have an endless stream of films and novels related to the Holocaust, World War II, 9/11 and other tension-filled historical moments.  Yet with these stories, we are better able to fit them into the framework of history that we already know.  Saving Private Ryan is not our only exposure to the history of WWII; we add the movie to what else we know.  I think unfortunately, that many Americans are not aware that until the late 20th century, MOST African American women working outside of the home for wages labored in domestic settings or related jobs service jobs in hotels, restaurants, and office buildings.  In domestic work, the working women came to interact on a daily basis with the white families that employed them, and the interactions were filled with complications.  White families often thought of their employees as family; black women sometimes formed friendly relationships with their employers but this feeling of “family” was extended far more rarely and with far more trepidation.  I would bet that the white women crying in the film around me when I saw it on the opening afternoon were not rushing home and ordering non-fiction books on domestic workers by the likes of Susan Tucker, Rebecca Sharpless, and myself, to learn more.  I think we leave The Help thinking we know it all, and that is a mistake.  There is far more to this story to know.

Those who have not read The Help will not know that the white characters of the novel are portrayed as having a thick dialect, which is represented in very broken English and spelling changes like substituting “Law” for “Lord.”  The characters frequently say “reckon,” a word I never encountered in my oral history work.  White characters, who presumably would have southern accents as well, were given no such spelling changes.  The white characters are also drawn in a quite silly fashion, and they look even more flat and silly in the film, juxtaposed against the weighty acting done by Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer in their roles as African American maids.  If the majority of whites are silly and ignorant, it lessens the serious nature of the racism they espouse, and distances the white film goer from this kind of prejudice.  We often find a sort of simpering, slapstick South portrayed in mainstream films, a world of honeysuckle and sweetened ice tea that does not resemble the world today, South or North.  Thus it is easy to leave the film and say, “Boy, I am glad things are not like that now.  We have certainly come a long way.  I cannot believe things used to be like that.”  After the death of Medgar Evers in the film, the tension of the film is quickly cut by a funny vignette where we see the maid Minnie vacuuming a stuffed bear.  The laughter in the theater showed how quickly the violence could be worked through, and how much we wanted to move away from that uncomfortable feeling.  Maybe we need to sit a little bit longer with uncomfortable emotions.

The pain of the discrimination faced by a generation of women who could often only find work in domestic settings, despite their education level, is still felt today.  Many of these women still live among us.  They have passed stories of this pain to their children.  Seek out the searing artwork of Willie Cole, whose mother and grandmother labored as domestics.  Keep reading.  If The Help whetted your appetite, try to learn more.  I am seeking a book group that would follow up their reading of The Help with my own book, Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration (Mississippi, 2009) and see what they think.  What do we not see in the novel?

 
 

My Response to The Help August 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 12:58 am
This past Friday, I was interviewed on NPR’s The Takeaway about my oral history book, Making a Way out of No Way: African American Women and the Second Great Migration (Mississippi, 2009), and what light this work can help to shed on the book and the film, The Help.  Inez Smith, who I interviewed for Making a Way out of No Way, also was interviewed by John Hockenberry in this short piece.  Smith worked as a domestic in Mississippi as a youth alongside her aunts.
 
Here is the link to the segment:
 
 
 
 
I am glad to see others talking about The Help.  The book and the film expose the public to the story of working African American women. As an academic historian who utilizes oral history, it is difficult to see the public enamored of this story but failing to take their interest to the next level and do some non-fiction reading on the subject.  In my own forty oral histories with women who took part in the Second Great Migration and worked as domestic workers during some point of their lives, I did not encounter a single narrator that sounded like those in The Help. Neither did I encounter The Help’s dialect in the oral histories I read at Baylor University’s wonderful Institute for Oral History.  The dialect in which the stories are presented in the novel simply does not ring true.  The fine acting of Viola Davis and Octavia Butler mitigates some of the issues of the original novel (I have no doubt the pair will be at least nominated for Academy Awards), yet the sticky-sweet world created in the film makes the racially-based prejudice and violence look like something that happened long ago and far away.
 
I have spent ten years documenting the stories of women who grew up in the South during the second half of the twentieth century, writing down every word that my respondents said and listening to the tapes over and over again.  It is a shame that historians cannot have a bigger impact on the final product issued from movie studios, for with some expert advice, this film, which surely will be viewed by millions, would have had better basis in historical fact.  I would have been more than happy to have consulted for the film, and I know that is the case for countless others who have conducted oral histories on this subject.  I think part of the issue here is the seeming obscurity of what we do within the so-called ivory tower, and the public’s reluctance to read non-fiction works.  I had hoped that the reading groups making their way through The Help could have picked up Making a Way out of No Way as a follow-up piece. 
 
For further reading, I also strongly suggest the work of Susan Tucker, Telling Memories Among Southern Women: Domestic Workers and Their Employers in the Segregated South (Louisiana State, 1988).
 
Thank you to the Association of Black Women Historians for their open letter to movie fans. I hope fans do take these concerns into account as they reflect on what they have seen.
 
 
Lisa Krissoff Boehm, Ph.D.
Professor of Urban Studies
Director, Commonwealth Honors Program
Worcester State University
486 Chandler Street
Worcester, MA 01602
508-929-8669
Office: Sullivan 129C
lboehm@worcester.edu
 

The Association of Black Women Historians’ Take on The Help

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 12:57 am

An Open Statement to the Fans of The Help:

On behalf of the Association of Black Women Historians (ABWH), this statement provides historical context to address widespread stereotyping presented in both the film and novel version of The Help. The book has sold over three million copies, and heavy promotion of the movie will ensure its success at the box office. Despite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers. We are specifically concerned about the representations of black life and the lack of attention given to sexual harassment and civil rights activism.

During the 1960s, the era covered in The Help, legal segregation and economic inequalities limited black women’s employment opportunities. Up to 90 per cent of working black women in the South labored as domestic servants in white homes. The Help’s representation of these women is a disappointing resurrection of Mammy-a mythical stereotype of black women who were compelled, either by slavery or segregation, to serve white families. Portrayed as asexual, loyal, and contented caretakers of whites, the caricature of Mammy allowed mainstream America to ignore the systemic racism that bound black women to back-breaking, low paying jobs where employers routinely exploited them. The popularity of this most recent iteration is troubling because it reveals a contemporary nostalgia for the days when a black woman could only hope to clean the White House rather than reside in it.

Both versions of The Help also misrepresent African American speech and culture. Set in the South, the appropriate regional accent gives way to a child-like, over-exaggerated “black” dialect. In the film, for example, the primary character, Aibileen, reassures a young white child that, “You is smat, you is kind, you is important.” In the book, black women refer to the Lord as the “Law,” an irreverent depiction of black vernacular. For centuries, black women and men have drawn strength from their community institutions. The black family, in particular provided support and the validation of personhood necessary to stand against adversity. We do not recognize the black community described in The Help where most of the black male characters are depicted as drunkards, abusive, or absent. Such distorted images are misleading and do not represent the historical realities of black masculinity and manhood.

Furthermore, African American domestic workers often suffered sexual harassment as well as physical and verbal abuse in the homes of white employers. For example, a recently discovered letter written by Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks indicates that she, like many black domestic workers, lived under the threat and sometimes reality of sexual assault.
The film, on the other hand, makes light of black women’s fears and vulnerabilities turning them into moments of comic relief.

Similarly, the film is woefully silent on the rich and vibrant history of black Civil Rights activists in Mississippi. Granted, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the first Mississippi based field secretary of the NAACP, gets some attention. However, Evers’ assassination sends Jackson’s black community frantically scurrying into the streets in utter chaos and disorganized confusion-a far cry from the courage demonstrated by the black men and women who continued his fight. Portraying the most dangerous racists in 1960s Mississippi as a group of attractive, well dressed, society women, while ignoring the reign of terror perpetuated by the Ku Klux Klan and the White Citizens Council, limits racial injustice to individual acts of meanness.

We respect the stellar performances of the African American actresses in this film. Indeed, this statement is in no way a criticism of their talent. It is, however, an attempt to provide context for this popular rendition of black life in the Jim Crow South. In the end, The Help is not a story about the millions of hardworking and dignified black women who labored in white homes to support their families and communities. Rather, it is the coming-of-age story of a white protagonist, who uses myths about the lives of black women to make sense of her own. The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women’s lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment.

Ida E. Jones is National Director of ABWH and Assistant Curator at Howard University. Daina Ramey Berry, Tiffany M. Gill, and Kali Nicole Gross are Lifetime Members of ABWH and Associate Professors at the University of Texas at Austin. Janice Sumler-Edmond is a Lifetime Member of ABWH and is a Professor at Huston-Tillotson University.

Suggested Reading:
Fiction:
Like one of the Family: Conversations from A Domestic’s Life, Alice Childress
The Book of the Night Women by Marlon James
Blanche on the Lam by Barbara Neeley
The Street by Ann Petry
A Million Nightingales by Susan Straight

Non-Fiction:
Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household by Thavolia Glymph
To Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors by Tera Hunter
Labor of Love Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and the Family, from Slavery to the Present by Jacqueline Jones
Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics and the Great Migration by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis
Coming of Age in Mississippi by Anne Moody

Any questions, comments, or interview requests can be sent to: ABWHTheHelp@gmail.com

 

Virtual Cities July 6, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 4:21 am

Time Magazine has devoted an entire issue to the concept of the virtual city.  Technology is changing the experience of living in cities so quickly that it seems impossible for us to even digest these changes.  As we battle environmental issues, green technology beckons with hope for the future.  As we consider how to feed, clothe, and house a growing population, technology offers some ideas for how to accomplish these tasks for efficiently. And technology changes our everyday social life, connecting us to others that do not share our spaces.

I am currently reading a fascinating work on the West Indian nanny population of Brooklyn, written by sociologist Tamara Brown.  Brown is an assistant professor of sociology at Brooklyn College. Brown finds that nannies can ease the isolation of caring for children of middle class and affluent families by connecting with other immigrants via cell phones.  Cell phones allow them to stay in touch during the day, and work out the logistics of planning to meet in public areas like the park or public library.  Without technology, the day-to-day existence of household workers would be far more lonely.  Cell phones allow for greater adult contact and some connection with the familiar themes of home countries.  I will be publishing my formal review of this intriguing book in an upcoming isse of Labor History.  See the link to purchase this book below.

Time Magazine on the Virtual City:

 

http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2026474_2026675_2078442,00.html

 

Tamara Brown’s Raising Brooklyn:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Brooklyn-Childcare-Caribbeans-Community/dp/0814791433

Book jacket for Raising Brooklyn

 

Can Cities Sustain Large Arenas and Other Development? May 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — lkboehm @ 12:44 pm

A major theme of late 20th century urban studies involves the failure of the CDB (central business district) of American cities.  In his work, Rough Road to Renaissance: Urban Revitalization in America 1940-1985, Jon Teaford explores this theme in a way that works wonderfully in college classrooms.  This book is excerpted in the American Urban Reader in the selection entitled “Messiah Mayors and the Gospel of Urban Hype” starting on page 229.  The New York Times article below pairs beautifully with this selection.  In the article, western towns’ experiments with urban development, especially large arenas, are detailed.

In the slumping economy, and with our growing tendency toward couch-potatoness (why leave the house to see  a live show when we have Netflix, movies on demand, video games, mog, and other services available right through the remote control?) venues for live entertainment are not fairing well in many of our cities.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/17/sports/a-companys-small-town-arenas-leave-cities-with-big-problems.html?pagewanted=1