“It is not the bigots, however, who constitute the primary obstructive force against racial inclusion. It is the indifference of average citizens. They are not against blacks; they are not against the poor. They are against the density, and the traffic, and the children…a tax rise of a buck or two on a thousand. It’s just too much to ask…”

Source: MCAD: “Route 128: Boston’s Road to Segregation.”

Historical Periods

1950s–1975: Impact of Rte 128 & Rte 495

Housing, jobs, and population move to the suburban towns that surround the newly created highways.

  • During the 1950s, towns like Lincoln and Weston began using large lot zoning to combat the influx of single family housing.
  • As a result, housing prices soared.
  • Little if any public housing was built in these communities.
  • Lower-income residents were squeezed out of more affluent towns or shifted to dilapidated areas.

Suburbs magnify segregation

According to a report issued by the Massachusetts Committee Against Segregation, redlining institutionalized racial segregation in the cities, but it was the development of the suburbs that magnified the effects of segregation by increasing the physical separation between whites and minorities.

"Suburbanization in Massachusetts was aided by the development of Route 128.” (Rte 128: Boston’s Road to Segregation) Between 1960-1965, a significant migration of African Americans to Boston occurred. This influx was happening at a time when urban renewal was focused on the rebuilding of Boston’s commercial center, not increasing the supply of housing. Housing renewal for the urban work force was accomplished by relocation to the suburbs. Industry followed its managerial and technical staff into the suburbs, resulting in the white work force fleeing the city, and leaving the city of Boston to rely upon commuters rather than a resident work force.

Impact on African-American communities

Such shifts in the locations of employment and housing met neither the needs nor the skills of the new black residents. By 1970, all of the suburban towns, with the exception of Cambridge, were 98% white. Using 1970 U.S. Census data, the classic study, Negroes in the City, found that in order for Boston’s black population to achieve a pattern of residential distribution similar to the white population, 84.3% of the black population would need to relocate. In a more recent study (2000) Segregation in the Boston Metropolitan Area at the end of the 20th Century, the Harvard Civil Rights Project showed that majority of people of color are still concentrated in only 7 out of 126 communities in greater Boston.

Route 128 and 495 as dividing lines

The following quote, taken from a report by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, illustrates the impact of Rte 128 and the subsequent Rte 495:

“Never in the course of Route 128’s early development was serious consideration given to the ramifications of one community’s actions upon its neighbors or upon the suburban belt as a whole. There was no consideration of the general impact on the city of Boston nor on the social repercussions of the new job locations and new housing. Tremendous changes in population distributions were acknowledged at the time with naïve amazement. The simultaneous black immigration taking place in the region was being funneled into the city. There was no provision for its absorption into the suburbs.

Route 128’s history represents a social failure approaching disaster in terms of its impact on the poor and minority groups. There was an absence of social planning and a misuse of the region’s physical resources. While planning was nonexistent in few towns, it was of poor quality in others. In those towns which had the time and the funds, physical planning succeeded almost too well. These towns are beautiful, although their beautiful was paid for, in part, by the ugliness of others. Their gains, from the larger perspective, were the region’s loss (42).”