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Roxbury Homecoming celebrates longstanding friendships

Bay State Banner | 6/14/2017, 10:54 a.m.
Families, gangs and other groups stake out spaces with tents, awnings and chairs. Grills, coolers and tables laden with food ...
Founded 20 years ago, the Roxbury Homecoming celebration brings Roxbury’s daughters and sons from across the country to Franklin Park for barbecues, music and a celebration of friendship. Banner file photo

Founded 20 years ago, the Roxbury Homecoming celebration brings Roxbury’s daughters and sons from across the country to Franklin Park for barbecues, music and a celebration of friendship.

Banner file photo

Founded 20 years ago, the Roxbury Homecoming celebration brings Roxbury’s daughters and sons from across the country to Franklin Park for barbecues, music and a celebration of friendship.

Founded 20 years ago, the Roxbury Homecoming celebration brings Roxbury’s daughters and sons from across the country to Franklin Park for barbecues, music and a celebration of friendship.

Banner file photo

Founded 20 years ago, the Roxbury Homecoming celebration brings Roxbury’s daughters and sons from across the country to Franklin Park for barbecues, music and a celebration of friendship.

The idea for Roxbury Homecoming came during a funeral in 1996.

“We realized that we always get together at funerals or tragic occasions,” organizer Evelyn Thorpe told the Banner in a 1998 interview. “Everybody always talks about ‘yeah, we should get together’ but nobody ever does anything about it.”

Thorpe and a core group of folks made connections through old networks of what were in the 1940s and 1950s called “gangs” but were really more like social clubs. In the first year they drew a crowd estimated at 2,000 people. Since then, the organization has grown steadily, drawing Roxbury residents and expatriates from across the country.

This Saturday, June 17, families, gangs and other groups stake out spaces with tents, awnings and chairs. Grills, coolers and tables laden with food and drink provide refreshments. Deejays spin classic soul and disco past. Walking through the gatherings, held in Franklin Park, is like an open-air reunion that spans decades of Roxbury history.

Generations of Roxbury’s daughters and sons reminisce about the neighborhood in which they came of age and the people, places and institutions that made it special. Many artifacts from Roxbury’s past, like the hulking steel elevated Orange Line that ran through Dudley Station, are long gone. Gone too are whole sections of Roxbury, like the Madison Park neighborhood that was razed during urban renewal. Although Dudley Square is making a comeback, many at the Reunion recall the days when the busy shopping hub included a movie theater, Woolworths and a train, bus and trolley depot.

By 1999, organizers of a Boston Juneteenth celebration sought to combine the commemoration of an announcement ending slavery in Texas with the reunion. Although some refer to the Roxbury Reunion as Juneteenth, it’s clear that for most who turn out the day is about the Roxbury experience.

For this year’s celebration, expect to see the same old gangs and tents of friends celebrating the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Expect to see some candidates, too. With contested City Council and mayoral races, Boston’s political class will likely be out and about. But, as always, it’s Roxbury history that will occupy center stage.