Like fellow councilor Jimmy Kelly, he sought to serve his constituents
The mean-spirited attempt to expunge the names of City Councilors James M. “Jimmy” Kelly and Albert “Dapper” O’Neil from public spaces in Boston is a vindictive campaign of damnatio memoriae (“Move to strip names focuses on recent figures,” Metro, Dec. 5).
Unlike many modern politicians, Kelly and O’Neil sought to represent the views and values of those who elected them. Neither of them got rich in public office, and neither of them retired to become corporate lobbyists.
O’Neil’s longevity in elected office was attributed to his willingness to provide constituent services to all the neighborhoods of Boston.
Kelly and O’Neil were right to oppose forced busing for the public schools in 1974. So did most Bostonians. An April 1974 Boston Globe poll found that 63 percent of city residents were against the busing of school children out of their own neighborhoods.
A subsequent Globe poll found that less than half of Black parents supported court-ordered busing, while nearly 80 percent favored a “freedom of choice” plan for the public schools.
C. J. Doyle
Removing names doesn’t change history, and lessons can go unlearned
Whether you prefer your history in black and white or as a more nuanced, accurate story, renaming things to suit modern sensibilities is a bad idea.
Thirty-five years before Peter Faneuil inherited his uncle’s fortune, the Russian city of St. Petersburg was founded. Over the next 300 years, the city was renamed to hide its historical past and make the name sound more suited to the times: Petrograd during World War I to sound less German, then Leningrad, and now, again, St. Petersburg. Further south, Tsaritsyn became Stalingrad, now Volgograd.
The names changed but today, Russia has invaded Ukraine to restore President Vladimir Putin’s vision of a “Greater Russia” of the tsars, and politicians are negotiating to free Americans from the remnants of Joseph Stalin’s forced labor camps.
Changing names doesn’t change history; it just makes us forget where we were and how we got here. Changing the names of Boston landmarks won’t change the realities of history; it will just make it easier to ignore their lessons.
O’Neil stirred up trouble, helped seal Boston’s reputation as a racist city
Removing Albert “Dapper” O’Neil’s name from a Boston City Hall meeting room — an award bestowed on him by his colleagues for distinguished service — could not be more appropriate or urgent (“Take Dapper O’Neil’s name off a City Hall hearing room,” Editorial, Dec. 12). O’Neil was a loud, nasty city councilor who leveraged these characteristics to stir up trouble and to stay in office. He was one of the most significant contributors to Boston’s enduring reputation for racism, a charge that still causes us shame.
Let me recall one image that has haunted me as it has countless other Bostonians. We remember the heartbreaking attack of a Black man on City Hall Plaza by an angry white kid, part of a mob incited by the rhetoric expressed by O’Neil and his group. The weapon used was a flagpole bearing the American flag. The image went the 1970s equivalent of viral, bestowing on the city and its residents an indelible symbol of shame. Directly above the attack that day, attached to the City Hall windows of O’Neil’s offices, were four letters, R-O-A-R, one large letter taped to each of four windows (I worked in the JFK Federal Building at the time). It was an acronym for “Restore Our Alienated Rights,” the antibusing equivalent of MAGA.
O’Neil hung around long after his time had passed, but still his South Boston cronies applauded his racist excesses. On O’Neil’s passing, Jimmy Kelly, a longtime City Council colleague, said in tribute that he never changed; it was the city that changed.
I fervently hope the city has changed; I think it has. A small but significant act of atonement would be the removal of all references to O’Neil and his noxious colleagues, including Kelly. It would be a cathartic exercise.