Friday, February 13, 2009
"Tink" Billouin Jr., Class President.
I found the aging clipping above in a desk drawer at home. The caption reads:
"OVATION FOR CLASS PRESIDENT -- Silbert "Tink" Billouin Jr., of Jamaica Plain, is born triumphantly on the shoulders of his classmates as they cheered the Negro Class President at graduation exercises at the Mary E. Curley Junior High School in Jamaica Plain. With his heart full of hope for his future, "Tink" delivered a powerful message to leaders of Boston's one day school boycott."
At the top right, In the upper right corner, in pencil, is written:
"June 1963 Hurrah for Tinkey and all of us!"
My brother Jim graduated from the Curley school that year, and the writing is his. I've known of this clipping for a year, but the article that went with the photo was not saved with it. This week, I finally took the trip into the Boston Public Library at Copley Square to find the article. The photo caption notes that it appeared in the Record American, an antecedent to today's Boston Herald. The article was published on June 20, 1963, and the photo above was featured on the first page, as seen below.
Record American, June 20, 1963 (click to enlarge).
In later years, my mother told me that as a child, my brother Jim always seemed to make friends with the one black boy in a group. There was no political or social significance to it - grade school kids don't know enough to take virtuous stands. Rather than claiming any sort of positive effort towards "diversity" in his young life, it might be more accurate to say that he simply lacked the negative attribute necessary to exclude potential friends by race. Based on the inscription on the clipping, I have to assume that Tink, his Junior High School class president, was one of those friends he made so naturally.
The article that went with the photo relates to the city-wide school boycott of 1963 - the first wide-spread protest by African Americans in Boston over the conditions of the schools in predominately black neighborhoods. The boycott was very successful in the publicity it engendered, but not all African Americans favored the approach. Silbert "Tink" Billouin and his parents represented a voice often lost when the era is considered. This topic would take us away from the subject matter of this site, so I'll just say that the Billouin family lived in Jamaica Plain, and they played their part in the community.
When I finally started to write up this entry, I got to thinking that it would be great to contact Tink Billouin and interview him. An Internet search came up with the two Silbert Billouins, father and son. Silbert Sr. was born in March of 1912 and died in June of 1978. Silbert "Tink" Billouin, Jr., was born in 1948 - like my brother Jim - and died in November of 2001.
My hopes of contacting Tink and seeing if he remembered my late brother were disappointed. The photo doesn't even include my brother - it was just a memento of his, a reminder he may never have seen since it was put away with class pictures and crayon drawings in our parent's desk drawer. Be that as it may, the clipping, Tink Billouin, Jim Bulger and the Mary E. Curley Class of 1963 are remembered here one more time.
Record American June 20, 1963
Negro Boy In Slap At Boycotts
By Jean Cole
"You should be teaching Negro youth how to get out of their ghettos... not how to stay out of school."
This was the powerful message to leaders of Boston's one day school boycott, from a 15-year-old Negro boy who graduated Wednesday as president of his class from the Mary E. Curley Junior High School.
His heart full of love and hope for the future, Silbert "Tink" Billouin Jr. joined his parents after graduation exercises in an urgent plea to freedom leaders to recognize the "true problem that haunts Negroes through the nation."
Sometime speaking for himself, and as often letting his adored father who has reached success in work and in the community despite overwhelming odds, do the talking, "Tink" and his parents agreed:
Strikes and boycotts for Negroes do not work.
The basic Negro problem is one of housing.
Decent jobs and good education evolve when Negroes are not forced to live in ghetto.
Negro leaders should spend all of their time, their effort and their money to help relocate families of their race in communities not predominately Negro.
Billouin, parent and child alike, are living examples of what they preach.
Silbert Sr. brought his family from Trinidad, British West Indies, first to Canada, where he attended McGill University, and then to the United States, where they became citizens.
That they understand fully ghetto living is attested to by five years residence in New York City's Harlem.
"Tink" was born in Portland, Maine, where the family lived for a time before moving to an all-white street in Jamaica Plain, not far from Boston's Negro areas.
"Tink" enters Boston English High School next September and eventually wants to go to college and become a lawyer.
His father, a sales representative, expressed the belief that there can be and will be more "Tinks" taking their place in society if Negro leaders will recognize and do something about the real problems,,, jobs and homes. He said: "I'm proud of Tink. He as grown up without the strong attitudes that might have developed in a family background of active antagonistic social attitudes."
There were kind words Wednesday from Negroes for School Committeewoman Louise Day Hicks too. Although she actively tried to stop the Tuesday school stay-out, Mrs. Hicks was embraced by a Negro mother at graduation exercises at the James P. Timilty school. The woman quietly whispered "God bless you."