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Roxbury Discovered

Called “The Bury” by natives, Roxbury is located at the geographical center of the city of Boston.  Founded as a town in 1630 by English religious dissidents, it was annexed to Boston in 1868. Over three-hundred and fifty years later, the neighborhood is 57,000 strong and “The heart of Boston’s black community,” since black people represent the biggest racial group there.

Derek Lumpkins, a lifelong resident of Roxbury, says “Home is where the heart is,” as he climbs the steps that lead to the tower on the hill upon which one of the actual scenes from the Siege of Boston took place during the Revolutionary War.

At the top of the hill, he stands in front of the 180-foot tower and begins to point the way along the panoramic view of what used to be Roxbury. Pointing at the towers of the Prudential Center to the north and at the steeple points of Hyde Square to the far west, he says, “These two points were within the boundaries of Roxbury way back when it included Jamaica Plain, part of the Back Bay, and West Roxbury too.” 

Derek says that he is one of the few amongst his friends that wake up happy to go to work in the mornings. As the manager of programs for Discover Roxbury, he designs and leads tours of Roxbury’s historic and cultural attractions, while at the same time rediscovering Roxbury for himself along the way.

Founded in 2000 by Marcia Butman, a former educator and native of Lexington, the goal of the program then was to dismantle racial stereotypes of Boston’s communities of color by leading suburban students on tours of Roxbury’s illustrious past and present led by their METCO classmates. Today Discover Roxbury conducts nearly twenty tours per year that are open to the public, with each one focusing on a particular aspect of the neighborhood.

For example, State Representative Byron Rushing, leads a “Revolutionary Roxbury” tour that chronicles the neighborhood’s architectural history, highlighting its importance as a colonial community in the heart of action during the Siege of Boston. This tour by trolley makes stops at the First Church of Roxbury, Fort Hill, the Dillaway Thomas House, Eliot Burial Ground, and the Shirley Eustis House.

 

There is even a Roxbury Women’s History Tour of the homes of the late mothers of today’s Roxbury – these women led a series of initiatives in the community that are still active there today. Dr. Susan Dimock's work in the community in the 19th century is remembered in the name of the Dimock Community Health Center; Melnea Cass, whose relentless fight against racial discrimination is memorialized with the naming of a major neighborhood boulevard in her name; Muriel Snowden, co-founder of the non-profit Freedom House, has a Boston Public School named after her; Elma Lewis, an arts educator and activist, left the legacy of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists and will have her vision of a major arts institution that focuses on the art of the African Diaspora manifested in the Elma Lewis Partner’s developed Ruggles Place due in 2011; and Ella Little Collins whose Dale Street home hosted her brother, Malcolm X, when he was a teenager.

As part of his job, Derek leads the Roxbury Bike Ride, another tour by Discover Roxbury. Free and open to the public, the bike ride tour is designed for all levels of bikers, with the single requirement being that a helmet be worn. Beginning at Roxbury Heritage State Park, Derek pedals the way through historic Roxbury, into Franklin Park, crossing bridges made of stone, and the remains of places where Duke Ellington once performed, and where the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson lived, and into Forest Hills Cemetery, which was originally founded in 1848 by Henry A. S. Dearborn, the second Mayor of Roxbury.