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Roxbury residents favor renaming Dudley Square. Will the city listen?

Dudley Square is named for Thomas Dudley, who served as governor of what was then the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s, and oversaw laws that facilitated the slave trade here.Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe

City officials asked Roxbury voters to consider the future name of Dudley Square, the heart of Boston’s historically black neighborhood.

And they answered.

By a 2-1 ratio, Roxbury voters Tuesday said yes to a referendum asking whether the city should rename Dudley Square, the commercial center that proponents of the change argued glorifies an enabler of the region’s slave trade.

The voters agreed with changing the name to Nubian Square, after a region that hosted one of the earliest civilizations in Africa.

Now, Mayor Martin J. Walsh says his administration will meet with the community to figure out what comes next.


“I am proud of the community for their continued advocacy on this,” he said. “We will be meeting with the organizers to review the results and discuss next steps.”

By city law, the referendum had to be put before all Boston voters, and it was rejected citywide — 54 percent of approximately 66,000 voters said no. But Walsh had agreed with proponents to focus on the precincts in the immediate area of Dudley Square in Roxbury, and it passed there overwhelmingly, with 1,986 yes votes, to 957 voters saying no.

The question was nonbinding, but Walsh’s administration proposed it in response to a grass-roots effort by a Roxbury coalition to have the name changed. Dudley Square is named for Thomas Dudley, who served as governor of what was then the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s and oversaw laws that facilitated the slave trade here.

The Dudley Square renaming effort came at a time that the city was already considering a request by the Red Sox to change the name of Yawkey Way, the street by Fenway Park named after the late Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, because of his reputation for being racist. That attempt was successful. It’s now Jersey Street.


But the Walsh administration said changing the name of an entire square had far greater implications, and so area voters should have a say.

Charles Turner, a former city councilor who was part of the Nubian Square Coalition to change the name, said the group expects the mayor will now bring the measure to the Public Improvement Commission, the body that oversees public ways, to carry out voters’ wishes. Turner said the 2-1 mandate expressed Roxbury’s wishes.

“It was people who are involved in politics, who take politics seriously, who looked at it and said the name needed to be changed,” he said. “So I believe it was a positive vote for the community.”

Councilor Kim Janey agreed that voters sent a clear mandate for change and that the city should respond.

She said this is an opportune time to carry out the name change, as the neighborhood is undergoing a makeover, with new development and public works improvements.

“There’s certainly an opportunity,” she said, “to have a sign that says: ‘Welcome to Nubian Square.’ ”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia @globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.