Why Does Dudley Square Need a Name Change?

Activists say the area shouldn't be named after Thomas Dudley.

Photo by Alyssa Vaughn

Roxbury’s Dudley Square is one of Boston’s most robust black neighborhoods—and some feel that it’s about time that the square’s name better reflect its community.

The Walsh administration and District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey have voiced their support for putting a non-binding question on the November ballot to change the historic neighborhood’s name from Dudley Square to Nubian Square. They’ll have to make a final decision on whether or not to include the question on the ballot by September 18.

Efforts to rename the square have been in motion for years. The square is named for Thomas Dudley, the Puritanical second governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony who is best known for establishing Roxbury Latin School, being the father of poet Anne Bradstreet, and establishing the city of Cambridge by thrusting his cane into the ground and declaring “This is the place.” Proponents of the name change allege that, as governor, Dudley also allowed the passage of laws that permitted slavery, and that his family later enabled the slave trade.

As Nubian Square, the neighborhood’s moniker would instead pay tribute to an ancient Northeastern African region, home to some of the continent’s first kingdoms.

The Walsh administration began working with the grassroots organizers of the Nubian Square Coalition last year, around the same time that efforts arose to rename Fenway’s Yawkey Way, due to Tom Yawkey’s racism and resistance to baseball integration. While the Nubian Square Coalition proposed that the name change be made in the same way, through the Public Improvement Commission, the city’s chief of engagement Jerome Smith says that the name change of a square should be put before voters.

“This should be something organically discussed with the residents of Roxbury, and they should give their feedback,” Smith tells the Boston Globe. “We want them to be successful in having the conversation.”

If the measure is approved to appear on the ballot, the administration would then analyze the voting data to determine how the city will move forward.

Names are particularly meaningful in the Dudley Square community, and several other public landmarks in the area pay tribute to the neighborhood’s culture. A street is named for activist and feminist Melnea Cass, and a park is dedicated to Malcom X. The epicenter of the square, the Bruce C. Bolling building, is named for the first black president of the Boston City Council.