Boston and the Democratic National Convention

Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Gwen Outen.

And I’m Steve Ember. We take you to Boston where the Democratic National Convention opens today.

More than four thousand delegates are in Boston for the Democratic convention. Thousands of other visitors are there to report on the events or just to watch.

The convention will end Thursday night after Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts accepts the nomination for president. On Wednesday night, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina is to accept the nomination for vice president. Other speakers this week will include former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and former vice president Al Gore.

Boston is under heavy security against terrorist attacks during the Democratic convention.

Republicans will meet in New York next month. They will officially nominate President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for the general election in November.

The national conventions are held in a different city every four years. They are a chance for the parties to show support for their candidates. But political experts say these events are less important than they once were. Candidates are now chosen through state nominating elections.

In fact, the major television broadcasters do not show much of the conventions live anymore. They leave that to the news networks on cable television.

For Boston, this is the city's first national convention of either major party.

Boston seems a natural choice for a political convention. The city played an important part in the birth of the United States. And politics are an important part of Boston life.

Boston is the state capital of Massachusetts and the largest city. More than three million people live in the greater Boston area. About five-hundred-ninety-thousand of them live in the city itself.

Boston is a center of finance, education and music. And it is a major seaport. The city and nearby communities form the largest industrial center in the New England area of the Northeastern United States. Boston occupies about one-hundred-thirty-five square kilometers along the Atlantic coast.

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the United States. There are still narrow streets laid with red brick. But Boston is also modern. Major building and improvement projects in the nineteen-sixties and seventies gave the city some of its more current look.

Boston has a number of neighborhoods that seem like cities in themselves. Some are Back Bay, North End, South Boston and Roxbury.

American schoolchildren learn that Boston is the birthplace of the nation’s freedom. This is where the war that separated the American colonies from Britain began in seventeen-seventy-five.

Today, lots of people put on their best walking shoes and follow the Freedom Trail in Boston. This trail is almost five kilometers long. It takes people to sixteen historical places. One of these is the Old North Church. A sign tells how lights placed at the top of the church warned American colonists that the British would soon attack.

Also along the walk is the area where the Boston Massacre took place. In seventeen-seventy, British soldiers shot into a crowd and killed five colonists. The anger that followed helped fire the spirit that produced the American Revolution.

From the Boston Freedom Trail you can also see the first public school in the United States. Students first attended Boston Latin School in sixteen-thirty-five.

The Boston area is full of colleges and universities. Harvard, in nearby Cambridge, became the nation’s first college in sixteen-thirty-six. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also is in Cambridge.

The city of Boston is home to many top medical centers along with Harvard Medical School. The city is also known for its museums and libraries. The Boston Public Library opened in eighteen-fifty-four as the first major free library in the country.

Music lovers have the Boston Symphony. There is also the Boston Pops Orchestra. It performs popular and semi-classical music in the spring and summer.

Downtown Boston contains a mix of tall modern office buildings, old factories and historic landmarks. Eighteen hectares of downtown is the park called Boston Common. Many people like to ride the boats that look like swans on the lake in the Public Gardens there.

In the sixteen-hundreds, women accused of being witches were hanged on Boston Common. The same was true for members of the Quaker religion.

The first people of Massachusetts were the Native Americans. In sixteen-thirty, Christians known as Puritans arrived from England to escape religious oppression. Many Puritans came from the English city of Boston. So that is what they named their new home. Boston is also known as "Bean Town." Beans were an important trade crop for the city in colonial days.

In recent years, the population of Boston has changed. Many Hispanics and Asians have moved to the city. Boston also has a large African American population.

Black people began to move there in large numbers from the Southern states after World War One ended in nineteen-eighteen. Many African Americans and Hispanics live in Roxbury, in the center of the city.

Non-Hispanic whites are no longer a majority in Boston. But leaders of other groups say white Bostonians still control the city.

Many people of Italian ancestry live in North End. This area is along the waterfront. Ships brought large numbers of immigrants to Boston from southern and eastern Europe between eighteen-eighty and nineteen-fourteen. Many Italians arrived to start a new life in America.

The Irish population in Boston began to grow sharply in about eighteen-forty-five. Large numbers of people left Ireland when potato crop failures led to starvation. The traditional center of the Irish-American community in Boston is South Boston. People call it “Southie.”

The children and grandchildren of the first Irish families in Boston became political leaders of the city. These included politicians like John Francis Fitzgerald. He was known as "Honey Fitz." He served two terms as mayor.

One of his grandsons became a senator from Massachusetts. Then, in nineteen-sixty, that grandson was elected the thirty-fifth president of the United States. His name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Another early Irish-American mayor in Boston served four terms in office. His name was James Michael Curley. He and Honey Fitz Fitzgerald strengthened the political power of the Irish.

Today that tradition continues with politicians like Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. He, too, is a grandson of Honey Fitz Fitzgerald, and a brother of President Kennedy.

The racial and ethnic mixture of people in Boston helps give life to the city. But it has also caused deep divisions over the years.

In nineteen-seventy-four, a federal judge ruled that Boston school officials had illegally separated students by race. The judge ordered the city to transport students to different schools to create a balance between blacks and whites.

Many white parents protested. Some threw rocks at buses that carried black students to white schools.

Busing continues as a way to balance school populations around Boston. But efforts at racial balance failed. Many white families moved their children to private schools. Or they moved out of the city. Today only about fifteen percent of the students in the Boston public schools are white.

A committee has been considering proposals about the future of busing. These include proposals for the first major changes in thirty years, to permit more students to attend schools close to home.

As the capital city in Massachusetts, Boston is at the center of another civil rights issue these days. In May, Massachusetts became the first American state to permit same-sex marriage. Some people compare this to an act of rebellion that is one of the best known events in Boston history.

In seventeen-seventy-three, colonists dressed as Indians threw shiploads of British tea into Boston Harbor. They did it to protest British taxes. American schoolchildren still learn about the event that will be known forever as the Boston Tea Party.

Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember. And this is Gwen Outen. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.