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Boston Urban Archive Shares History of Black Communities

17 May 2024 8:49 AM | Anonymous

The following article was written by Arielle Gray and published in the web site:

It's relatively quiet in the Healey Library at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Ebony Gill explores a few cardboard boxes, thumbing through old tapes, photos and newspapers. Gill is currently a senior English student at UMass Boston but she's not at the library to study. She's looking for materials to post on Boston Urban Archive, the Instagram page she runs that showcases old videos and photos of Boston's Black and brown communities.

"These are all cassette tapes that were sent in to 'Lecco's Lemma,'" Gill says, pulling out a few cassettes to inspect them. "This was a radio show that was run at MIT. They focused on hip-hop and rap, so local rappers would record on these cassettes and send them in to get played on the radio. It was a really big thing in Boston at the time."

"Lecco's Lemma" started in 1985 on WMBR and was run out of the basement of the Walker Memorial Building at MIT. Host Magnus Johnstone created a space for burgeoning hip-hop artists in Boston to reach the ears of listeners. In 1986, WMBR canceled “Lecco’s Lemma” and Johnstone ended up moving the show to WZBC at Newton's Boston College. The show officially ended in 1988.

Gill pulls over another box. "What's special about these is that I found some of Gang Starr's original cassettes in here," she adds. "And The Almighty RSO. Those are two of the biggest groups coming out of Boston." She can't find those particular tapes, however, and moves on to carefully shuffling through some newspapers from the 1980s.

This is a process that's become intimately familiar to Gill. She loves researching and finding gems in the archive that highlight Boston's history. Since its inception at the end of 2023, Boston Urban Archive has amassed over 30,000 followers. Gill started the page after doing research for a paper she was writing for a journalism class. She decided to delve into hip-hop and the genre's history in Bostontaking advantage of the college's Massachusetts Hip-Hop Archive.

"I was just finding a lot of things in my research that I'm like 'other people need to see this,'" Gill says. "From the newspaper clippings to just musicians and music that I've never heard come from Boston before. I wanted to put it in a concentrated place and I felt like social media was the perfect place to do that."

So, Gill started posting archival materials she found. A video of Mark Wahlberg as a child gained traction and brought a lot of attention to the Boston Urban Archive. She realized, "People like this, they like these vintage clips of familiar faces. So I just kind of continued to look for more."

Gill's love of research started when she was a child — she was pretty nosy, she says, and was always looking for new and exciting information. She grew up splitting her time between living with her mother in New Hampshire and spending weekends and summers in Boston with her father. She moved to Boston full-time at 13 years old. "I am biracial and growing up was a bit different for me because I lived with my white mother in a smaller, quieter community," Gill says. "Then I would come to Boston and my dad would teach me a lot of things ... I've just always felt very connected to what Black Boston is and what it represents."

For Gill and many other Bostonians of color, there is a feeling that Black and brown history in the city is not highlighted or celebrated in the ways that it should be. Recent developments and projects, like the Embrace Memorial on Boston Common, have helped uncover some of the longstanding Black history here, but Gill says that more needs to be done.

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