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At Roxbury Reunion, memories of a safer time

Yawu Miller | 6/25/2008, 5:15 a.m.
John Wyche and his daughter Niambi were two of many celebrating at this year’s Roxbury Reunion, held last...
John Wyche and his daughter Niambi were two of many celebrating at this year’s Roxbury Reunion, held last Saturday at Franklin Park. Tony Irving

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John Wyche and his daughter Niambi were two of many celebrating at this year’s Roxbury Reunion, held last Saturday at Franklin Park.

Once again, the gangs took over Franklin Park last weekend, blasting music, grilling burgers and drinking beer in their annual summer celebration.

But these were no ordinary gangs. With names like the Emperors, the Unknowns, the Orioles and the Band of Angels, these are the gangs whose days of running the streets of Roxbury were in the ’50s and ’60s.

“We didn’t have guns,” says Albert Curington, a computer consultant and former president of the Emperors. “We had an understanding of what life was all about.”

As the old timers describe it, theirs was an era when Boston’s black community functioned like an extended family. Disagreements were settled with fists and forgotten the next day.

“You might have had a little fight on a Friday night at a dance, but in those days in Roxbury, everybody knew each other,” said Teddy Scott, wearing a black tee shirt with the wings-and-halo insignia of the Band of Angels.

Many of their members live far from their former Roxbury stomping grounds. Every year for the last 12 years, though, they’ve been coming back from faraway places like Ohio, California and Florida for their reunion with former rivals and friends.

As many as 10,000 people have joined in the Roxbury Reunion during its 12 years of existence, Curington estimates.

Each gang stakes its territory with a tent, a gas grill, folding tables and coolers. As music from the ’70s fills the air, people make their way through the tents, greeting old friends.