Special Reports

FROM THE ARCHIVES | June 3, 1967

Sit-In Escalates into Riot

500 in Roxbury Melee; 45 Hurt, 30 Held, Shots Fired

Boston Police officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons arrest rioters in Roxbury on June 2, 1967. Riots broke out across the neighborhood in response to a sit-in at the welfare office the day before. (Bob Dean/Globe Staff)
Bob Dean/GlobeStaff
Boston Police officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons arrest rioters in Roxbury on June 2, 1967. Riots broke out across the neighborhood in response to a sit-in at the welfare office the day before. (Bob Dean/Globe Staff)

This story is from the Boston Globe archives. It was originally published on June 3, 1967

A silent “sit-in” protest against City of Boston welfare practices escalated into a five-block-wide 11-hour riot in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury Friday night and early this morning.

Efforts by police to clear the building and free the Welfare Dept. workers trapped inside at 515 Blue Hill av. triggered a series of rock-throwing incidents. The crowd swelled to what police estimated to be from 500 to 700.

Civil rights leader Thomas Atkins was arrested at 2:15 this morning Atkins, vice chairman of Boston Branch, National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, was arrested as he stood on the steps of Operation Exodus headquarters on Blue Hill av., according to Kenneth Guscott, branch chairman.


At 3:30 a.m. no charges had been lodged against Atkins.

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Shortly after the trouble broke out 200 Boston police were at the scene or standing at the ready, armed with riot guns, shotguns and bayonets.

Police set up a huge detention center at nearby White Stadium for the processing and medical treatment of those arrested.

The Boston Fire Department, plagued by a rash of alarms within the riot area, went on its emergency plan. Boston City Hospital also instituted its disaster plan.

Police Comr. Edmund L. McNamara and Supt. Herbert F. Mullaney directed operations from police headquarters.


Arrested with Atkins was Byron Rushing, field director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches commission on church and race. He was charged with disturbing the peace. Guscott claimed Atkins was “clubbed” by police during the arrest.

The arrest followed by 15 minutes the outbreak of gunfire at Intervale st. and Blue Hill av.

Police fired 60 rounds over the heads of 200 demonstrators. No injuries were reported.

Police fired into darkened Intervale st. after they had been fired upon by at least one sniper.

Violence began shortly before 5 p.m. when 50 protesting women from the predominantly Negro Roxbury section locked themselves into the welfare office building


Tension mounted in the crowd outside when police tried to remove protesting women from a city-owned building. A woman screamed. Glass shattered. Physical contact followed. In a flash of spontaneity disorder broke out.

Thirty persons were arrested and another 30 - many requiring hospitalization - were injured.

Widespread vandalism, ranging from the breaking of windows to the looting and burning of stores and buildings was reported.

Mayor Collins, who returned Thursday night from a vacation in Ireland deplored the “unfortunate conduct.”

“This lawlessness cannot and will not be tolerated,” Collins said.

The city’s chief executive expressed his “willingness to meet with any group” and offers to meet with community leaders in the morning.

Shortly after midnight, Mulloney ordered all first - half men - those scheduled to work until 12:30 a.m. today - to remain on duty pending further orders.

A two-alarm fire at a furniture store on the 300-block of Blue Hill av. - in the middle of the riot area - was described by Dist. Fire Chief Joseph Kilduff as “definitely arson.”

Kilduff said when he arrived flames were licking out of the broken windows of Cohen’s Furniture Mart, Inc., at No. 347 and “20 to 30 teenagers and adults were running through, smashing looting and torching.”

Directly across the street, looters smashed out windows of a shoe store, a hardware and a variety store, scattering debris all over the street.

Looting also was reported at Warren’s Furniture Co., at a package store and a cleaning establishment. Police in the looting area, carrying .30 caliber carbines, looked up frequently as if fearing sniper activity.

All off-duty police were called in, bringing the force on duty to between 1600 and 1700 men.

The disturbance took on the nature of a series of grass fires-as soon as one eruption was quelled, another broke out nearby. There was some looting in the area.

Police and civilian vehicles were battered and smashed by the rocks, bottles, bricks and sticks thrown by the crowd. A fire engine windshield was smashed by a rock when it responded to a building fire in the area.

At 9:25, police ordered all cars stopped at Dudley and Warren sts., blocked passage on Blue Hill av. and detoured traffic from the Grove Hall section.

Fire Chief john E. Cloughtery, in a special radio message to all department personnel at 12:30 a.m. , told all companies they would be protected by police in answering all alarms within the riot area.

He was followed by Fire Comr. William Fitzgerald, who said the special riot plan was in effect - the department will respond to all alarms and all companies will be protected by armed police.

When the protesters and the men guarding them in the building were brought out forcibly, police were pelted by bricks and bottles.

Small engagements broke out all around the welfare building.

More police were sent in. Riot guns were issued.

After the original group of nine men and four women were taken off in patrol waggons - the men to the Dudley st. station, the women to the women’s detention section of the City prison on Somerset st. - quiet returned.

But it was short-lived.

A band of six adolescents brandishing bottles engaged police. Two were arrested and hauled off.

The crowd answered with a shower of missiles.

At 7:35 Mrs. Ellen Jackson, director of Operation Exodus; Rev. Virgil Wood, director of the Opportunities Industrialization Center and social worker Noel Day arrived and tried to help police quiet the crowd.

But, as the trio attempted to talk with police, the unruly crowd resumed hissing, jeering and throwing rocks and bottles.

Police tried to clear the street. One fight after another broke out.

The civil rights leaders met with police officials, represented by Dep. Supt. Edward W. Mannix at Exodus offices, 378 Blue Hill av., to find ways to halt the disorder.

Meanwhile, 58 workers at the welfare office - social workers, supervisors and clerical workers - were held in protective custody on the second floor of the building.

Shortly after 8:30 police formed a flying wedge and burst out of the building, walking the workers to seaver st. where cruisers took them to public transportation.

Those arrested were booked on a variety of complaints participating in an affray to assault and battery.

Attorney Archie Williams, on the scene in the event the women were arrested, and himself arrested in the melee, charged police brutality.

“When the police arrived they joked with the people at first and then all hell broke loose.”

Sam Bell, 22 of Greenheys st. Dorchester, another of those booked at the Dudley st. station, claimed he had been “worked over” by police.

Bell, with a cut over his right eye, charged he was “pushed into the corner of the booking room by four cops who when over me with their fists and nightsticks.”

Mrs. Lilly Landrum of Intervale st., one of the sit-ins, charged she heard police officials order that demonstrators be “beaten up, not just taken out of the building.”

Collins, in his statement, said the tradition of “peaceful relations and dialogue, which has kept this city free of difficulty and racial unrest, is too precious to be destroyed by ranging from trespassing and troublemakers.”

Meeting early today with police Comr. Edmund L. McNamara and Supt. John T. Howland were:

Kenneth Guscott, president of the Boston Chapter, N.A.A.C.P.; Thomas Atkins, another N.A.A.C.P. official; Guido St. Laurent, director of NEGRO, a civil rights organization; James Bishop, secretary of the governor’s committee on interracial relations; and atty. Sanford Kowal.

Following the half-hour meeting, Guscott said, “we have offered our services as good citizens. We are trying to assist the police to bring law and order.

“We will continue to assist them as long as we are needed.”

He said a complaint bureau will be opened today at N.A.A.C.P. headquarters at 451 Mass. av. to process complaints received from citizens.

Guscott added, however, that police have always cooperated in investigating previous complaints.

Comr. McNamara said the group meeting with him was “very helpful in it’s attitude.”

“It is very helpful if any group aids the community.” he added. “We are soliciting the aid of any person or group willing to assist in maintaining peace in the community.”

Asked how long he intended to keep extra police on duty, the commissioner said”

“We intend to keep the men on duty until the various supervisors feel the tense situation has been relieved and the threats and the threats of violence have been averted.”

The dismissal of City Welfare Director Cronin was demanded at a meeting of the M.A.W., held after the riot at Operation Exodus headquarters on Blue Hill av.

Mrs. Doris Bland, group president, also insisted that Cronin be replaced by someone of the organization’s choice.

The mothers further demanded:

-A work training program for mothers on welfare.

-Stipulation that mothers on welfare receive $85 per month in benefits, plus 70 percent of what they earn over $85, all non-taxable.

-Representation of mothers on all welfare boards with decision-making powers.