Southie Is My Home Town: And Proud of It!

south-boston-22I was born when my family lived in South Boston. I lived there in Old Harbor Village until around my tenth birthday when the family moved to Savin Hill. My parents and all their siblings are from South Boston. My father went to South Boston High school, played football, was the president of the South Boston HIgh Alumni Association,  and revered the South Boston High School football coach Steve White. (More on him tomorrow.)

I recall as a young lad they had a several testimonials honoring coach Steve White. One was at Blinstrub’s night club in South Boston. Blinstrub’s, which was quite large, on the night they gave Steve a dinner on account of his retirement was as crowded as MIck McGilligan’s ball. Over 1,300 people attended to say goodbye to coach White.

Southie always took care of its own. It produced from its housing projects, three-deckers and other homes on its alphabet and numeral streets men and women of remarkable ability, achievement, strong character and free of prejudice.  As the song goes they were: “doctors and lawyers, teachers and preachers . . . ”

My mother and father were both teachers. My father also became a lawyer.  None in the family became medical doctors. It was hoped my first cousin Roger Concannon would be the first bishop in the family although it never quite worked out that way but had it he would have made an astounding one. 

Two of the well-known people from Southie tell of the type of people who come from there and their prejudices. Although it wasn’t Roger, Southie did have a bishop who was born there. It was the great Richard Cardinal Cushing. He was described as “a crusty and completely unpredictable cleric from South Boston…with his gruff affability and down-to-earth humor.. He became a lifetime member of the NAACP back 1961 long before the civil rights marches; he was a leader in Catholic/Jewish rapprochement. One person remembered: “Cushing was a philo-Semite. He liked Jews. He told me in one conversation the person he loved the most in his family was his brother-in-law, who was Jewish..

How many other sections of Boston can boast of having  as one of its sons the US Speaker of the House. Southie had John W. McCormack? (Speaker Tip O’Neill from North Cambridge had as his best pal and pupil Southie’s Joe Moakley. ) McCormack saw “to it that a congressman who was in line to become the first black committee chairman was not derailed by conservative southerners. McCormack also desegregated a House barber shop that had refused black staffers.” He saved the Civil Rights Act of 1964 discharging it out of committee. As House Majority Leader John McCormack rose to commend James Michael Curley saying he was “a man who has always condemned intolerance and bigotry in any form.” He did that after Curley, “then a congressman from Boston, spent 20 minutes reading a list of Jewish war heroes — from the Revolutionary War to the Battle of Anzio — into the Congressional Record.”

Go down the list of prominent Irish Catholic politicians and clergy born in Southie and other parts of Boston, as far back as John F. Fizgerald, the grandfather of President Kennedy, who in the late 1890s supported the newly arrived Jews and Italians and who was one of two in Congress who opposed Jim Crow laws. These are to a great extent the part of the Southie tradition that gives me pride.

When I think of Southie I remember those who fought in our wars. There was Michael J. Perkins which grammar school I attended. He won the Congressional Medal of Honor in WWI. I recall the WWII vets who I loved to talk to like Bill Carr who served in Italy. Then there was John “Doc” Tynan who flew 25 bombardier missions in a B-17 over Germany. He had both Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart under his command. He was shot down five times. And, of course, my uncle Jimmy Rogers who I never shared a word with because he went down during the war in his B – 17.

Of course it did not end with WWII. South Boston has sent its sons and daughters off to all our wars. While the country was trying to forget about Vietnam, in Southie they erected what some say is the first memorial to those who lost their lives in that war.  It has 25 names of men who died there. Like with the Vietnam Wall in DC where I know some of the fallen, I know one of those on the Southie wall, John Jacobs. How’s this for a statistic that tells much about this country: over twice as many men from Southie died in Vietnam as those who graduated from Harvard. 15 of those who died were Marines of whom 8 were private first class. Semper Fi.

These were folks who had those traditional values of God and country, They did their best to live by them. Most, like their esteemed leaders, lived without a bone of prejudice in their bodies. For decades they have been wrongly characterized in the Boston media and that obsession over South Boston continues to today.

Look at the fake portrayal of South Boston as stated in the March 11 Boston Globe headline: Most relieved to see  bad old Southie get slapped down.” 

Pause and think of that headline: “bad old Southie.” Seriously, do you know of any other section of the city of Boston that has been labeled in a similar manner. What is it that made the Boston Globe spill so much venom over a section of the city containing groups of people as diverse as any other section?

Maybe it lingers on since the time Henry Cabot Lodge called Fitzgera;ld an “Impudent young man” for opposing his bill to limit Jews and Italians coming to America. You do know that Tom Winship the Globe’s editor (got job from dad – patronage appointment?) was on the staff of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. And you thought it was the Irish that never forgot a grudge.


18 thoughts on “Southie Is My Home Town: And Proud of It!

  1. Example of Irish international cooperation:

    When John McCormack, the great Irish tenor, was touring U.S. he was at an event where Enrico Caruso was to sing the national anthem. Caruso didn’t speak English so McCormack trained him in pronouncing the words. The result: An Italian opera singer singing our national anthem with an Irish brogue.

    1. This one is great.

      “Always go with the choice that scares you the most, because that’s the one that is going to require the most from you. “

      I agree. I called Bell Atlantic back in the old days. I couldn’t have made contact with a more pathetic serf. His instruction was way above his abilities when dealing with a customer that was boiling mad. That would be me. Finally I said, “Are you in a big room with loads of cubicles?” He was. I said, “You obviously can’t handle this. Look around the room and find the person you are most afraid of and hand that person the phone.”

      I’ll tell you, it works.

  2. A fine post . It is good to take pride in one’s heritage. It is forgivable to embellish it with pious myths such as the “impudent young man” campaign nonsense story that was the staple of so many race baiting Irish politicians of that era.

    An example is John McCormack’s fairy tale about his dead father from Ireland that he cribbed from Jim Curley’s life when he first ran for office and told over and over throughout his career. He dad was alive, a Protestant, from Souris, PEI. He denied his own father. Am sure there were reasons.

    Life is not always pretty. Vice President Henry Wilson, Republican Senator from Massachusetts, born Jeremiah Jones Colbath, had an analogous relationship with his father. Family strife is not uncommon.

    Another example would be the myth that these anti-Yankee race baiters were somehow unique in opposing Jim Crow laws. “John F. Kennedy… was one of two in Congress who opposed Jim Crow laws.”
    One of two what? All the Republicans opposed Jim Crow laws. Those statutes were an exclusive product line peddled by the Democrat Party.

    It is sad that boasts of a freedom from prejudice are larded with an ungrateful hatred of the ethnic group that founded and bequeathed to all Americans the Constitutional Republic that has on the whole served us all well. Most pious myths of all peoples are truths mixed well with pure bullshit. No reason why South Bostonians should be any different. Maybe someday the Irish will learn to stop hating.

    Happy Evacuation Day. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

    1. John McCormack’s father apparently abandoned the family when John was 12 or 13. John was self-taught thereafter.

      2. It is not to any one ethnic group that America owes its freedom.
      America’s Fight for Independence was a multi-ethnic and multi-racial triumph. From the first shots fired, Americans of all backgrounds contributed. Crispus Attacks was a black man. And, without the French armies and navy, the fight for Independence may have failed.

      The Irish? Here are some tidbits from an AOH website and elsewhere:

      Among those killed in the Boston Massacre in 1770 was Irish-born Patrick Carr; Boston Tea Party participants met at an inn owned by man named Duggan; and the tea was dumped at Griffin’s Wharf where many “Indians” spoke with Irish accents. There were 147 Irish among the Minutemen that fateful April 19, 1775, when the `Shot Heard Round the World’ was fired and after the smoke cleared at Old North Bridge, and Pitcairn’s redcoats fled back to Boston, among the Patriot dead were 22 Irish-Americans.

      Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence were 6 Irish-Americans and 3 native Irish.

      Yes, the Irish were there at America’s birth and the fact that they made loyal Americans is evidenced in the writing of Marquis de Chastellux who wrote after the revolution:
      “On more than one imminent occasion Congress itself, and the very existence of America, owed its preservation to the fidelity and firmness of the Irish.”

      And George Washington Parke Custis, grandson of the beloved first President, said, at a St. Patrick’s Day dinner in 1828:
      “Ireland’s generous sons, alike in the day of our gloom, and of our glory, shared in our misfortunes and joined in our successes. With undaunted courage (they) breasted the storm which once threatened to overwhelm us; and . . . cried from their hearts God Save America. Then honored be the good old service of the sons of Erin in the war of Independence. Let the shamrock be entwined with the laurels of the Revolution, and truth and justice, guiding the pen of history, inscribe on the tablets of American remembrance ‘Eternal Gratitude to Irishmen.’”

      After the war, Lord Mountjoy stated in the British Parliament, “America was lost through the action of her Irish immigrants.”

      “What more gallant group could Washington have asked for than John Brady, revolutionary scout; or Major John Kelly who destroyed the bridge at Stony Point saving the American retreat from Trenton; or Capt. William O’Neill who held the British in check at Brandywine. Ranked among Washington’s most trusted officers were Irish-born Generals Wayne, Sullivan, Irving, Shee, Lewis, Butler, and Commodore John Barry. Washington’s personal Secretary was Major Charles McHenry and his Irish Aides de Camp included Joseph Reed, Joseph Carey, Stephen Moylan, and John Fitzgerald indicating just how deep that trust was. When General Montgomery was killed leading the attack on Quebec, Washington publicly mourned his trusted and valued Irish friend.

      George Washington acknowledged America’s debt to the Irish in a letter thanking them for the part they played in winning America’s independence. He wrote to the Marquis de Lafayette that “the people of Ireland need that critical moment to shake off the badges of slavery they have so long worn.”

      George Washington also said, “”When our friendless standards were first unfurled, who were the strangers who first mustered around our staff? And when it reeled in the light, who more brilliantly sustained it than Erin’s generous sons? Ireland, thou friend of my country in my country’s most friendless days, much injured, much enduring land, accept this poor tribute from one who esteems thy worth, and mourns thy desolation. May the God of Heaven, in His justice and mercy, grant thee more prosperous fortunes, and in His own time, cause the sun of Freedom to shed its benign radiance on the Emerald Isle.”

      1. Revolutionary War Hero, Commodore John Barry, born in County Wexford, Ireland, is the father of the American Navy.

  3. Matt, great article . It’s always nice to hear the true and meaningful facts about our
    great hometown and upbringing. The reason these people,who were born with silver or gold spoons in thier mouth or up thier :::: nose, write headlines like this, is because they don’t
    understand and are jealous of those with nothing but self pride, desire,honesty and
    Strive to do good can achieve so much!! Happy St Patty,s Day.

  4. Great post. Look at all of the movies. Southie and the Boston Irish generally have come to symbolize the white working class for the whole country. They’re the Reagan Democrats who didn’t waver in their support of the Cold War, who didn’t flirt with radical chic, who never made excuses for Stalin and yet whose honest wages were rapidly deemed excessive as soon as the Cold War was won. They were expected to pick up the whole tab for equality and integration and progress with what was left of their paycheck and their traditional values — and with a smile on their face. Some peace dividend. I don’t blame women or African Americans for wanting a better deal. I just don’t think the group who is expected to pick up the tab should be judged so harshly for not being in as much of a hurry as the people who are not.

    When you stand up for Southie you stand up for the working class and the dream of an upward mobility that is not a complete sellout of the people and community who made it possible.

  5. Also fromSouthBoston Bishop Hennessey currently serving in the Haverhill area,graduate of BLS and I believe from the projects. Remember the Globes urban team under Winship.It was noted by one of South Bostons best that you had to dial 1 to
    Reach them at home. Great article.

  6. When we moved to Milton from Grove Hall my father would get on the trolley at Mattapan and head down to Southie. L Street would be his destination. He always raved about the place and our neighbors would shake their heads. “What the hell is an Orthodox Jew from Milton trying to prove going down to that dump?” they would ask each other. And when I took a job down at the Stop & Shop headquarters on D Street in 1974 guarding the parking lot, people couldn’t believe that I was doing it without a gun on.

    I would tell them that if they had a clue they would be laughing at themselves. When my father retired he worked part time at a sheet metal and fabrication shop in Southie. He was a machinist. And we never missed a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

    On the other hand, the fact that I would drive down Blue Hill Ave and visit friends in Roxbury freaked out the Miltonites even more. And many of them came from my old neighborhood.

    And thank you for mentioning my favorite politician, Joe Moakley. He was great in so many ways that there isn’t enough time in my morning to elaborate.

    1. In the seventies a Jewish neighbor of my father asked him if he though it would be safe for him to go fishing in Southie. My father, who had grown up in Dorchester, not Southie, was surprised by the question and assured him that it would be perfectly safe.

      I think that the centuries-long Irish discrimination experience is compared with other groups not so much a minority discrimination experience. If you call someone Irish a bad name for somebody Irish it doesn’t seem like as much of a threat. So I think a lot of the racially charged language that was thrown around in Southie quite publicly during forced busing gave Southie a bad reputation. People thought that there was more potential of danger behind it than there actually was or was intended.

      1. Two of my mother’s five brothers married Irish Catholic girls from Southie. Both uncles converted. Not because they were asked to but because they felt that if they were going to live there they wanted to become a deeper part of the community they loved. And they were both devout in their Catholic beliefs. One moved to Tewksbury and the other to Neponset Circle and both maintained strong faith. My Uncle Al’s funeral mass was on a steamy summer day at St. Brendan’s and you could not get in the place. I’m still pissed off at some of our Jewish neighbors that frowned and shook their heads when they saw the statue on his dashboard and rosary hanging from his rear view.

        We also fished Castle Island all the time and there were some neighbors that would not let their kids come with us. So be it.

        1. My Aunt Liz lived on Lawley Street in Neponset for almost sixty years. Her funeral is Friday at St. Ann Church. Her husband Leo was a Captain on the Boston Fire Department. If you asked him what part of Ireland his people were from, he would reply “South Boston.” My mother grew up on Mosley Street and went to the Jeremiah E. Burke High School, an all girl’s predominately Jewish public high school in the 40’s. Predominately, as in practically empty on Jewish holidays. I think people “stuck to their own” as they would say in those days but if she was ever treated with an unkindness over being the different one, she never spoke of it.

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