Boston’s newest public statue was unveiled earlier this month inside a memorial park near Roxbury’s Nubian Square. The dedication ceremony deserved more attention than it received from the larger community, in part because it happened at the height of summer vacation; and perhaps, in part, because there was no whiff of controversy surrounding this particular sculpture.
The figure depicted in the statue is Gen. Edward Orval “Ned” Gourdin, an accomplished Black American who led a remarkable, service-filled life, much of it spent here in and around the city of Boston.
And yet, if not for the volunteer efforts of Black veterans like Roxbury’s Haywood Fennell, Sr., his story and memory might be lost to future generations. This new memorial statue, in a park similarly dedicated to African-Americans who have served with great distinction in this nation’s defense, was built to prevent that tragedy.
Gourdin was a native of Florida who defied the daunting odds of Jim Crow America and first came to Boston to study law at Harvard University. He was already an acclaimed athlete, having won an Olympic medal in 1924 in the long jump. In 1958, he became the first Black person appointed as a justice to the Massachusetts Superior Court.
According to an article published by Boston University, where his judicial papers are housed, Gourdin was admitted to the state bar in 1925, but kept his “day job” as a postal clerk because no law firm would hire him.
It is notable that the new statue in the Roxbury park that also bears his name focuses not on his athleticism or jurisprudence, but on his military service. The intent, according to Fennell, is to honor all of Boston’s Black war veterans.
The five-foot-tall, bronze sculpture of Gen. Gourdin, which stands on an 18,000 square foot memorial plaza bordered by Washington Street, Malcolm X Boulevard, and Shawmut Avenue— was created by the late Fern Cunningham-Terry, who also made the RISE statues that stand at the gateway of Mattapan Square.
Retired Judge Milton L. Wright, Jr. (Left) and retired Judge Leslie Harris (Right) with Haywood Fennell, Sr.,(center )president, Veterans and Friends of General Edward O. Gourdin Statue Committee.
Gen. Gourdin started his career in service at Harvard in the “student training corps,” and enlisted in the National Guard in 1925. He rose to the rank of colonel and served as commanding officer of the 372nd Infantry Regiment, a segregated unit, during World War II. After his honorable discharge in 1947, he rejoined the National Guard and served until 1959 in the 272nd Field Artillery Battalion. He retired as Brigadier General, the first Black soldier to earn this rank in Massachusetts, according to the city of Boston. He was living in Quincy when he died in 1966.
“For far too long, the contributions of Black veterans have gone unrecognized,” said Fennell, a Vietnam-era (non-combat) veteran who led the Veterans and Friends of Gourdin Memorial Park Committee. “His memorial stands as a testament to their courage, sacrifice, and unwavering dedication to this nation.”
We are grateful to Mr. Fennell and his fellow veterans and volunteers — and to the city of Boston—for their work to remember Gen. Gourdin and his massive contributions to the Commonwealth and the country.