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Allston park renamed to honor Black WWII veteran, City employee

An Allston-Brighton park was formally renamed to memorialize a Black WWII veteran Sunday, following a 50-year delay in the process brought on by a clerical error, according to the Department of Parks and Recreation.

playground at James H. Roberts Park
James H. Roberts Park. The Boston Department of Parks and Recreation renamed the park in honor of Roberts Sunday after a clerical error halted the process for 50 years. SHANNON DAMIANO/ DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

The playground is now named after James H. Roberts, an Allston resident who worked for the Massachusetts Treasury for 28 years and was the director of the State’s Vietnam Conflict Veterans’ Bonus program, according to a Sunday press release.

The Boston City Council voted initially to rename the park — formerly known as the Hooker-Sorrento Playground, named after the streets intersecting it — in 1969, following Roberts’ death.

But that request was not passed to the Parks and Recreation Commission, who has the official power to make name changes to the parks in the city, the Sunday release stated.

Roberts’ daughter, Carolyn Roberts Moore, raised the issue to a neighbor, who then contacted their state representative to reach out to the City Parks and Recreation department, said a Parks official.

“At this point, it’s kind of just righting a past wrong with the clerical oversight in order to get the signs done,” the official said.

The situation was fact-checked in an article of the Allston Citizen, a now-defunct local paper that marked the City Council’s decision more than 50 years ago.

The new name was unanimously ratified by the Parks Commission at its Sunday meeting, the press release stated.

Since the announcement, there have been several positive reactions to the change on the Parks and Recreation’s social media pages, the official added.

Older residents in the Allston-Brighton neighborhood who may have known Roberts or his story were very happy with the change, said Anthony D’Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association.

“There are a lot of longtime residents living in that community,” D’Isidoro said, “and I’m sure they’re thrilled that the situation has been finally resolved and that Mr. Roberts is getting the recognition that he deserves.”

D’Isidoro added that the timing of the change — being ratified on the final day of Black History Month — was an “amazing” way to honor an important Black figure in the neighborhood and city’s history.

“What better way to have our community contribute to Black History Month than to have this occur when it did?” he said.

No matter the person, it’s important to honor those who stepped up and were good people, said Anabela Gomes, the zoning chair for the Brighton Allston Improvement Association.

“Naming [the park] after him, it tells the story of how everybody played a role in our history,” Gomes said.

Parks in the city are renamed after people who made a difference in the neighborhood, the Parks official said — adding that the process begins naturally through community-based discussions on who deserves recognition.

“It may not be a political figure, sports figure, it won’t be someone super famous or accomplished or learned,” they said. “It’s usually someone who just, locally to that area, gave so much.”

Gomes added that parks are a vital part of any neighborhood because they serve as community spaces.

“It’s important to have the history known, and I think by naming the parks after that, it keeps it alive forever,” Gomes said. “We’ll always know. He’s not forgotten.” 

D’Isidoro added that while it is unfortunate the error was not caught earlier, the recent renaming is still a story worth recognition.

“We focus a lot on the bad history and have that discussion and everything, but it’s nice to see when somebody is recognized, eventually, for their accomplishments.” D’Isidoro said. “It’s long overdue.”

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