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Still in love with Roxbury

Reynolds Douglass Graves
Still in love with Roxbury
As part of Discover Roxbury’s ongoing program to celebrate the history of Roxbury, Rev. Michael Haynes, 83, talked about his life. He is shown here holding a picture of his childhood home that was torn down by the BRA. (Photo: Discover Roxbury)

Rev. Michael Haynes, 83, waxes nostalgic about the section of Boston where he was born, raised – and came of age

Members of the Roxbury community packed into Haley House bakery in Dudley Square last month to take part in the Roxbury History Series.

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house when Rev. Michael Haynes took the microphone and talked about his hometown community — Roxbury.

Haynes, 83, became the Senior Minister of 12th Baptist Church in 1964 and later served as a colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Haynes also served as a state representative in the Massachusetts General Court for three consecutive terms.

Roxbury, a community older than the city of Boston, has plenty of rich cultural significance and a historical presence that spans generations.

“Eighty-three years and three days ago, I discovered Roxbury” Haynes said proudly in his opening remarks about his birth and childhood. “I was born on clean newspapers at 30 Haskins Street,” a neighborhood Haynes described as “a very heterogeneous community,” which he said added to the richness of the neighborhood.

With members of the community listening intently on the edge of their seats, Haynes recalled the treasures of Roxbury, some of which are preserved and others now only a memory.

From Humbolt Avenue and “the Hill” to Dudley Terminal with its three movie theaters and department stores Duttons, Timothy Smith’s, and Woolworth’s, Rev. Haynes described his own footnote in Roxbury History.

His knowledge and memory of each and every important street, family name and community center in what he referred to as “Black Roxbury,” created a sense of nostalgia among many of those in the café that night.

The fact that some of the street names, businesses and community centers are just memories, clearly frustrates Rev. Haynes.

Repeatedly during his chat, he referred to his disapproval of the “big bad BRA” (Boston Redevelopment Authority) which he holds responsible for erasing Haskins Street and other parts of the Roxbury community off the city map.

“There’s a sociological merry-go-round in this town … and its causing me some confusion,” he said.

Haynes referred to the BRA’s involvement with his birth home as the root of much of his frustration.

“They gave my mother $5,000 for that house and called it ‘taking by imminent domain,’” Haynes explained.

Haynes later mentioned that his mother cried when she learned the BRA was going to take her home, and later had a heart attack.

 For most of his life, Rev. Haynes has been active in the Roxbury community. Much like when he first started and now at age 83, his initiatives are focused on preserving the future of the community’s youth.

His life’s work began with a position at the Norfolk House developing youth programs. His next job was as a camp counselor making $20 a week.

“It was the community centers and the infrastructure they built that was very important,” Rev. Haynes said. “I considered it an honor to contribute.”

Still, Haynes said that it is unfortunate to see the community losing some of its agencies at a time of continued youth crisis.

As a state representative, Haynes was often known for mentoring youth through high school and into their next stage of life. Dennis Lloyd, a Roxbury native and long-time resident, remembers receiving a letter from the state representative congratulating him on his recent graduation from Jamaica Plain High School.

The letter, dated June 18, 1965 said “the future is yours for the striving … Don’t stop now!”

“I remember when the letter came to the house on ‘Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ letterhead,” Lloyd said. “It really made my family and friends proud, and was a great source of encouragement.”

The program, organized by Discover Roxbury, consists of a series of lectures and discussions give by (or about) community leaders of the Roxbury Neighborhood.

 “There is a lot of interest in Roxbury’s history, and we thought it should be showcased,” said Marcia Butman, executive director and founder of Discover Roxbury. “And what better place to do it than Haley House?”