Committee for the Better Use of Air
May 17, 1969
DisciplineEvents and presentations
The Great Boston Kite Festival took place on May 17, 1969 in Boston’s Franklin Park. Originally proposed for the banks of the Charles River, Parks Commissioner John Warner suggested Franklin Park, what’s now considered the “crowning jewel” of Frederick Law Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace. Located in the geographic center of the city, the park connects the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roslindale. In 1969, however, the park was underutilized and the surrounding, predominantly Black, neighborhoods surrounding it were suffering from the effects of redlining and urban renewal policies both historic and contemporary. Throughout the city, Boston was grappling with a controversial and sometimes violent school busing policy and the city was still reeling from the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It was in this atmosphere,” describes artist Darrah Bowden in Structures of Aspiration: Kite Making and Kite Flying in the Northeastern United States, “with elected officials—most of them white—publicly grappling with rising tensions around revising public policies vis-à-vis race, that the Great Boston Kite Festival came into being. It was not just because Franklin Park was so large and underutilized that John Warner first suggested that the Great Boston Kite Festival be held there. It was an opportunity to bring people from all neighborhoods of Boston to a public park in a predominantly black part of town.”
With this in mind, this series of images captures a particularly poignant moment in Boston history, when so many of the cities residents—young, old, Black, white, affluent, poor, and so many variations therein—spent the day together, flying kites.
Special thanks to artist Darrah Bowden for her research, enabling us to identify many of the GBKF-related images in the collection.