Mandela, Massachusetts

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Mandela, Massachusetts
Proposed City
Interactive map outlining the Boston precincts that would have formed Mandela, Massachusetts in the 1986 and 1988 ballot question language.
Mandela is located in Massachusetts
Location within the United States
Coordinates: 42°21′29″N 71°03′49″W / 42.35806°N 71.06361°W / 42.35806; -71.06361Coordinates: 42°21′29″N 71°03′49″W / 42.35806°N 71.06361°W / 42.35806; -71.06361
Country United States
State Massachusetts
RegionNew England
A map of Boston, Massachusetts, USA highlighting in blue the precincts that would have been included in the proposed new city of Mandela, Massachusetts.

Mandela was a proposed city that would have been formed as a result of some districts seceding from Boston, Massachusetts.[1][2][3]

The districts, including parts of Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan and the South End, were populated mainly by African-Americans and Latinos, and the movement was driven by Black community leaders. The name was inspired by Nelson and Winnie Mandela, popular South African anti-Apartheid activists.[4]

The proposal was defeated in 1986[5] and again in 1988.[6]

Background and impetus[edit]

Activists gathered in the summer of 1984 to discuss remedies to the imbalance of power they perceived between communities within the greater city of Boston, as it had expanded through annexations in the 19th century. Leaders spoke of the relationship between Black residents and City Hall as that of a "colony," in an era when apartheid in the Republic of South Africa, notions of community control were under discussion, and a decade after the upheavals created in Boston by efforts at school desegregation and busing.

Referenda in 1986[edit]

The proposal to create Mandela sought to carve out a new, 12-square-mile city in the heart of Boston, which would comprise about 22 percent of Boston's 600,000 population, including most of its black residents.

The Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project (GRIP) were the sponsors of the Mandela initiative; the co-leaders of the GRIP campaign were journalist and filmmaker Andrew Philemon Jones and architect Curtis Davis. Mel King was also a proponent, and ran in 1983 as mayoral candidate against then city council member, Raymond Flynn.[7]

Other community-based organizations in Boston doing work around local Black and Brown residents' land control included the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) and Greater Roxbury Neighborhood Authority (GRNA).

Jones said that Black neighborhoods had ''a colonial relationship with the city of Boston'' because they were not given adequate public funds. Opponents, including some of Boston's black ministers, Roxbury state representative Thomas Finneran and Mayor Raymond L. Flynn, claimed the new municipality would undermine gains and create a community with annual deficit of $135 million.[8]

A non-binding referendum question about succession appeared on the ballot in 1986, on November 4. Nearly 50,000 people voted in the referendum.[9] The proposal failed, with 73 percent voting against it. The measure did not win in any precinct, and fared worst in the predominantly Black neighborhoods.

1988 referendum and beyond[edit]

The plan was put back on the ballot in 1988, when it was also defeated.[9] In 1989, Jones proposed a longer-range commission that would study the impacts of turning a neighborhood into an independent city.[10]

In 2017, Epicenter Community held a panel discussion about the movement.[7]

Referendum results[edit]

State Legislative District 1986 Referendum [11] 1988 Referendum [6]
Third Suffolk 1,280 3,624 4,904 26.1%
Fifth Suffolk 1,027 3,322 4,349 23.6% 1,231 2,529 3,760 32.7%
Sixth Suffolk 684 1,962 2,646 25.9% 1,625 3,350 4,975 32.7%
Seventh Suffolk 1,446 3,691 5,137 28.1% 2,158 3,021 5,179 41.7%
Ninth Suffolk 1,348 3,841 5,189 26.0% 2,446 3,540 5,986 40.9%
Twelfth Suffolk 1,460 3,819 5,279 27.7% 2,211 4,027 6,238 35.4%
Thirteenth Suffolk 1,055 3,301 4,356 24.2% 1,971 4,781 6,752 29.2%
Fourteenth Suffolk 1,585 4,371 5,956 26.6%
Fifteenth Suffolk 1,034 4,076 5,110 20.2%
Seventeenth Suffolk 1,191 3,266 4,457 26.7%
TOTAL 12,110 35,273 47,383 25.6% 11,642 21,248 32,890 35.4%

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Miletsky, Zebulon; González, Tomás (2016-09-22). ""Separatist City": The Mandela, Massachusetts (Roxbury) Movement and the Politics of Incorporation, Self-Determination, and Community Control, 1986–1988". Trotter Review. 23 (1). ISSN 2373-7743. (substantial and comprehensive article with extensive bibliography).


  1. ^ Shlachter, Barry (1986-09-07). "Irate Blacks Pushing for Secession in Boston". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  2. ^ Hornblower, Margot (1986-10-13). "In Boston, a Dream of Independence". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  3. ^ Pattison-Gordon, Jule (2017-09-13). "Mandela, MA and the bid to separate from Boston". The Bay State Banner. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  4. ^ Kennedy, Marie; Tilly, Chris (1986). "The Mandela Campaign, An Overview". Radical America. 20 (5) – via EBSCO.
  5. ^ Page, Clarence (1986-11-09). "Boston Chooses to Stay Intact". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  6. ^ a b
  7. ^ a b "Mandela, MA and the bid to separate from Boston". The Bay State Banner. 2017-09-13. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
  8. ^ Butterfield, Fox (October 12, 1986). "Bostonians Debating Drive to Carve Out a Black City". New York Times. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  9. ^ a b Miletsky, Zebulon; González, Tomás (2016-09-22). ""Separatist City": The Mandela, Massachusetts (Roxbury) Movement and the Politics of Incorporation, Self-Determination, and Community Control, 1986–1988". Trotter Review. 23 (1). ISSN 2373-7743.
  10. ^ Hays, Constance L. (December 10, 1989). "Boston's Black Areas Mount New Secession Drive". New York Times. p. 42. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-08-17.
  11. ^

External links[edit]