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Former Longtime Boston Mayor And The Infamous James Brown Concert


Kevin White, who died on Friday, was the mayor of Boston from 1968 until 1984, overseeing a city in transition. When White was first elected, American cities were struggling; and Boston was loosing population — its days as a mighty seaport were well behind it.

Former Boston Mayor Kevin White outside Faneuil Hall in Boston Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2006. (AP)

White is credited with leading a downtown renewal that forever changed the profile of Boston, from one marked by urban blight and decline to one defined by tall buildings, a thriving financial district and a vibrant waterfront.

But his record on the city’s greatest social challenge of that time is less clear-cut. During his tenure, a federal court order to desegregate the city’s schools led to racially charged violence in Boston’s neighborhoods. White led the city through the busing crisis, and some say he handled an intractable social challenge as well as it could be managed. Others say the downtown mayor turned his back on the neighborhoods in their time of need.

We consider his legacy during this difficult and defining period of the city. But first we hear a story from reporter Michael May about racial healing and one of White’s finest moments, which occurred the night after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., when White helped spare Boston the kind of racial violence that ripped other American cities apart.


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  • jim

    This is one of the most important and pivotal point in city history… we would either be what boston is now or we would be what hartford, CT is today. Mayor White choose the first.

  • Mjambrosino

    Michael May’s report fails to mention that it was WGBH-TV that was called early in the afternoon and asked if they could, against all odds, be capable of broadcasting the concert several hours later. The station was capable and rushed its mobile unit to the Boston Garden, set up and was on the air by 9:30 pm, broadcasting the concert once and then immediately repeated it.

    • Sroberts

      How do you know this information?   Do you know anything about whose idea it was that the show be televised instead of having the concert held?

      • Michael Ambrosino

        I do not know who decided  to do it. WGBH got the request from the Mayor’s office.

        I was called in at 5:30 and asked if we could get on the air from the Garden. I called together the people who could do it:  Russ Morash, David Atwood, Greg Harney and Al Potter.

        Find the documentary, “The Night James Brown Saved Boston”, (not made by WGBH) for the larger story.

        • Sroberts

          Thanks… My dad was the concert producer, and he and my mom were there that night too.

          • Anonymous

            I also didn’t have time to get into how the city almost couldn’t afford to pull this off, because JB didn’t want to lose money. Yes, see the doc for the full story . . .

  • Joeboy

    are you sure you know what “infamous” means?

  • Anonymous

    Am brother of sroberts, and also son of Gerald Roberts, who along with his partner, Frank Connelly, promoted some of the most memorable concerts of the 1960′s, including the Beatles at Suffolk Downs in 1966, the Stones at the Garden just days before Altamont and Jimi Hendrix at their own venue called the Carousel Theater in Framingham.   Unfortunately, neither of them are around any longer.  However, as the parties who rented the Boston Garden, paid the production staff and spent their own money to advertise the James Brown concert, doesn’t the decision on whether the show goes on logically involve them? In recent articles, I have seen reference solely to James Brown’s concern about losing money.  However, there was likely even more money on the line for my father and Frank if the show were cancelled.  I have a vague recollection that it was the mayor who wanted to cancel the event but it was the promotors who resisted, threatening the City with a lawsuit and arriving at the idea of televising the event only as a compromise [Note:  in the ensuing years, the mayor cancelled their scheduled Sly & the Family Stone and Doors shows].  It seems a little light here is needed in order to complete the rare and truly great picture painted by JB that night.         

    • Anonymous

      Very interesting perspective. Indeed, and I wonder how it all worked out in the end, and how many turned people who planned to go didn’t show up since it was on TV. It’s unfair to put that on the backs of the promoters . . .

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