Boston's Public Improvement Commission on Thursday morning approved the renaming of Dudley Square to Nubian Square.
The vote was prompted by a Nov. 5 ballot question that asked Bostonians if they'd change the historically black neighborhood to Nubian Square. The non-binding referendum failed city wide, but in Roxbury, the name change garnered a majority of votes. Mayor Marty Walsh said that the votes of Roxbury residents would weigh heavily in the city's decision to change the name. He supported petitioning the Public Improvement Commission to take up the issue in a hearing.
“Now we know the citywide vote was 60-40 against it,” Walsh said in response to the approval. "But I was concerned about that Roxbury community and it was 60-40 or maybe higher than that for it, so I’m happy for the activists.”
The Nubian Square Coalition, comprised of more than 30 businesses and individuals, has led an effort to rename the bustling Roxbury center. Supporters of the name change say Nubian Square more accurately represents the neighborhood's diverse residents, rather than memorializing Thomas Dudley, who in the 1600s served four terms as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony — when slavery was legally sanctioned.
Roxbury residents and business owners applauded the decision at the meeting in City Hall Thursday.
Some got emotional. Sadiki Kambon, chairman of the Nubian Square Coalition, believes the new name will give Dudley Square a new future.
“It's a name that reflects No. 1, who we are as a people ... making it very clear that it's not acceptable to have a name in place of someone who, in fact, was responsible for the brutalization of our ancestors and honoring them,” Kambon said.
The name Nubian Square is meant to evoke the ancient Nubian Empire, one of Africa's earliest civilizations situated in modern day Sudan. It was also the inspiration for the name of A Nubian Notion, a well-known Afrocentric community space and store that served Dudley Square for almost 50 years, before shuttering in 2016.
Kai Grant, owner and chief curator at Black Market Nubian Square, said re-branding sets a path for the local economy.
“I think it's a proud moment for our glorious past, for our struggle in the present and our phenomenal future that we envision,” Grant said. “I think that for us the most important piece of this is that it ties into a direct connection with a business that activated one of the most important parts of the city of Boston.”
The name change is officially in effect as of Thursday, but roll out on the neighborhood's signs will likely take a few months.
Kambon said the coalition is now looking to change the name of Dudley Station to Nubian Station. MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that process is dictated by their Station Naming Policy, which says that proposed names for existing stations will be taken up by a Station Naming Committee.
Longtime Roxbury resident Marie Firmin told the commission at the meeting that she still remembered when her father used to walk her through the square and instilled in her the importance of entrepreneurship and black-owned businesses.
“It's a big world and it's a wonderful world, but we have to be grounded,” Firmin said. “We have to be grounded in our communities. Changing the name to Nubian Square is one of the greatest things I believe this city can do because we don't own those businesses that I saw when I was a little girl like we used to. And we need to get back to that and give our children the foundation that they need in order to grow and to understand each other."
This article was originally published on December 19, 2019.
This segment aired on December 19, 2019.