8 Extraordinary Boston Common Protests & Rallies That Have Cemented Its Place In History
On Saturday, a crowd made up of thousands of counter-protesters marched in capital city of Massachusetts toward the 50-acre park Boston Common, where a controversial "free speech" rally, was to take place. Opponents of the rally argued that the event was a guise to promote the same white supremacist values that hate groups pushed in last weeks' violent rally in Charlottesville. Early projections estimate Saturday's crowd size to have totaled 15,000 people. This is just the latest in a long list of historical protests and events to take place at Boston Common.
The area the park now encompasses has been a prominent center of activity for nearly four hundred years and is currently both a Boston and National Historic Landmark. For centuries, the park has been the setting of massive protests as well as celebrations. Samuel Barber, author Boston Common – A Diary of Notable Events, Incidents, and Neighboring Occurrences described the park's importance as such:
Boston Common belongs to the world. In or around it took place events which link it with the history of government for and by the people in this country. From it radiated the influences that led to democratic as opposed to aristocratic rule. To it can be traced the gatherings in town halls by the substantial men in Massachusetts, and other commonwealths [...] It has always been the scene of all kinds of incidents—historic, dramatic, tragic, and is now the feature in its landscape and beauty. It might be called an indicator of all that ever occurred in Boston.
Saturday's anti-racism and anti-fascism demonstration has taken its place in history as one of the biggest events to take place at the park.
Previous Boston Common protests and gatherings of impressive size include...
1. General Lafayette's Visit In 1824
Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat who, convinced that Americans' fight for independence from Britain was noble, traveled from France to fight in the Revolutionary War, eventually becoming part of George Washington's staff.
Lafayette visited the city of Boston in 1824 and was met by a crowd of roughly 70,000 people ready to celebrate him. As described in M. A. De Wolfe Howe's book Boston Common: Scenes from Four Centuries:
“Lafayette’s visit in Boston in 1824 stands forth in local annals as an occasion of special splendor. The civic, academic, and social celebrations in honor of the visitor was not enough. On Monday, August 30, a great militia review took place on the Common, where two hundred tents were pitched, besides a great marquee for the shelter of 1200 persons at dinner.”
2. Martin Luther King's Speech In 1965
On Apr. 23, 1965, after leading a march from Roxbury to Boston Common, Martin Luther King delivered a 25-minute speech on the issues of segregation and inequality in housing and education. The civil rights leader spoke to a crowd of roughly 22,000 listeners.
3. Anti-War Vietnam Rally In 1969
An estimated 100,000 protesters people gathered at Boston Common on Oct. 15, 1969 to demand and end to the Vietnam War and urging President Nixon to agree to a moratorium.
"Perhaps out of the blood-soaked jungles of South-East Asia will come the humility and the national wisdom that will lead us into the light of a new day," Sen. George McGovern, the principal speaker, said in a speech.
4. Anti-War Vietnam Rally In 1970
On Apr. 15, 1970 a crowd of 60,000 people — among them groups like the Black Panther Party, the Moratorium Committee, and and the Student Mobilization Committee — again showed their opposition to the continuing Vietnam War at Boston Common.
"The logic of the Constitution is as valid today as it was in 1789," said state Rep. H. James Shea. "When you ask a family to send their sons to war, you ask the people through their elected representatives to participate in the awesome judgment."
5. Anti-War Vietnam Rally In 1971
The Vietnam War raged on in 1971, prompting another large-scale protest at Boston Common. On May 5 of that year, some 25,000 people are reported to have voiced their opposition to the conflict, with 3,000 later marching to the JFK Federal Building and reportedly blocking entrances. According to leaked classified Pentagon Papers, over 130 protesters were arrested.
6. Pope John Paul II's Visit In 1979
Pope John Paul II's visit to Boston Common on Oct. 1, 1979 remains the largest gathering to have taken place at the park so far. An estimated 400,000 people joined the Catholic leader for Mass on that day.
7. Iraq War Protest In 2003
On March 29, 2003 roughly 25,000 people united at Boston Common in solidarity against the Iraq War.
8. Women's March In 2017
On Jan. 21 of this year, a crowd of protesters city officials estimated to have been around 175,000 filled Boston Common for the Women's March. The protest was one of over 400 held across the Unites States to oppose Donald Trump's election. In total, over three million people participated in the demonstration — The Washington Post declares its best estimate to be 4,157,894.
Given its history, Boston Common's will continue to witness powerful demonstrations into the distant future.