September 24 2020

Letter to the Editor: Burlington Is Welcoming to All

The following is a Letter to the Editor: 


Ladies and Gentlemen,


In my experience adults and children alike learn through example. In my view, there is no better example of inclusion and diversity than Burlington's own history. The people, events and cultures that transformed Burlington from a farming town of 4500 white Congregationalists into a town of 27000 with 25% minority are many and worth studying by incorporating that history into the school department history curriculum. This can be achieved in a more widespread and economical way instead of an administration position which is likely to cost over a million dollars in the next ten years


Our children and grandchildren know virtually nothing of the waves of settlers that have migrated here with the construction of Route 128. The first groups of Irish and Italians came from Cambridge and Somerville for affordable land. As industrialization took hold skilled workers from many different races and creeds followed. The transformation to "the Technology Highway" continued that trend. And now a shift to Biotech further demonstrates our economic adaptability and racial diversity.


How diverse are we? In 1955 the town had a large Congregational church and a tiny bandbox of a Catholic church. We can now boast of nearly twenty houses of worship of different creeds. Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists all live and worship here in harmony.


How did this affect the makeup of our political and governmental structure? In the 70's, Virginia Mooney famously stated that Burlington's political and governmental power structure was a "good ole boys network." This was largely true as most positions were held by white men.

This changed rather dramatically over the next few years. We soon had the first Indian DPW director in the state (followed by a Latino.) An African American scored a hat trick as president of his class, chairman of the School Committee and I think the first African American State Representative from a suburban community. His father was elected head of the K of C.


Women rapidly rose to the fore. Since that time we have had the first female selectperson, another who had the distinction of Chairing the Board of Selectmen as well as the Ways and Means committee. In addition, we have had two female state senators, a state representative, and the first female moderator. Virginia Mooney's positions and over 50 attempts at elective office were sometimes met with derision from the patriarchy (she finally won in the middle 80's) But who can say that Virginia's tenacity didn't inspire other women? As we finish 2020 the bulk of our management positions are now occupied by women.


One example of women's power was the exposure of Burlington's water contamination. Largely ignored by the power structure a group of women led by Margaret Vaccaro (RIP), Millie Nash, Mabel Nevins, Anne Rowe, Pat Angelo, and others through the sheer force of will exposed through the Metcalf and Eddy study how extensively Burlington's water had been corrupted and by whom. These women were also at the forefront of the controversial but successful acquisition of the Land Locked Land. This will go down in history as important to Burlington as Central Park is to New York City. (again my opinion)


One ongoing class project could be an examination of cancer rates in Burlington. This to my knowledge has never been done. I bring this up because it seems to me that an inordinate number of women in and around my class have passed or been stricken by breast cancer.


Other historical topics worth studying are the integration of the Burlington Police Department,. Burlington exceeding its affordable housing goals and the sale of the K of C property by the Catholics to the Muslims for the site of their mosque. It doesn't get much more welcoming and inclusive than that.


There are many more historical as well as ongoing examples of diversity and inclusion in Burlington and stories of the people and organizations that make it happen. Our children and grandchildren should be taught about them.


Phil Gallagher 



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