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In Grove Hall, a banner display to spotlight Boston’s ‘hidden figures’

Black Women Lead would showcase more than 200 banners of Black women pioneers along the neighborhood’s major roads.

Marilyn Anderson Chase has been chosen as one of 200 Black women to be honored as a pioneer. She was photographed next to the Sportsmen’s Tennis & Enrichment Center, at 950 Blue Hill Ave., where Arthur Ashe and Venus Williams both visited and gave youth tennis clinics.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Travelers along the Grove Hall section of Blue Hill Avenue could soon see another sign of the neighborhood’s rich history flying above: more than 200 light pole banners commemorating the contributions of local Black women leaders.

That’s the goal of Black Women Lead, a years-long effort by Greater Grove Hall Main Streets to amplify the role Black women played in Boston’s development and ensure they hold a more visible piece of Boston’s history.

“Black women have shaped Boston into what it is today, and that has to be recognized,” said Ed Gaskin, Greater Grove Hall Main Streets’ executive director.

The initiative began several years ago, when Greater Grove Hall Main Streets used leftover funding to commission banners highlighting six Black men at the Boston Public Library’s Grove Hall branch. The following year, the nonprofit’s board chair suggested commemorating a few women.


But Gaskin wanted to go a step further.

“What if we did an outrageous number like 100?” Gaskin recalled saying.

Gaskin said he and a committee his organization established did their own historical research and wrote Facebook posts, purchased ads in The Bay State Banner, and placed ballot boxes outside the neighborhood’s library, the Freedom House, and a few other spaces to solicit nominations for people to be recognized. At first, Gaskin thought it would be hard to gather even 100 names, but people submitted around 600 women for consideration.

With so many nominees, City Councilor Brian Worrell and state Representative Chris Worrell, brothers who both represent the area, suggested Gaskin double his original number of planned banners.

With the help of students from Mother Caroline Academy & Education Center in Grove Hall, the organizers finally whittled down the list to just over 200 women. Organizers have raised about $60,000 for the project so far but need to raise an estimated $40,000 more to hang all the banners.


Among the selected women are long-departed city activists such as Melnea Cass and living leaders such as Marilyn Anderson Chase, a retired assistant secretary for children, youth, and families for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services. In all, those honored represent politicians, interior designers, 18th-century poets, and 21st-century authors, physicians, and clergywomen. That way, Boston’s next generation could see a piece of themselves in the array of women, Gaskin said.

“We wanted to have Black women from every walk of life,” Gaskin said.

Under the Black Women Lead plan, the banners would fly along Blue Hill Avenue, as well as on Seaver and Washington streets. Each banner would include the name of the woman, along with a portrait by Black artists Kamali Thornell and Brianna Young.

Brian Worrell said incorporating portraits of historic leaders allows the public to put a face to the names that are commonly known in Boston — whether that’s Cass or Bruce C. Bolling.

“The name doesn’t tell the whole story, and it doesn’t get the same impact that we want it to have,” Brian Worrell said. “They hear about them in conversations, but now there’s a visual to these young women and men in our community.”

Chris Worrell said he can’t wait to take his 6-year-old daughter along the three streets, so she knows that there are legendary Black women right in their backyard.

“I want them to look up and see that these people walk among us,” he said.


Bishop Barbara Harris was honored as one of 200 Black women pioneers by Greater Grove Hall Main Streets. This banner was installed on Blue Hill Avenue, in Grove Hall.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Currently, only one banner — of Bishop Barbara Harris, the first woman ordained as a bishop for the Anglican Communion — flies near the Grove Hall Mecca Mall, but it serves as an example of what could be. If all goes as planned, hundreds of banners would be hung in time for the planned NAACP convention in late July.

In May, the Worrell brothers’ offices coordinated a commemoration ceremony at the State House, involving hundreds of honorees, their loved ones, and students from Mother Caroline Academy & Education Center and Saint John Paul II Catholic Academy.

For deceased honorees, Black Women Lead’s coordinators invited surviving loved ones, such as fourth-generation Bostonian Melody Adams. She said her grandmother, Mattie Adams, was the first licensed African American interior designer in New England, designed the cylindrical Church of All Nations in the South End, and served on former president Jimmy Carter’s small business advisory council.

Since her grandmother’s death in 2016, Melody Adams said the May commemoration was the only event grand enough to match her contributions. Until now, Mattie Adams’s absence from history books was something all too common for Black women, she said.

“I don’t think Black women get enough credit for anything,” Melody Adams said. “Black women are the least likely to be honored, but contribute so much.”

Anderson Chase, the health and human services worker being recognized, agreed that credit was long overdue, but that it’s not the reason the women did the work.


“The women that were being recognized weren’t doing it with the eye to be recognized,” she said. It’s “an unselfish call to service.”

Some descendants of honorees had not known the extent of the contributions of their loved ones. Each morning, Denise Manning would watch her grandmother, Miriam Manning, prepare for another day as a foster grandparent with Action for Boston Community Development. It wasn’t until the State House event, though, that she understood the weight of her grandmother’s work.

“You see the impact in your daily lives, but we don’t understand how deep or connected it is until you’re in a room with 100 women finally being given their flowers,” Manning said.

For Melody Adams, the event served as a history lesson as she met and encountered local Black women that she’d unfortunately never even heard of.

“These women are our hidden figures,” Adams said. “There’re so many people around us every day doing amazing things that we never know, that we never hear about.”

Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at Follow her @tianarochon.