The Projects

America The Black Point of View: An Investigation and Study of The White People of America and Western Europe & The Autobiography of an American Ghetto Boy – The 1950’s and 1960’s – From the Projects to NAACP Image Award Winner, Volume One (Amber Books by Tony Rose

Whittier Street Housing Projectsouse_31whittier-1_business



I wrote this in 1969.  It’s about me and my Grandmere’.




The project was a red fortress filled with screaming children, cold brutal gangs and women.  There were five hundred units.  Fifty – three room apartments; one hundred and fifty – four room apartments; one hundred and twenty five – five room apartments; seventy five – six room apartments; and one hundred -seven room apartments; all unfurnished and all painted a dull green and grey.  There were five buildings, seven stories high, nine three story buildings with approximately two thousand five hundred poor and hungry people living together.  Babies were born and died here.  Life went on in an exciting way, for this was life; a dangerous sort of life; not a way to live, for many didn’t live; but, for those that survived, they had known life.  Welfare prevailed and strange men abounded. 


The project was built to resemble a square and was surrounded by four streets, Whittier, Ruggles, Tremont and Cabot Street.  The housing project area stood in the heart of Roxbury; three blocks from Mass Avenue, where a fantastic array of nice people, lived with pimps, murderers, rapists, thieves, prostitutes, hustlers, con-men, gamblers, addicts, homosexuals and tricks, who preyed on each other every day, minimizing one another’s chances of survival.  A separate story could be told of my later encounter and life as part of the madness, but for now, I shall concern myself only to what happened one summer in 1961


Across from the project on Whittier Street was the Health Unit, we had our teeth pulled there, and played basketball on the court outside.  In the summer we played in the wading pool and played baseball on the concrete. On Cabot Street, there were two small grocery stores, Al’s and Morris’s.


Morris was a cheap Jew and would give no credit,  Al’s let everybody have credit, half of the project owed him money and probably still does. 


There was nothing on Ruggles Street but death.  Ruggles Street was the home of a gang, a vicious and cruel gang that terrorized Roxbury and the projects.


Tremont was one of the longest streets in Roxbury.  The street started at Egelston Station and went all the way downtown.  The only reason it seemed for this streets existence seemed to be for the large number of liquor stores, nightclubs and soul food cafes on it.  In the middle of all that stood the project and me.


We were lucky though, we escaped the project once a year; one week in the summer.  My sister was afraid of the old woman and only went because she was hungry, I went for survival.


I loved my grandmere’s porch and back yard.  I would sit on the porch in the sun and imagine I was all kinds of hero’s, I would lie on the grass and think of nothing.


My grandmere’ would sometimes take me on the bus to Harvard Square, and then on the underground subway train to downtown Boston.  She would go shopping in places my mother never went, Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Bonwitt Tellers, Gilchrist.


Mama’s main place was Jordan Marsh Basement or Dudley Street Station area.  Mama was poor, hungry looking and on welfare.  My sister and I would try to love her, she was crazy, but, she was all we had.


I was eleven the summer Ronald was killed.  While we were rummaging through Morris’ Grocery store, a policeman’s bullet hit Ronald in the back of his neck, shattering the vertebrae and snapping the skinny eleven year old’s head off the shoulders, causing him to die with a licorice stick in one hand and some bread for his mother in the other.


Lying in my grandmere’s back yard, I did a lot of thinking that summer.  I thought about Ronald’s death and I began to plot my escape.