Dudley Square will be officially renamed Nubian Square, the culmination of a five-year effort by Roxbury residents to strip the commercial district of Governor Thomas Dudley’s name and replace it with one widely supported by the area’s largely black population.
The city’s Public Improvement Commission approved the name change on Thursday as onlookers applauded.
“This is a big day for our community,” said Sadiki Kambon, the chair of the Nubian Square Coalition and a leader of the effort, after the vote. “It’s a name that reflects, number one, who we are as a people.”
The campaign to change Dudley’s name gained momentum in recent years in the midst of a national conversation about whether to remove Confederate statues and the names of former slaveholders from prominent buildings. Many supporters of the name change say that as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Dudley perpetuated slavery. By the mid-1700s, nearly one in 10 people in Colonial Boston were slaves, although historians say it’s not clear that Dudley himself owned slaves, and his role in the promotion of slavery is somewhat murky.
Leaders of the Nubian Square Coalition said that the new name draws on the strength and skill of the ancient Nubian Empire, one of the earliest civilizations in Africa. It also serves as a tribute to the long-running Afrocentric store “A Nubian Notion,” which closed in 2016 after 50 years in the square.
“Let us frequent Nubian Square. Together, let us enjoy the Afrocentric flare of black and brown people here,” Alenor Larisa Abdal-Khallaq Williams said to the commission. Williams’s family owned A Nubian Notion, and when the name change was officially announced, she wept.
“I’m feeling so good,” she said.
The city put the question to voters in a nonbinding ballot question in the November election. Slightly more than half of voters across the city rejected it, but the precincts near the square voted overwhelmingly in favor; city officials had said they were particularly looking to see whether Roxbury residents supported the change.
Most immediately, the change means that the city will remove “Dudley Square” from its street register and replace it with “Nubian Square.” Kambon said his group will be talking with the mayor about official signs from the city for the square as well.
The only dissenter who spoke at the public commission vote was Barbara Warner, 80, who grew up in Dorchester and Roxbury.
“I object to changing the name,” Warner said. “I have a lot of good memories down there.”
The vast majority of those who spoke at the commission meeting were in favor of the name change. A number of attendees talked about widespread displacement and gentrification afflicting Roxbury, and the hope that renaming the square would both recognize and honor those who have lived in the area for decades.
“Once we change the name, we don’t want the residents to disappear,” said Louis Elisa, the former head of the Boston NAACP.
After the committee voted, supporters gathered in the hallway, hugging each other and savoring their hard-fought victory.
“In our community, there’s a lot of excitement about this,” said Kambon, “Especially our young people feel like this is a new day for the square.”