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The Honorable Doris Bunte

State representative and city official Doris Bunte was born on July 2, 1933 in New York City to Evelyn Johnson Brown and Herbert Brown. She attended Food Trades Vocational High School, but left before receiving her diploma. In 1953, she moved to Boston, Massachusetts with her three children, and earned her G.E.D. in 1968. Bunte enrolled in Harvard University in 1978, where she earned a certificate in environmental studies from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and her M.A. degree in education in 1982.

Upon her arrival in Boston, Bunte joined the Barcolene Company. She moved to the Orchard Park Housing Projects, where she joined the maintenance management council and co-founded the Boston Public Housing Tenants Policy Council. In 1969, Bunte was nominated to the Boston Housing Authority board, making her the first public housing tenant to serve. She was dismissed from the Boston Housing Authority board in 1971 by Mayor Kevin H. White, but was reinstated by the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In 1973, she was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, becoming the first African American woman to serve in the Massachusetts legislature. There, Bunte helped found the Massachusetts Legislative Black Caucus and the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators. After twelve years as a representative, she left the Massachusetts legislature to become the director of the Boston Housing Authority, where she headed public housing integration efforts. Bunte left the Boston Housing Authority in 1992, and began working for the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University and the Boston University School of Public Health, where she continued tenant-focused activist work. Bunte retired in 2010.

She held positions on the National Rent Board and in the National Tenants Organization. She also served on the Critical Minority Affairs Committee and the National Association of Housing and Development, as well as the Citizens Housing and Planning Association. Bunte received recognition for her contributions, including being featured in a mural at the historic Alvah Kittredge House and in an exhibit called “Portraits in Black: Gaining Ground, Holding Office” in the Museum of African American History, Boston and Nantucket in 2004.

Doris Bunte was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 19, 2016.

Accession Number

A2016.105

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/19/2016

Last Name

Bunte

Maker Category
Marital Status

Single

Schools

Food Trades Vocational High School

Harvard Graduate School of Design

Harvard Graduate School of Education

Boston University Metropolitan College

University of Massachusetts Boston

First Name

Doris

Birth City, State, Country

New York

HM ID

BUN05

Favorite Season

Spring

State

New York

Favorite Vacation Destination

None

Favorite Quote

Being Poor Is Not The Result Of A Flaw In Character.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Massachusetts

Birth Date

7/2/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Boston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fried Chicken

Short Description

State representative and city official Doris Bunte (1933 - ) was the first African American elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where she served for twelve years. She was also the director of the Boston Housing Authority for seven years.

Employment

Massachusetts State Government

Boston Housing Authority

Northeastern University

Knowledge is Power Training Program

Favorite Color

Orange

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of The Honorable Doris Bunte's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - The Honorable Doris Bunte lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about her mother's career

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her likeness to her parents

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - The Honorable Doris Bunte lists her siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her community on the East Side of New York City

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about the increase of crime in East Harlem

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her experiences at Food Trades Vocational High School in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers the music and entertainment of her youth

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls her mother's connection to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers her early experiences of religion

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her early aspirations

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers leaving high school to care for her children

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls moving to Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls how she came to work at the Barcolene Company

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers reuniting with her children

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls moving to the Orchard Park Housing Projects in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls volunteering at the Hattie B. Cooper Community Center in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls her start as a tenant organizer in Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers earning her GED

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers joining the board of the Boston Housing Authority

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls firing the executive director of the Boston Housing Authority

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers her legal battle with Mayor Kevin White

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls her later interactions with Mayor Kevin White

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers her first campaign for the Massachusetts Legislature

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers the founding of the Massachusetts Legislative Black Caucus

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls the struggle to elect an African American to the Massachusetts Senate

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about the white politicians in Massachusetts

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - The Honorable Doris Bunte reflects upon her success as a politician

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers the busing crisis in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers the busing crisis in Boston, Massachusetts, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls cofounding the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about her life partner

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about her focus on housing issues

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers her admission to the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - The Honorable Doris Bunte talks about her doctoral thesis

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls her appointment as director of the Boston Housing Authority

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls her challenges as director of the Boston Housing Authority

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers prioritizing maintenance of public housing facilities

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her encounters with the media as director of the Boston Housing Authority

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - The Honorable Doris Bunte remembers the desegregation lawsuit against the Boston Housing Authority

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her experiences at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls founding the Community Committee for Health Promotion at Boston University

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her concerns for public housing, pt. 1

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - The Honorable Doris Bunte describes her concerns for public housing, pt. 2

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - The Honorable Doris Bunte reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - The Honorable Doris Bunte reflects upon her life

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - The Honorable Doris Bunte narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$4

DAStory

5$7

DATitle
The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls firing the executive director of the Boston Housing Authority
The Honorable Doris Bunte recalls cofounding the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators
Transcript
So here you are, this is a tremendous opportunity. What did you start to do in that position (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Okay. So, so, so this is an important part of my life. So this is what happened. I was put on the board. So Julie Bernstein [Julius Bernstein], who already availed himself of tenants' needs and desires is on the board and John Connolly, the first tenant is on the board and, so I make a majority of interested parties who are interested in the needs and desires of the residents. So finally our dream has come true, we have a tenant oriented majority. And, so we churn out these different policies, and nothing changes. And we churn out more policies, and nothing changes. And, so (laughter) I'm dealing with the tenants at night when I go home who are saying, "What the heck are you guys doing? We thought now that we had you--," and of course, don't let me understate the fact that we are dealing with six unions as board members, but we're still the majority of the board. So we finally--when I, when I was elec- when I was appointed to the board, the mayor [Kevin White] said--well, he didn't say but what he told the group was that he'd like us to hire this man as our executive director. His name was Dan Finn. And, so our first action when I went on the board was the hiring of Dan Finn, so when we kept coming up with these policies and we didn't see any changes, we call in Dan Finn and we say, "Dan, what the heck is going on? We don't see any wonderful changes in things at the public housing level." And this goes back and forth. We fight off and on with Dan for close to a year. And then we called the mayor and tell the mayor we're going to fire Dan Finn. Well, we didn't say it that way. We said we needed him to do something about Dan Finn. He called Julie Bernstein into his office and he said to Julie, I recognize this is hearsay today, "If it's too hot, get out the kitchen." But he didn't call John Connolly in because John is a gubernatorial appointee, not a mayoralty appointee, so he calls me in, and this is what he said, among other things, he said, "People think I'm not political enough because I don't take twelve blacks out on the corner and flog them each day."$$That's his actual--$$No, those were his words, honest to God. Those were his words. And then he said, "Look kid, do me a favor. Help me out on this, fight me or resign." And that meant keep Dan Finn even though he wasn't changing the policies. Well, that wasn't going to happen. And, so the next day, we had a scheduled board meeting with the media present to talk about spending the money. And instead I fired Dan Finn forthwith on television.$So all this has been, this drama that's going on--in '75 [1975], you were one of the founders of the Caucus of Women Legislators [Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators], right?$$Yeah, it took a little longer to have the women's caucus than it did the black caucus [Massachusetts Legislative Black Caucus; Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus]. People of co- of color--I mean, the ties that bind people of color are different than the ties that bind women. And, so it was not a question for the black caucus to become the black caucus. But with the women--and we tried to do it the same year we did the black caucus or our first year there. But with the women, there's this business about class and (laughter)--I don't know, all kinds of things. I mean, people have to look at one another and then they have to decide, you know, is this person of a class that I would want to be--I mean, women find such crazy ways to look at one another, far less now than they used to. Back then, it was a very big deal and, so we've--and then there were some issues where even people of color can't come together or black people. I mean, there may be some issue. I don't know what it would be, but there may be some issue where we don't agree. I don't, I don't--can't tell you one, but with women, there are definitely issues where you just can't agree and, so you'll use that as a reason not to come together as a group. One such issue could be, for example, the death penalty. Another such issue might be abortions. So I mean, there are things that divide women, and I can't think to tell you the truth of an issue that might divide the bl- members of the black caucus. There may be an issue we don't agree on, but I can't think of an issue that might divide us. But with women, it's different and, so it took a while. We had to find enough issues we could work together on so that, you know, we would have an opportunity to work together on things that were positive and we did.