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Boston Parks and Recreation Commission ratifies Roberts Playground naming


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Parks and Recreation

The Allston park gets its proper due after a correction of a decades-old clerical error.

As Black History Month comes to a close, the correction of a decades-old clerical oversight has resulted in the proper naming of a park in Allston-Brighton after a prominent African-American citizen.

James H. Roberts, who died in 1969, was a resident of Seattle Street in Allston and a WWII veteran who worked for the State Treasury Department for 28 years and at the time of his death was the director of the Vietnam Conflict Veterans' Bonus program. A member of the NAACP, Roberts was active in local church and youth organizations as well as the Cub Scouts as a Cubmaster and Committee Chairman of Cub Scout Troop One.  He was a veteran of the Massachusetts State Guard and served honorably in the Burma-China-India Theater. 

An article from the defunct Allston Citizen announces the City Council's decision to rename a playground in honor of the late James H. Roberts in 1969.

Roberts’ daughter, California resident Carolyn Roberts Moore, recently contacted the Parks Department regarding the history of Hooker-Sorrento Playground in Allston being named after her father.  Following up on her inquiry through the help of State Representative Mike Moran and Allston neighborhood advocate Marlene Scanlon, it was confirmed that on June 16, 1969, the Boston City Council had voted to rename the playground. 

The process for City of Boston parks, however, requires that the Boston Parks and Recreation Commission names them rather than the City Council or the State Legislature.  Due to an oversight lost in the mists of time, the request was not formally passed on to the Commission, the final step in making the name change official.  As a result, the Parks Department’s records continued to refer to the playground by the streets at the location.  With no staff with firsthand knowledge of this piece of the playground’s history, City of Boston employees delved into the archives and were able to confirm the oversight. 

City council docket from 1969 regarding Roberts Playground

The Parks and Recreation Commission made the issue a priority at their meeting on January 28 of this year and voted unanimously to properly ratify the naming of the playground in honor of Roberts, celebrating the memory of this dedicated citizen and his service to veterans and generations of children.  A sign bearing the proper name of the park, James H. Roberts Playground, will soon be installed.

The initial renaming was certainly celebrated following Roberts’ passing in 1969.  The late Tip O’Neill presided in a ceremony where the Boston City Council officially named the playground in Roberts’ honor.  The State House was closed for 45 minutes for his funeral and a parade in his honor passed many of the schools he had dedicated his time to on its way to a ceremony at the playground.

“When the playground was first dedicated in my father’s memory,” Carolyn Roberts Moore recalls, “I was only seven years old, but I will never forget how much pride I felt for my father that day. As years passed and I would hear the park being referred by the incorrect name it would sting a hole in my heart. With the help of Marlene Scanlon, it was brought to the attention of the Boston Parks Commission and on behalf of my brothers Jim Roberts, William Roberts, my sister Eileen Roberts, and myself, we thank the City of Boston for officially renaming the park James H. Roberts Playground.”

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