New Novel, ‘Redlined,’ Set in Disinvested Jamaica Plain in 1974

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The new novel, Redlined, by Richard Wise, tells the story of a very different Jamaica Plain, circa 1974.

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Redlined, by Richard Wise, tells the story of Jamaica Plain, circa 1974.

Visualize Jamaica Plain in its disinvestment years, with banks “redlining” the neighborhood by refusing loans to first time homebuyers as well as long-term residents seeking to improve their houses. Imagine Jamaica Plain with dozens of abandoned buildings.

Newcomers to the neighborhood alongside old-timers will enjoy this page-turning thriller about several intrepid community organizers responding to arson and corruption. Using street savvy and property research, these organizers learn of a secret plan to turn over Southwest Corridor lands to a casino development. This is where fiction takes over, but there are many other historical details that offer a reader a taste of an earlier Jamaica Plain.

Author Richard Wise draws from his years as a community organizer in Jamaica Plain and Rhode Island, working with residents to pressure banks to provide loans in lower income neighborhoods. In that effort, he provides a time capsule of Jamaica Plain images, sights and sounds, when Green Line trolleys screeched down Centre Street.

One young organizer rents a cheap apartment in Egleston Square where the old elevated Orange Line train passes within several feet of her apartment window. No wonder this apartment is so cheap, she quips to her roommate.

Neighbors on Green Street form a night watch committee to protect their buildings from arsonists. Between 1982 and 1984, Boston was considered the “arson capital of the nation,” as arsonists torched 264 building, according to Wayne Miller who worked at the city’s Arson Task Force Group. In 2009, the Smith brothers, two notorious Jamaica Plain slumlords, were convicted of torching their own buildings.

After a meeting at the Our Lady of Lourdes parish hall, neighbors adjourn to Doyles Café for pints and an opportunity to debrief.

Real life figures appear. Kevin White is mayor, running for reelection, and Frank Sargent is governor. Jamaica Plain State Rep. Jimmy Craven dines on corn beef and cabbage and negotiates to control jobs and hiring at the secret project.

Famous Chicago organizer Shel Trapp, who worked with Saul Alinsky, author of Rules for Radicals, comes to advise the Jamaica Plain neighbors on how to pressure banks.

Redlined is a powerful window into the struggles that faced Jamaica Plain more than 45 years ago and the intrepid neighbors to came together to protect the community from greedy bankers and developers.

"Redlined" author Richard Wise will be in Jamaica Plain for a reading and discussion at Bella Luna on Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 7 pm. This event is being co-hosted by the Massachusetts Community Action Network and the Jamaica Plain Forum.

Chuck Collins is the founder of the Jamaica Plain Forum.

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