Saturday, March 26, 2022

Was Maynard a “Sundown Town?” Part 2

After the end of slavery in Massachusetts in 1780, and the abandonment by the freed Blacks or their children to cities where there was a significant Black community, the remaining rural population were people of English and Scottish descent. Their progeny, other than the oldest sons who inherited the family property, either moved west or gravitated toward the factory towns of the developing Industrial Revolution. On the Sudbury:Stow border, Amory Maynard was hiring. By the time the Town of Maynard was created, in 1871, the available workforce also included Irish immigrants. The population was static (and all White) until the American Woolen Company (AWC) bought the mill in 1900 and expanded, resulting in a population doubling by 1910, and then relatively unchanged through 1960.

The AWC hiring was all European immigrants: Irish, Italians, Finns, Russians, Poles… and hence all White. What is missing from historic documentation is whether hiring only White immigrants was an AWC policy across its 60 New England woolen mills, or just taking advantage of the arriving millions of European immigrants as cheap and non-union labor. The Great Migration of Blacks from the south to the north, 1910-1970, was too late to contribute to Maynard’s completed population boom. More to the point, people move to where there are other people like them (also for jobs, housing, schools and safety). For the northbound Blacks that meant cities rather than small mill towns.     

Poster for a Maynard Minstel Show
All this history is more likely the reason Maynard’s population was nearly 100 percent White until well into the 20th century, rather than any disorganized or organized racism. One sad consequence of there not being a significant minority population to point out the offensiveness was the perpetuation of local amateur minstrel shows long after this form of entertainment had faded elsewhere. Well into the 1940s, Maynard’s churches and organizations raised money this way. James B. Farrell, a talented singer, wrote in a monograph for the centennial history book, “I can recall in being in over sixty shows with most every society and club being a sponsor.”

Earlier, circa 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had been active in Maynard and surrounding towns, including cross burnings on Summer Hill. The focus was primarily anti-Catholic. A critical event occurred the night of August 9, 1925, when a Klan night rally at a farm on the Sudbury:Framingham border was violently opposed by Catholic Irish, Italians and Poles, who attacked cars traveling to the KKK event with bats and thrown stones. Returned gunfire injured five, and led to arrests of dozens of Klan members, including the son of the Sudbury Chief of Police. Klan presence faded soon after, locally and nationally.

Does racism still exist in Maynard? Let’s go with “Yes.” ‘Old’ racism refers to the belief systems that perpetuated the inferiority of people of color and provided the means for legalized discrimination and segregation. ‘Modern’ racism first denies that discrimination still occurs, second, maintains resentment towards minorities for their gains in the social and political arena as being unfair preference, third, opposition toward political and educational programs designed to support social equality, and fourth, fear of the unfamiliar.

That last – fear of the unfamiliar – is something Americans have not yet overcome, and can result in massive racial and demographic changes over relatively short periods of time. White flight and recently, gentrification, have whipsawed Roxbury and Jamaica Plain. Both have recently seen affordable apartment buildings replaced by upscale condos. Or as one person put it, “The neighborhood went to hell when we got a Whole Foods.”

Closer to Maynard, which per the 2020 census is 92 percent self-identifying as White, there have been some interesting demographic changes. According to the census, 26 percent of residents in Acton self-identify as Asian. Some of the draw is Acton-Boxborough High School being ranked in the top 20 high schools in Massachusetts. Over a 20-year period, Marlborough has gone from 88 to 69 percent White, with most of the share countered by Hispanic and Brazilian newcomers. Maynard itself used to have a reputation of being a housing low-cost town surrounded by high-cost communities, basically the hole in the donut, but in 2021 the average house sale was above $500,000 and some of the newly built homes have been selling above $800,000.

Not having affordable housing to buy or rent is one powerful means of discriminating against low-income people and families, which consist of a higher percentage of people of color. By Massachusetts state law – Chapter 40B – cities and towns are required to strive to have 10 percent of their housing stock as affordable. Municipalities that are well below 10 percent or oppose proposed 40B projects are in effect discriminatory. Maynard’s housing stock is at 9.5 percent affordable, but that will soon to be recalculated lower, as it is based on current number of affordable units (419) divided by the 2010 census count of total units (4,430). Obviously, there has been an increase in total number of housing units over ten years. A revised percent affordable figure based on the 2020 census should be available later this year. When it does, it will confirm that Maynard is trending toward stronger economic discrimination, which can only be countered by construction of more affordable housing.

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