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Boston, MA 02115
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Historical Note

Scope and Content Note


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Title:Freedom House, Inc. records
Dates:1941-2004 (bulk 1949-1986)
Call Number:M16

Historical Note

Freedom House was founded in 1949 by African American social workers Otto P. and Muriel S. Snowden.  It grew out of their initial community organizing with the Council on Community Affairs of Upper Roxbury (1947-1949).  The initial goal of Freedom House was to centralize community activism in the fight for neighborhood improvement, good schools, and harmony among racial, ethnic, and religious groups in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  Otto Snowden was the Director of St. Mark Social Center when he married Muriel Sutherland Snowden. They were determined to remain in Roxbury and work to ensure its stability as a middle-class, racially mixed neighborhood.  As directors of Freedom House, the Snowdens hoped to achieve their goals by linking the community to existing services and creating services where they were lacking. 

Upon its incorporation in December 1949, Freedom House moved into its first office at 151 Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury.  Developing a reliable funding and community membership base, and locating a larger home for Freedom House were the primary goals of the diverse and active Board of Directors. City and state officials, local businesses, and funding organizations were an important part of the secure foundation upon which Freedom House was built.  Encouraged by the support it received from the community, Freedom House purchased the Hebrew Teachers College at 14 Crawford St. in 1952.  In 1960 a fire consumed a large part of the building.  Although programs continued, fund-raising activities were forced to concentrate on the rebuilding effort.  A re-dedication ceremony was held in 1961, and the building that exists today was opened to the public.  Effective grant writing and high-profile fund-raising events such as the Ebony Fashion Fair and the Showcase of Stars concerts provided a continuing broad base of financial support to Freedom House.   Early programming focused primarily on activities for children, youth, and adults, that would strengthen relations between the African American and Jewish residents of Upper Roxbury. Collaboration with the American Friends Service Committee on an Application Preparation Workshop to help minority students and recent graduates to successfully apply for jobs; and summer recreational programs were among the earliest projects. The new Crawford St. building enabled Freedom House to expand its programming and to provide a place for other community groups to meet. One of the only interracial pre-schools in the city at the time was run out of 14 Crawford St., and throughout the 1950s, social programs for African American and Jewish teenagers focused on fostering brotherhood and good citizenship. Lectures at the popular Coffee Hours and Teas, and Sunday at 8 forum covered a variety of current political, cultural, and social topics including the civil rights movement.  Speakers included Bayard Rustin (architect of the 1963 March on Washington), Louis Lomax (social critic and author), and representatives from the Freedom Riders and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). 

Neighborhood improvement programs designed to protect Upper Roxbury from urban blight began in 1949 when Freedom House joined with community members to organize neighborhood clean-up projects and playground construction.  Abandoned houses and cars and empty lots were targeted for clean-up by Freedom House and other neighborhood block associations. Bars that were considered a nuisance were routed out of the neighborhood and alcohol licenses were denied due to the efforts of the group.  Freedom House worked closely with the city to improve the services provided to Roxbury and with the police department to improve police-community relations.  At the same time, Boston was beginning a formal urban renewal campaign that did not initially include Roxbury.  A telegram from the Snowdens to Mayor Collins resulted in the inclusion of the Washington Park Urban Renewal Project in Boston's campaign.  By 1963 Freedom House had entered into formal contracts with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the Action Boston Community Development (ABCD) to serve as a liaison between the planners and technicians, and the residents of Washington Park. This relationship, lasted until the Boston Redevelopment Authority withdrew from Roxbury in the late 1960s, leaving much of its work undone.  

During the height of urban renewal, Freedom House purchased a run-down property on Humbolt Avenue from the city as a model for other neighborhood renovation projects.  Renovation was completed with the help of local businesses and the property was later sold.  The Roxbury Work/Study program was the basis for a second collaboration with the American Friends Service Committee in 1965.  This program matched homeowners willing to renovate their houses with college students who provided the labor to help paint and clean-up the properties.  The students also participated in a program to tutor children and from 1966-1968 Freedom House worked jointly with Northeastern University to continue this program.  Freedom House Development Corporation was a non-profit organization established by Freedom House in 1966 to build Brunswick Gardens, a low to moderate income housing development in Roxbury.  Freedom House dissolved the corporation before the housing was built due to labor difficulties and rising costs. Viable programs begun at the end of the urban renewal period included the Travel/Study program, which provided high school students with scholarships to study in Europe for the summer (the Muriel S. Snowden International School in Boston, was an outgrowth of this program); the Roxbury Goldenaires a program for senior citizens; and partnerships with local corporations such as Digital, Liberty Mutual, and New England Telephone for job training and recruitment.

Without the focus of urban renewal, Freedom House had the opportunity to redefine its direction.  The 1974 ruling by Judge Garrity, which found the Boston School Committee guilty of willful segregation, provided Freedom House with an immediate focus for its work. Freedom House had been an active participant in school desegregation issues since the early 1960s.  During the Freedom Stay-Out boycott of Boston Public Schools in 1964, Freedom House served as one of the Freedom Schools.  When Judge Garrity called for forced busing, community leaders understood the potential for violence and, therefore, the need to establish clear lines of communication between parents and the schools.  Hotlines and information centers were set up to assist the peaceful implementation of school desegregation. Under the direction of Ellen S. Jackson, the Institute on Schools and Education became the center of information about student busing.  During this time, Freedom House formed collaborations with Operation Exodus, the Freedom House Coalition, and the Coordinated Social Service Council, earning Freedom House the title of "The Black Pentagon."  The Institute became a rallying place where community leaders and parents could meet with city officials and participate in developing policy to foster quality integrated education for Boston's school children.

After the retirement of the Snowdens in 1984, Freedom House was managed by a series of Directors (Cynthia Parris, 1984; Acting Director Ambrose Nangeroni and other board members, 1984-1986; Toye Brown, 1987-1991; Juanita Wade, 1991-1995; Acting Director, Juanda Johnson, 1995-1996; Interim Director Norman Huggins, 1996; and Interim Director Gail Snowden, 1997-).  In 1987 the New Directions initiative was created.  Its goals were to increase access for African Americans and other minorities to relevant education and training programs, leading to more jobs and higher income levels.  Another one of Freedom House's major activities during the 1980s was in the area of economic development and housing in the Grove Hall section of Roxbury/Dorchester.  

Educational programming focused almost entirely on basic skill- building and college preparation, computer literacy, and access to scholarships.  The Action Center for Educational Services and Scholarships Prep Project commenced operations in 1988 to improve availability of minority students to the Action Center for Educational Services and Scholarships (ACCESS), a program, funded in part through the Boston Public Schools, located at the Boston Public Library.  The goal of the program was to provide support, guidance and encouragement to students who wished to pursue college educations.  Project REACH (the Road to Educational Achievement) was launched in 1988, from a private donation, to provide financial support for the college education of fifty African American and Hispanic students a year, who graduated from high school between 1988 and 1992.  Project REACH quickly emerged as a community-based program that strove to produce a cadre of future leaders.  From 1992-1996 only scholarship counseling was available, and the program was discontinued in 1996.   In 1996 Freedom House Board, headed by Gail Snowden daughter of Otto and Muriel Snowden, considered the possibility of merging with other community organizations.  The overwhelming sentiment of the board and community members was not to dissolve Freedom House, but to once again re-evaluate its mission and services.  Freedom House is currently responsible for the administration of the grant funding the Black Church Math and Science Program. The Roxbury Goldenaires operates independently out of the Freedom House location. Future directions of the organization are still under discussion. 

Freedom House, Inc. "25 Years - It's a Beginning, 1949-1974, and other annual reports.  Freedom House Collection control file.

Freedom House historical profiles in Freedom House Collection, Box 1, folder 1.

Montiero, Marilyn D. S., "The Freedom House Institute on Schools and Education: Its Participation in Boston's Court-Ordered School Desegregation: The First Year, 1974-1975," (Harvard University), 1982