The Anna Mae Cole Center Must be Preserved

In the coming months, the City of Boston and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), along with a group of developers, are planning to hasten the gentrification of Jamaica Plain.  They plan to do this by demolishing hundreds of public housing units and replacing them with hundreds of privately-run and expensive units at the Mildred C. Hailey/Bromley-Heath public housing development in Jamaica Plain. 

Among the first buildings targeted for demolition is the development’s main community center, the Anna Mae Cole Center (formerly known to the residents as the Bromley Hall or the Neighborhood House). The Anna Cole Center is not just an ordinary community center. It has been a beacon to the surrounding communities for decades, and a beating heart of working class struggle and Black resistance, including as a focal point of the Black Panther Party’s organizing in Boston. The demolition plans will erase that legacy and privatize a vital community resource, further gentrifying the neighborhood. We, the undersigned, resolutely oppose the planned destruction of Boston’s Black history and the gentrification that will ensue. We demand the Anna Mae Cole Center be preserved and designated a historic landmark by the City of Boston.

The Boston Black Panther Party and the Anna Cole Center.

In order to understand the significance of the Anna Cole Center, we have to look back to the height of the Black liberation struggle. By the mid sixties, many Black people in Boston and across the country were energized by the significant successes of the Civil Rights movement. However, people were also increasingly aware of its limitations, and many rose up in outrage throughout the country (for example in Watts) against their continued oppression. These diffuse sentiments of outrage and rebellion were given conscious, organized direction through the establishment of the Black Panther Party in 1966. By 1968, the Panthers created a chapter in Boston.  

One of the principal pillars of the Boston Panthers’ organizing was their Community Survival Programs, which included the Free Breakfast program for Schoolchildren. Despite repeated interference from the Boston Housing Authority, city and federal law enforcement, and the media, the Boston Panthers were able to successfully establish their Breakfast Program at the Anna Cole Center in 1970, feeding hundreds of children in the process. However, that was only one of the goals of the program. The Panthers used these programs as a way to raise awareness of the abuses heaped upon the people by the system and emphasize the need to overthrow it. In conjunction with this political education, the Panthers also brought people into the fight. For example, they successfully mobilized the community to boycott overpriced stores such as Stop and Shop and Meatland, forcing the stores to donate food for the breakfast program hosted at the Anna Cole Center. 

The Anna Cole Center in the era of Tenant Management

After the Panthers’ organizing efforts concluded, the Tenant Management Corporation (TMC) carried the baton of providing community service through the Anna Cole Center. Free Lunch and Dinner programs were hosted at the Anna Cole Center and organized by the board of the Bromley-Heath Tenant Management Corporation, led by founder Mildred C. Hailey. Under the TMC the use of the Center was expanded to include additional community programs (a neighborhood radio station, athletic programs, a free health clinic, and more), host private events (such as funerals, weddings, etc.), yearly Family Day summer events, Christmas parties, talent shows, and community meetings. Throughout its existence, from the initial Panther activities carried out in the center to the expansion of programs under the TMC, the Anna Cole Center fostered a sense of unity among the people at Bromley-Heath and the community at large.

However, in 2012, the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) removed tenant management from Bromley-Heath. Following this move, nearly all of the community-based programs were discontinued and the Anna Cole Center became effectively unavailable to tenants. Now, 10 years later, the BHA is working together with developers to demolish the center in the name of “renovation”. This “renovation” is nothing other than the first step in privatizing Bromley Heath and next step in gentrifying Jackson Square (read more about these plans here). No “replacement community spaces” can substitute the rich history of racial and class struggle that the Center embodies, and its elimination will mean the elimination of this history. We have already seen how gentrification has led to the bulldozing of Black history with the Harriet Tubman House which, despite its significance, was demolished and replaced with expensive condominiums. We cannot allow the Anna Cole center to suffer the same fate, which is why we demand the demolition of the Center to be canceled and that the building be designated by the City as a historical landmark.


Signatories:

The United Front Against Displacement 
Ms. Anna Mae Cole
Dr. Cornel West
The Revolutionary Blackout Network
Black Lives Matter, Boston
I am Harriet Boston
The Grant Manor Organizers
Revolution Bicycle Repair, Jamaica Plain
Not For SALEm 
Housing = Health
White Coats for Black Lives, MA

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