The 1980s weren’t an easy time to be a black leader in Boston. The rancor of the busing era hung in the air like smog. Many people in Roxbury felt, with some justification, that white Bostonians didn’t want them here. Into that humid atmosphere stepped Bruce Bolling, a seemingly reluctant politician carrying out his legacy as a member of one of Roxbury’s leading families.
Elected to the Boston City Council in 1981, when he was in his mid-30s, Bolling was the face of a new Boston, bridging old divides. Over the next 12 years, whether as a Roxbury district councilor, the first black council president, or an at-large member, Bolling spoke for Boston’s black community as its most prominent official. With violence and drug-dealing marring life in Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, Bolling worked with then-Mayor Raymond Flynn to bring more protection and resources into the neighborhoods.