Monday, February 24, 2020

Gloria L. Fox Papers are now open for research

The Gloria L. Fox Papers, part of the Legislative Papers Processing Project for the Special Collections Department at the State Library, are now open for research!

Gloria Lavera Fox was born on March 18, 1942. Raised as a foster child, she attended Boston and Everett public schools. As a single mother of two young sons, she moved into the Whittier Street Housing Development in Roxbury. She worked there as a community organizer, but her real start as an activist began when she joined a movement in the 1960’s to stop a section of Interstate-95 from running through her neighborhood.

Gloria Fox campaign button, undated.
Fox first ran for public office in 1984, when she decided to challenge 7th Suffolk District incumbent Doris Bunte. She lost, but ran again in 1986 and won, going on to represent her district for the next thirty years. Fox believed in inclusionary politics, which is reflected in her legislative work on criminal justice reform, child welfare and foster care, redistricting, Election Day voter registration, and eliminating health disparities in communities of color. When Fox retired from her seat in 2016, she was the longest serving woman on Beacon Hill.  Throughout her long career, she lived by her motto: “If you have a purpose in which you can believe, there’s no end to the amount of things you can accomplish” (Marian Anderson).

Gloria Fox campaign literature, 2012.

Her long career yielded a large and varied collection.  Some interesting items to be found among the volumes of records include:
- A transcript from a 2010 interview, in which Fox discusses her early days as a community activist. This is one of my favorite quotes from the interview, in which she discusses how the movement to stop the freeway had its roots in other issues:  “And we started it as a health issue as well as politically. It was an immobilization issue. They wanted to keep us in between all of these little circles that would be created by a highway. So we would be in one little pocket, Mission would be in another – don’t forget this was the 60’s, we were organizers – only way to shut us up was to separate us or immobilize us”.  This early understanding that political issues are, at their core, about real people, informed her entire career as a legislator and as an advocate for people and communities that can’t speak for themselves.
Gloria Fox’s signature response – “Yes”!
- The word “Yes”. Fox was seemingly tireless. Throughout the collection are requests, memos, and invitations from constituents, organizations and fellow legislators. Many (so many!) of these documents have a “yes” inscribed in the upper right corner in her firm handwriting. In addition to her legislative and committee work, Fox was also a member of the Boston Delegation of the Massachusetts Legislature, the Massachusetts Caucus of Women Legislators, the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators. I often wondered, as I worked my way through her papers, when she ever had time to sleep!  
Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, 2014. Back row (L-R):
Benjamin Swan, Evandro Carvalho, Linda Dorcena-Forry, Aaron Vega.
Front row (L-R): Byron Rushing, Marcos Devers, Gloria Fox,
Carlos Gonzalez, Russell Holmes.

Gloria Fox speaking about health
disparities during a “Disparities Action
Network Advocacy Day” at the
State House, 2007.
 - Subject files that span decades. Fox was remarkably persistent. If she believed in something, she was willing to work for it, for as long as it took.  A few examples that can be found in the collection include her work on CORI (Criminal Offender Record Information) reform; her focus on legislation relating to lupus, a disease that disproportionately affects African-American women; her campaign against a proposed BioLab in her district, which she feared could put her constituents at risk; and her participation in a long battle to gain a commutation for Arnold King, a man serving a life-sentence for a crime committed when he was a teenager. Each of these issues involved years of gains and setbacks, victories and defeats. But she never stopped fighting for what she believed was best for her constituents.  
Daffodil pins from the annual
American Cancer Society
fundraiser, circa 2011.
  - Daffodils.  For many years, Fox and her office staff coordinated a fundraising campaign at the State House, as part of the American Cancer Society’s annual “Daffodil Days”.  Supporters would buy daffodils, a symbol of spring and hope, with proceeds going toward research, patient services, and other cancer society programs.  Remember how I mentioned that Fox was persistent?  Imagine how relentless she might be when raising money for a good cause!

- Two Glorias!  We found this fabulous photograph of Gloria Fox and Gloria Steinem in the collection. It is unlabeled, so we are not sure when or where they met, but it does show that strong women will always find each other in a crowd. 
Gloria Fox and Gloria Steinem, undated.

As I worked on Fox’s papers, I ran into familiar names from other legislative collections I have processed at the State Library, such as Thomas P. Kennedy and Frank Smizik. This reminds me that none of these legislators worked alone. Their work overlapped and intertwined, sometimes heading in the same direction, sometimes clearly standing on opposite sides of the aisle. It demonstrates the grander purpose of this project – to preserve a glimpse, not only into the careers of individual legislators, but into the state of Massachusetts through the eyes of those who have served it through the years.

Gloria Fox at her desk, 1999.

Deanna Parsi
Special Collections Department