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1675 Indian ban puts convention bid at risk

Minority journalists may reject Boston if law isn't repealed

Boston is a finalist for hosting a big convention for minority journalists, but a 1675 law requiring the arrest of Native Americans who enter Boston could prevent the city from winning the bid.

Officials in City Hall and at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority met yesterday with the executive director of Unity: Journalists of Color Inc. to discuss repealing the state law, which has remained on the books despite being widely considered unconstitutional.

Its continued presence has sparked ire among some within the journalists' group, which represents Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans working in the news media.

''Our board members are very sensitive to each other, and we want to make sure that no one group is offended or feels excluded," said Unity's executive director, Anna M. Lopez.

Now the convention authority, the city, and at least two state legislators want the law repealed before it can scuttle Boston's chances of hosting Unity's 2008 meeting, which could bring millions in revenue and 8,000 to 10,000 minority journalists. Convention planners also hope to show the visitors that Boston is a diverse and welcoming city.

''I'm going to continue to put the pressure of the Legislature to get this passed," said Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who forwarded a petition urging the law's repeal to Beacon Hill in December. Two Boston legislators are introducing bills to do that.

Booking minority meetings has in recent years been a convention authority priority as it tries to capitalize on changes that it points out have created a diverse ''new Boston." The convention authority has been wooing Unity's 16-member board since November. The board recently named Boston, alongside Washington, D.C., and Chicago, as a finalist for the 2008 convention. Officials are particularly concerned about landing the event because of its size and the clout that its attendees -- mainly working reporters -- wield.

''In the boardrooms of minority organizations, when they're considering where to hold their conventions, Boston is not at the top of the list, and we need to change that," said the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority's executive director, James Rooney.

''If they go back and write about their experience in Boston and it begins to break down the stereotype of what Boston used to be, then that's great for the city," Rooney said.

For years, Boston has been perceived by many as a racially intolerant city, epitomized by the violence that erupted over forced integration of its high schools in the 1970s. City officials have long said that image is outdated.

Unity is a coalition of four groups representing ethnic minorities in the news media. Every four years, it hosts the annual conventions of all the groups in the same city. The convention coincides with presidential elections and has drawn both the Democratic and Republican nominees as keynote speakers.

That could be the case in Boston in 2008, if the city can pass muster with Unity's board, starting with wiping the antiquated anti-American Indian law from the books. Lopez, Unity's executive director, said Boston's bid would be hurt if the law is still on the books when the group's board meets next month to decide where to hold its 2008 convention.

But Boston could gain an edge if the Legislature repeals it before then, she said. Lopez is on a three-day tour of Boston that ends today. It included tours of hotels, the new Boston Convention & Exhibition Center in South Boston, and meetings with local minority journalists and at City Hall.

Dan Lewerenz, president of the Native American Journalists Association and a Unity board member, said Boston is not likely to get his vote if the law stays on the books.

''We're considering what it means for us to endorse a city that officially and effectively bans Native Americans," said Lewerenz, a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska. ''We know it's not going to be enforced, but in theory, the police could arrest us when we arrive at the airport."

Absent the law, he said, Boston has as good a shot as the other cities.

State Senator Dianne Wilkerson, Democrat of Boston, said she will introduce a measure to repeal the 1675 law in the Senate, while Representative Byron Rushing, also a Boston Democrat, will bring the issue before the House.

Wilkerson said yesterday that the bill could be passed in a week, but there's no guarantee it would be done that fast. ''It would be our goal to have it done immediately," she said. ''After all the work that people have done on this pitch, we would not sit by and allow something like this be the thing that kept us from being the winning bid."

How the law reads

The ban on Indians entering Boston has been on the books since 1675. Two legislators are introducing bills to repeal it, as the city requested.

We find that still there still remains ground of Fear, that unless more effectual Care care be taken, we may be exposed to mischief by some of that Barbarous Crew, or any Strangers not of our Nation, by their coming into, or residing in the Town of Boston. . . . Secondly, That there be a Guard appointed at the end of the said Town towards Roxbury, to hinder the coming in of any Indian, until Application be first made to the Governor, or Council if fitting, and to be . . . remanded back with the same Guard, not to be suffered to lodge in Town, unless in Prison.

Keith Reed can be reached at reed@globe.com.


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