Janet Uhlar | Boston’s Version of a Lynching

Boston’s Version of a Lynching

A “Lynching Memorial” now exists in Montgomery, Alabama (National Memorial for Peace and Justice). It’s purpose is to address and recognize mass murders by lynching, and injustices shown to hundreds of Americans of African descent. Injustices which were not limited to the South.

Boston’s history has its own version of Lynching. On a cold, winter night in 1968, John Martorano was offered a ride by Herb Smith, manager of a South End bar. In the car with Smith were 19-year-old Liz Dickson and 17-year-old Doug Barrett.

Martorano got into Smith’s car and shot him dead. Why? Martorano didn’t need much of a reason. After killing Smith, he promptly, methodically put a bullet in the heads of teenagers Doug and Liz. All three victims were black. Martorano had a reputation for taking black lives. Retired Boston Police detective Ed Walsh stated in a 1998 interview with Mike Barnicle that, “John Martorano killed an awful lot of black people. He practically used black people for target practice in Roxbury.”

Journalist Adrian Walker’s Sept. 1999 Boston Globe article ‘Deal with killer dishonors the dead’ was written in response to Martorano’s immoral sentencing and clearly addresses the Boston US Attorney’s Office and federal judge’s disregard for the lives of these black Americans.

“Martorano could serve as little as eight more years under a deal in which he confesses to a total of 20 murders during his time as a mob enforcer. That’s less than half a year a corpse.

Even worse, he doesn’t even suffer the indignity of being charged with murder. He’ll plead out instead to racketeering, race fixing, and extortion, occupational hazards of the gangster’s trade.”

A former MA state senator at the time stated, “Until he [Martorano] went south and west and killed white people, no one cared that he used blacks for target practice.”

Do black lives matter in Boston? Seemingly the US Attorney’s Office (namely AUSA Wyshak) and certain federal judges didn’t think so…. Perhaps Boston should open a memorial dedicated to the lives of Liz Dickson, Doug Barrett, Herb Smith, and so many others of color whose blood ran through the city’s streets; blood that was quickly washed away; deaths unvindicated; lives forgotten.


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