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Northeastern University Opens New Exhibit, "Images of Irish and Black in Boston: The Development of Stereotypes," in January 1984

Dancers Dawn Smalls and Keelin Connolly, January 15, 1984. Boston Globe photo.

Forty years ago this week, on January 15, 1984, a new exhibit entitled "Images of Irish and Black in Boston: The Development of Stereotypes," opened at the Northeastern University Gallery. 

Partnered by Northeastern’s Irish Studies Program and the African American Master Artists-ln-Residency Program, the exhibit revealed how stereotypes depicting Irish and Blacks through history were strikingly similar, especially in the hands of artists such as Thomas Nast, a 19th century cartoonist know for his virulent portrayals of Irish immigrants and American Blacks. 

The event was attended by several dozen guests and included remarks by Black artist Dana Chandler of Northeastern’s African American Master Artists-ln-Residency Program, and scholar Ruth-Ann Harris, director of the university's Irish Studies program. 

Chandler said the exhibit would help ‘to point out that there is a rivalry that has been going for a long time. Neither the Irish nor the blacks started it. We were pitted against each other by the Yankees," according to the Boston Globe story on January 16, 1984 by reporter Joanne Ball. 

The event also featured live traditional music from Irish fiddlers Seamus Connolly and Larry Reynolds and flutist Michael Quinlin. Connolly’s daughter Keelin gave an impromptu demonstration of Irish step dancing and was joined by Dawn Smalls of Boston. 

Boston Mayor Ray Flynn issued a proclamation on January 15, 1984 entitled, "Black and Irish Shared Experience Week."

According to Northeastern University, “the African American Master Artists-in-Residency Program (AAMARP) was established in 1977, with Chandler as its director. AAMARP’s mission was to provide awareness of the talent of African American artists and also those from other ethnicities.”  Chandler was also a professor of art and art history at Simmons College

Northeaster’s Irish Studies Program was co-founded by Dr. Ruth Ann Harris. It held seminars on Irish topics and published a series of working papers by Irish academics. Harris co-edited The Search for Missing Friends: Irish Immigrant Advertisements Placed in The Boston Pilot, an eight-volume published by NEHGS.  Later, Dr. Harris moved to Boston College as professor of History and Irish Studies until her death in 2012.

Research + Text, Michael Quinlin


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