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Thousands flock to Hub to mourn Kennedy's loss

Brian Wright O’Connor | 9/2/2009, 6:43 a.m.
Throngs of mourners flocked to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester to pay their last respects to the late senator. Tony Irving

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Throngs of mourners flocked to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester to pay their last respects to the late senator.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a lifelong champion of civil rights and social justice, bade his final farewell to the city he loved in the neighborhood where his legacy will long outlive his tenure in public office.

“This is where he made the biggest difference in the lives of the poor,” said the Rev. Michael Haynes after last Saturday’s moving two-hour funeral service at Mission Church in Roxbury. “The health care centers, schools, housing developments and social service agencies in our community were all in some way or another a part of his creation.”

The retired pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church was one of nearly 1,400 mourners who waited patiently in the driving rain to file into the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Tremont Street for the Mass.

Thousands more lined the route of the funeral cortege from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and crowded around the barricades set up around the church perimeter to pay their respects to the late senator, who died surrounded by his family after a long battle with brain cancer at his home in Hyannis Port just before midnight on Aug. 25.

An ‘extraordinary’ resume

Standing outside the church after the service, U.S. Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., D-Ill., recalled campaigning for Sen. Kennedy in the neighborhood during his 1988 re-election race.

“Driving around, he would point out all the places he had visited or helped during his career,” said the congressman. “As you can imagine, it was tough to get a word in edgewise. His impact here was extraordinary.”

Just a look at the bricks-and-mortar is impressive. The grim and foreboding Mission Hill projects where unarmed cab driver James Bowden was gunned down by a police officer and where Charles Stuart carried out his racial hoax are long gone, replaced by a townhouse development funded by monies channeled through Sen. Kennedy’s committee.

The Orange Line at the base of the Mission Hill hums along the Southwest Corridor, financed with substantial federal funds obtained through the work of the late senator.

The nearby hospitals and medical research facilities, providing employment for thousands and healing for millions, relied for decades on Sen. Kennedy’s clout in the appropriations process.

The refurbished schools and Roxbury Community College have all drawn on federal construction subsidies, student grants and loans championed by Sen. Kennedy to educate a new generation.

The neighborhood was not just the focus of Sen. Kennedy’s legislative efforts, but also where he sought prayer and healing, quietly slipping into the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help between visits to his daughter Kara when she was receiving cancer treatment at a nearby hospital.

Not far away, at the home of Otto and Muriel Snowden on Schuyler Street or at the Freedom House, Sen. Kennedy huddled with Boston’s black leadership during the volatile busing crisis to discuss ways of keeping the city calm and the children safe. His support of the controversial school busing plan at a time when many politicians sought to run from the issue cost him dearly in neighborhoods bitterly opposed to the integration measure.