Harold Ickes: An Example for Today And For Old Harbor Village Memories: (Part 4 of 5)

Ickes had the support of his fellow progressive Republicans but also the Blacks and Native Americans both minority groups he had assisted over the years. His “experience of poverty contributed in his believe the men of wealth and privilege subverted democratic institutions, robbed he people, and exploited the public domain.” Ickles had Robert C. Weaver as part of a group of Black men who formed what was called the “Black Cabinet” who would be appointed by LBJ as the first Black cabinet member.

FDR had a particular passion which he brought from being governor of New York to the presidency. That was to give the average American decent housing.  In 1937 he noted: “[M]any millions of Americans still live in habitations which not only fail to provide the physical benefits of modern civilization but breed disease and impair the health of future generations.”

He said in his second inaugural address, The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” In 1944 in his State of the Union address he called for a Second Bill of Rights speaking about equality in the pursuit of happiness. He stated: “Necessitous men are not free men. People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.” https://www.ushistory.org/documents/economic_bill_of_rights.htm Among those rights were The right of every family to a decent home.”

FDR had the man in his administration who could do it Early in 1934 Ickes put out notice that his office would be accepting applications from cities throughout the nation which were interested in putting up housing for low income people. By October 1934 a newspaper reported after a meeting between Ickes staff and officials from Massachusetts in Washington, DC that, “Definite selection of a site or sites for slum clearance and low cost housing projects in the metropolitan area of Boston will be made soon”.

On January 31, 1935, the Ickes announced to the surprise of local officials that his department had chosen a site in South Boston for one of its first projects. The site selected was the area where the Old Colony project was eventually built. It was an area of eight blocks of residences and businesses which were to be condemned.

On February 11, notices were posted outside the buildings to be condemned. The owners were told to appear in federal court prior to March 12 if they objected to the proceedings. And protest they did. On the last day for registering protests the newspaper headlines noted: “JAM OF OLD HARBOR OWNERS AT COURT – NEARLY 300 MILLED AROUND CLERK’S OFFICE.” Some were claiming jury trials. If nothing else was made clear it the government had failed to anticipate the opposition. It had to tear up its timetable for getting the job done.

Ickes recognized it would be at least a year, most likely much longer before things would settle down. Being impatient to get started he and his staff thought that a way to extricate themselves from their dilemma was to find vacant land where people did not live. Examining maps, they determined that an adjacent property was mostly unoccupied with most of it being used as a dump. They set out to acquire that land themselves.

[This series started on December 17 and will appear on 18th, 21st, 22 th, and 23rd]