By John Lynds
Karen Maddalena was a young mother on a cool autumn day when she made the decision to stand up against Massport’s expansion of Logan Airport. Her choice then to fight for quality of life for herself and her neighbors ignited a lifelong career in community activism.
On Sept. 28, 1968 and led by local legend, the late Anna DeFronzo, Maddalena joined a group of mothers in what was to become a historic protest against the Port Authority and airport expansion.
The group became known as the ‘Maverick Street Mothers’ and their protest became the true beginning of environmental justice in Eastie and marked the opening salvo and first victory in the neighborhood’s famed transportation justice struggles.
“As a young mother, my involvement as a community activist started,” said Maddalena during a Massport dedication of a plaque honoring the mothers in 2015. “I joined my friends and neighbors to protest the huge trucks carrying fill along Maverick St. to the bird island flats section of the airport.”
To honor this group of brave woman that kick started a tradition of community activism in Eastie, City Councilor Lydia Edwards officially announced last Wednesday night at her Boston fundraiser an annual scholarship that will pay tribute to the Maverick Street Mothers.
The annual scholarship will be awarded to parents wanting to further their education or are attending Boston-area colleges.
“So happy to have formerly created this scholarship dedicate to the legacy of the Maverick Street Mothers,” said Edwards. “There are plenty of East Boston parents between their jobs and busy schedules that are taking their kids to practice, to school and still showing up to community meetings and being engaged and I really do admire these parents in our community. So this is one way I thought we could help parents that are trying to better their future by going back to college or starting college.”
The founding donors of the scholarship are all women and wive’s of elected officials in the Boston delegation.
“We hope to have our first major fundraiser in late summer or early fall and give out the first scholarship in November so parents that are in school or starting school can use the money for the following semester,” said Edwards.
The Maverick Street Mothers protest was in response the construction trucks bringing fill for an Logan expansion project. The trucks drove very fast down the densely populated Maverick Street, creating an unsafe situation for children, the elderly and the mothers that took their children out for walks or to run errands.
After a series of meetings with Massport officials there was no relief in spite of the residents simply asking the Port Authority to use another route to haul the fill.
Frustration was growing in the neighborhood and former State Rep, the late George DiLorenzo, met with the Maverick Street residents and the group decided to meet on the street the next day and block the trucks. People felt this radical ‘sit in’ approach could be effective.
It was decided that only women and children would participate in the demonstration because many felt if men were involved it might lead to fights and violence. The group notified the media, put out a simple press release and on the next day, September 28, the demonstration began.
As the dump trucks arrived the mothers, most pushing their children in baby carriages, blocked the street.
“When the first truck arrived there was a lot of noise with the drivers yelling and cursing at the mothers,” Maddalena remembers. “The trucks began to roll closer and closer to the protesters and someone called the State Police.”
The State Police arrived to restore order to the street and when the Maverick Mothers refused to back down the State Police began to drag and push the mothers to the sidewalk so the trucks could continue. However, former Mayor Kevin White, who was being kept abreast of the situation, sent in the Boston Police to counter the State Police’s use of force.
The Boston Police made the trucks stop and ordered the protest to continue.
That night the event was all over the evening news.
When Massport caught wind the protests would not end and continue the next day, Eastie’s elected officials pointed out that there were several other viable truck routes on Massport property that could be used.
After negotiations, Massport agreed to use the alternative truck routes and the Maverick Mothers scored a major victory during the era of Logan expansion.
In order to be eligible for the scholarship, applicants must be a local parent and resident of East Boston and attending, or planning to attend, a Boston-area college within one year. Each applicant must supply a letter of recommendation and a typed essay of no more than five-hundred (500) words describing the importance of civic engagement and community activism. Semi-finalists will then be asked to complete and in-person interview.