Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

The Other Black Bostonians: West Indians in Boston, 1900-1950

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

The Other Black Bostonians: West Indians in Boston, 1900-1950

Article excerpt

The Other Black Bostonians: West Indians in Boston, 1900-1950. By Violet Showers Johnson. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006. 181 pages. $24.95 (hardcover).

For much of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries emigration to Europe, North America, and other parts of the Caribbean basin has been an integral part of the history of Black West Indians. The men and women who chose to seek their fortunes abroad hoped to break free from the economic stagnation, depressed wages, and limited opportunities for social mobility present within their home communities. In the first half of the twentieth century, Boston became a popular destination for the men and women of this Afro-Caribbean Diaspora. By 1950 Black West Indians and their direct descendents represented some 12% of Boston's Black population (approximately 5,000 people). Although Boston ranked third among urban areas in the United States as a destination, very few scholars have explored this immigrant community when considered opposite its counterparts in New York and Miami. In The Other Black Bostonians, Violet Showers Johnson offers an interesting and valuable account that helps to fill this void in the historical literature.

Johnson observes that West Indians typically found employment offering higher wages in Boston than had been available on their home islands, namely Barbados, Jamaica, and Montserrat; but skin color severely restricted opportunities and ensured that financial success came at a steep price. For many members of this immigrant community, economic betterment went hand-in-hand with downward social mobility. Men and women formerly employed in skilled and semi-skilled jobs turned to the few opportunities available to Black men and women - most frequently taking positions as janitors, stevedores (dock workers), day laborers, and domestics.

One of the most notable points about The Other Black Bostonians is the author's treatment of understandings of social and economic position as the product of community and individual perceptions. Despite diminished social mobility by Boston standards, the income that Black West Indian immigrants produced allowed many to send much-needed remittances to the Caribbean and to visit their home islands. …

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