All Souls: A Family Story from Southie

All Souls: A Family Story from Southie

by Michael Patrick MacDonald

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Overview

All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald

A breakaway bestseller since its first printing, All Souls takes us deep into Michael Patrick MacDonald’s Southie, the proudly insular neighborhood with the highest concentration of white poverty in America. The anti-busing riots of 1974 forever changed Southie, Boston’s working class Irish community, branding it as a violent, racist enclave. Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in Southie’s Old Colony housing project. He describes the way this world within a world felt to the troubled yet keenly gifted observer he was even as a child: “[as if] we were protected, as if the whole neighborhood was watching our backs for threats, watching for all the enemies we could never really define.”

But the threats-poverty, drugs, a shadowy gangster world-were real. MacDonald lost four of his siblings to violence and poverty. All Souls is heart-breaking testimony to lives lost too early, and the story of how a place so filled with pain could still be “the best place in the world.”

We meet Ma, Michael’s mini-skirted, accordian-playing, usually single mother who cares for her children there are eventually eleven through a combination of high spirits and inspired “getting over.” And there are Michael’s older siblings Davey, sweet artist-dreamer; Kevin, child genius of scam; and Frankie, Golden Gloves boxer and neighborhood hero whose lives are high-wire acts played out in a world of poverty and pride.

But too soon Southie becomes a place controlled by resident gangster Whitey Bulger, later revealed to be an FBI informant even as he ran the drug culture that Southie supposedly never had. It was a world primed for the escalation of class violence-and then, with deadly and sickening inevitability, of racial violence that swirled around forced busing. MacDonald, eight years old when the riots hit, gives an explosive account of the asphalt warfare. He tells of feeling “part of it all, part of something bigger than I’d ever imagined, part of something that was on the national news every night.”

Within a few years-a sequence laid out in All Souls with mesmerizing urgency-the neighborhood’s collapse is echoed by the MacDonald family’s tragedies. All but destroyed by grief and by the Southie code that

doesn’t allow him to feel it, MacDonald gets out. His work as a peace activist, first in the all-Black neighborhoods of nearby Roxbury, then back to the Southie he can’t help but love, is the powerfully redemptive close to a story that will leave readers utterly shaken and changed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807072134
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 10/04/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 296
Sales rank: 84,546
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.71(d)

About the Author

Michael Patrick MacDonald grew up in South Boston’s Old Colony housing project. After losing four siblings and seeing his generation decimated by poverty, crime, and addiction, he became a leading Boston activist, helping launch many antiviolence initiatives, including gun-buyback programs. He continues to work for social change nationally, collaborating with survivor families and young people.

MacDonald won the American Book Award in 2000 and has written numerous essays for the Boston Globe Op-Ed Page. His national bestseller, All Souls, and his follow-up, Easter Rising: A Memoir of Roots and Rebellion have been adopted by university curriculums across the country.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 5: “Looking for Whitey”

Another one to make you a slave.’’ that’s what Nana said to Ma, looking at Seamus in the nursery at St. Margaret’s Hospital. Ma just laughed at her. She’d never gotten along with her mother—Ma said she was old-fashioned—and there was no sense in trying to relate now. Nana and Grandpa hadn’t even known Ma was pregnant until she went into labor. Ma kept it from them, knowing they’d judge her and her baby since she wasn’t married to Coley. She just wore big coats and held her big leather pocketbook in front of her stomach whenever she went to their house, among those lace curtain Irish neighbors in West Roxbury. Nana and Grandpa knew about me being illegitimate, but they never mentioned it, since most of their friends from Ireland thought that I’d come from Ma’s marriage to Mac—‘‘a bad marriage but a marriage before God nonetheless,’’ as Father Murphy said. I was close to Nana; she was my godmother and had been Patrick’s godmother too, so she took a special liking to me. I just had to brush off the bad things she said about Ma, and now I had to ignore her frowning gaze at Seamus. To make things more confusing for Nana and Grandpa’s Irish friends, Ma gave Seamus the last name King, from her short marriage to Bob King, whom they’d barely met. She had to put some name on the birth certificate; she knew welfare would never find Bob King, since he was probably homeless; and even though she’d gotten back together with Coley, we couldn’t be sure he’d stick around for too long. Ma was looking out for us again, making sure our welfare check wouldn’t be cut.

All I knew was that I was thrilled to come straight home from St. Augustine’s every day to see my little brother. I remember how clean and fresh he smelled even when he spit up on my shoulder. I was tired of all the battles, the rock throwing and the protests, and I was excited to be around something so new as Seamus. I just wanted to protect him, to keep him as fresh as the day he was born; and I became aware of how hard that might be when I started to take him out for a push around the front courtyard of Patterson Way, with all the buckled-up concrete catching the carriage wheels.

Ma liked me to take him outside every day after school. She always complained that the air in our apartment was bad for kids, with the smell of cockroach exterminator and the radiators going full blast even on a warm Indian summer afternoon. It seemed as if all the kids in the neighborhood had asthma. I’d walk Seamus in circles, around and around, on the beaten-up cement out front. The women on the stoop followed me with their eyes. I kept count so I could tell Ma how many times I’d pushed him around. ‘‘That’s twenty-nine times already!’’ I’d yell up to Ma. ‘‘Keep going,’’ she’d say from the window, ‘‘the air’s good for him.’’ I liked minding Seamus, but everyone wanted to come and look at him and smile in his face. Chickie was friendly to us now, and one time she came up to us, fixing Seamus’s blanket in a motherly way, and yelling up to Ma that all Ma’s kids looked like movie stars. Then she started talking baby talk. ‘‘Hiyaaa, hiyeee sweetie,’’ she sang, in the sweetest softest voice I’d ever heard coming out of her mouth. I started to see how babies did that to people, changed their voices and everything, no matter how mean or tough they seemed right before they’d laid eyes on the baby. Skoochie came by to show me the baby clothes she’d stolen downtown, taking them out of bags and sizing them up against Seamus, lying in his carriage. I sent her up to Ma, and she soon came back downstairs, folding up her empty bags. With Ma’s money in her hand, she called over to some teenagers I’d heard were selling pills. I just kept walking in circles, watching the action in the streets. Kids my age would ask if they could push the carriage, and when I let them they’d start running fast right off the curb toward the traffic—for some excitement, I guess. That kind of stuff made me frantic and nearly got me into a few fistfights, but everyone usually backed down from me, since the kids in the neighborhood were still afraid of my big brothers.

The worst thing about minding Seamus was when I’d hear a neighbor down the street calling someone a douchebag or a cunt. I couldn’t believe they’d say those words in front of a baby. Of course, they didn’t think they were doing it in front of a baby—they were down the street. I half realized that since Seamus was only a few weeks old anyway, it probably didn’t matter what he heard; and when they’d come up to the carriage the same people who’d just called someone a douchebag would start talking baby talk to him and tucking in his blanket. But I couldn’t help worrying for Seamus, with his fresh clean baby smell and brand-new terry cloth baby suits, in the middle of all this anger and confusion and drug dealing and fighting. I still loved our world of Old Colony, but I wasn’t always so sure about that now that I had a little brother to wheel around the broken-up courtyards.

After Seamus was born, the Boston Housing Authority broke down one of our walls for us, adding a second apartment. Only three families in Old Colony had a ‘‘breakthrough’’ apartment. Ma had pulled a few strings with the local politicians she’d met by volunteering for the South Boston Information Center and by playing the accordion at political fundraisers. We were the envy of the neighborhood now, with ten rooms in all, including two kitchens and two bathrooms. We had so much space that Ma had to start collecting furniture from the dumpster to fill up the house. I’d yell out the window to Ma, begging her to stop going through the dumpster, pulling out chairs. I didn’t want anyone to see her. My friends all bragged about their expensive living room sets stolen from the backs of trucks. But she’d just play it up, dragging some contraption behind her up three flights of stairs, ‘‘Look at this beautiful recliner!’’ It was really a lawn chair that one of the ladies on the stoop had left outside, expecting it to still be there when she got back. I was always afraid to let friends in the house, because they might find something that they’d thrown in the trash or just left outside.

We had it made now. Most of us had our own bedroom, and I had a feeling we would be in Old Colony forever. Ten fully furnished rooms with wall-to-wall green, blue, and orange shag rugs; free heat, light, and gas; Skoochie’s designer-label clothes for a quarter the price; all the excitement right out our front windows—‘‘Scenes better than anything on the TV,’’ Ma said—and the thrill of being on the inside of the exclusive world of Old Colony. We were privileged. And even though I was still a little worried for Seamus, I could convince myself, like everyone else, that we were in a superior kingdom.

Table of Contents

1.All Souls' Night1
2.Freedoms16
3.Ghetto Heaven50
4.Fight the Power79
5.Looking for Whitey107
6.August135
7.Holy Water156
8.Stand-Up Guy173
9.Exile199
10.Justice223
11.Vigil254
Acknowledgments265

What People are Saying About This

Charles Carberry

His anecdotes have the searing power of a redeemed sinner's fiery sermon. His swift, conversational style sweeps you into his anger and sorrow. He is a born rabble-rouser whose emotional power numbs the reader's reason.
—Charles Carberry, USA Today

Reading Group Guide

1. A dramatic, telling scene "in which decades of silence are broken" opens All Souls. How does the scene echo throughout the memoir? How does that which motivates Southie residents to speak of tragic loss on All Souls' Night compare to the anguish that compelled Michael Patrick MacDonald to tell his story?

2. Describe the tone in which All Souls opens. How does it shift throughout the memoir? The chronicling of what sorts of events necessitates a change in tone? Is there consistency or dissonance between the way MacDonald writes about the drama around him and his interior world?

3. In his opening chapter MacDonald speaks of the seductiveness and threat of Southie myths. Describe those myths. In what ways is All Souls an act of demythologizing, and to what extent does it romanticize Southie?

4. "For my family, " writes MacDonald, "freedom had become the rule above all others." Discuss the sort of freedom he has in mind. What are the most considerable threats to it? How do abstractions such as poverty and prejudice manifest themselves as real obstacles to the freedom desired?

5.  Motherhood receives significant attention throughout All Souls, both in the author's all-important relationship to "Ma" and in the triumphs and trials of mothers throughout the Old Colony Project. What distinguishes Ma? How is she at once recognizable and unique? What do we learn about the challenges facing, and the resources available to a single mother in poverty?

6. Fathers for the most part are absent from Old Colony. What are the repercussions of this absence? Who or what attempts to fill the gap? To what sort of masculinity dothe young men of the neighborhood aspire without father figures? How do Whitey Bulger and his ilk exploit and perpetuate this absence?

7. MacDonald has said that the "old neighborhood is dead in America." Does its portrait in All Souls strike you as anachronistic or anomalous, reverential or conflicted? Explain. What are the strengths and problems of an intimate, if often insular and isolated, neighborhood? What has contributed to the decline of the tight-knit community in the United States?

8. In commenting on the future of South Boston, MacDonald has said that forced integration and gentrification have ruined the possibility for the emergence of a functionally diverse neighborhood. He foresees something akin to "apartheid, where everybody in the projects is of color and everybody out of the projects is white, middle-class, single, and has no children." In All Souls what foreshadows this future? How is Southie's evolution like and unlike that of many metropolitan neighborhoods?

9. How does All Souls complicate or illuminate the issue of racism in America today? What contributed to the intolerance exhibited by many in Southie during busing, and how did it differ in kind and degree from racism elsewhere? What is the author's attitude toward race and racists?

10. Catholicism provides a framework for much of the action in All Souls. Provide examples of the various ways by which MacDonald uses religion to tell his many stories. To what extent does Catholicism shape the author and his approach to narrative? For example, what do we make of his use of confession, souls, and ceremony?

11. Comment on the role of humor in All Souls. How would you characterize it? In what ways does it function as a two-edged sword? Does the idea of dark humor transcend Irishness to resonate in other cultures?

12. All Souls provides an examination of white urban poverty today. Have you considered the subject before picking up the book? Why does the issue seem largely ignored by the media? How does social class shape the lives chronicled in the book? How is it a red herring?

13. Explain the moral complexities of the busing incident. What factors contributed to its violent unfolding? Did MacDonald's recounting of the riots challenge your views of the participants in those riots?

14. MacDonald has said that the arrest of his younger brother Stevie marked a turning point in his life, a move from observation and contemplation to action and confrontation. Chart the evolution of the author's character and views throughout the memoir. Which moments revealed their significance to him immediately? Which only in retrospection?

15. Southie is as complex a character in All Souls as any of the MacDonalds. Examine the author's changing and at times conflicting relationship to the place? Point to these pivotal moments. What does Southie mean to MacDonald at the close of the memoir?        

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All Souls: A Family Story from Southie 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 93 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is possibly the most disturbing book I have ever read. I would read some, put it down, then go back to it again--needing time away to digest MacDonald's painful family stories. The author spares nothing in his brutally honest depiction of life growing up in the "Southie" part of Boston. I felt broken-hearted for the MacDonald children and though I felt deeply for his mother and all the losses she suffered, I also felt angry with her at times for her reckless behavior in bringing child after child into a world in which she knew she could not provide for them. While the author expresses his legitimate anger toward the police and local government, toward Whitey Bulger and his consorts, and toward the culture of extreme pride to the point of silence, he seems to place little blame on a culture of parental negligence and irresponsibility. Why such a huge disconnect? Through Michael's eyes we see with stark clarity how the onslaught of drugs and organized crime can wreak havoc on individuals, families, and entire neighborhoods, and I am amazed and heartened by his ability to avoid being consumed by the entrenched culture of violence and despair and work to try to turn things around. I only hope there are more like him who can make a difference in some young lives. I recommend this book highly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was raised during the same time as this author but I do not live in a huge city so growing up the way he had to is completely foreign to me. The book held my interest all the way through and I found myself wanting to know more about the author and his siblings when I finished the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very well written and eye opening book. I even lived in Boston and had no idea this kind of crime and poverty existed in the late 90's. Gritty and honest, this story helps you see poverty in a different way. Loved this book.
gabriela_boudreau More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was really good. As a student in high school the book itself really interested me and got me hooked. Being from around where the author is from it really hit home. Whitey Bulger was a huge criminal in the Boston area and managed to impact  everyone of that time. The book and the way the author MacDonald wrote it really portrays what a lot of families back then were  going through. He tells his story in the most humble way possible and manages to make you feel as if your right there next to him going  through all of it with him. The tragic lives of his brothers cut short hit you in the gut and you can't stop rooting for him to be the different one.
Katherine Bernard More than 1 year ago
Having lived in Southy while my children were young, I found this book somewhat accurate. Great book
TheJodes More than 1 year ago
Thank you Michael Patrick MacDonald for having the strength to write this book. I can't believe you lived to tell this story. You are truly an inspiration. This is an awesome piece of American History and I urge everyone to read this powerful book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have never reviewed a book before but I had to share this one with everyone. I read alot of true stories, this one is the best. The way it is written, it really holds your attention. I'm not just saying this, it truly is hard to put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished this book for my book club. I grew up on the North Shore of Boston, protected by the suburban lifestyle. We always heard about the stories from Southie. Only a half hour away from Boston my mother would NEVER let us venture into Boston alone. Still, living in the North Shore had its share of similarities. I grew up in an Irish Catholic town and although we didn't have the violence encountered in All Souls, we had the drugs and the intense racism. After leaving the area and traveling, I never really talked about the area I grew up in, I had grown to become embarresed about it because it was so, and it still, racist (openly) and over run by drugs now it seems. It seemed so ghetto to me, so uncultured and blue collared. I couldn't even imagine what it must have been like in Southie. And yet here I stand, embarressed to talk about the insignificant town I grew up in, and the problems I had there, while Michael is able to recount his whole life in Southie for the world to read. He has guts. I will still opt to remain anonymous. Courage, courage, courage.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw both sides of the culture clashes when I was growing up in the 1970's. I went to both a lower class neighborhood school, and an upper class private Catholic school. I am the same age as Michael McDonald's siblings, the twins, Mary and Joe, born in 1958. I related so much to many parts of this book, and thought it was so wonderful that I have bought a copy of it although had originally checked it out from the library. I would recommend this to anyone in social work, teaching, suicide survivors, recovering addicts and alcoholics, and anyone wanting to relate to family and relationship issues in any way. It's just a great read.
Alex Davalos More than 1 year ago
Great story, it made me laugh and almost cry all at one. Michael tells a great story.
JCD2 More than 1 year ago
Anyone who has ever lived in Boston should read this heartbreaking story of the disintegration of an Irish family from South Boston (the greatest place on earth).  From the police to the politicians and Whitey Bulger, everyone extracted their pound of flesh from these poor, proud people who would never snitch.  To be a rat was the lowest form of sub-human life, and yet it turned out that the biggest rat of all was the king of Southie, Whitey Bulger.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Highly recommended.  Gripping!!  Excellent Writing!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It makes one happy that they were born in the rural south. Also, it makes you realize that blacks are not the only people living in slums in the larger northern cities.
happynappy More than 1 year ago
I am a 67 year old African-american woman and I remember the absolute ugliness of Boston during the busing period. Alabama had nothing on south Boston. The white Irish "southies" were animals and rabid racists. All Souls documents one typical "southy" family's existence and pain during this period of U.S. history. It is tragic. One hardly ever counts the costs of poverty, urban decay, corruption and racism to the majority community but ALL SOULS lists the costs to the last red cent. I was deeply moved by the heartwrenching story of the MacDonald family and hope I will be a little more open to the experiences of others due to it. While racism is intolerable and unexcusable, it is not the sole opressive issue facing our society. ALL SOULS and the the MacDonalds make it clear that all people must begin to recognize and demand change from corrupt, self-serving systems, otherwise WE will all remain victims. A very good read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I will never look at people like I did before I read this book . This book will open your eyes. A real page turner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I completely love this book. It's dear to my heart. Very moving and touching. No matter how hard we think growing up was, this book is humbling. I've read it twice and will surely read it again.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Hands down one of the best memoirs I have read in years. Truely compelling. At times I felt so bad for his family. It is such a shame that this still goes on in America. But this is a good eye opener for some.A must read for all fans of Irish-American history. I wish the author all the luck in the world.
piefuchs on LibraryThing 14 hours ago
Macdonald lived as one of nine children born in poverty stricken South Boston (aka "Southie") one of those places, like my home province of NS - that for no good reason people tend to be proud to be from (Hey - you know those bus riots - that was us!!! Whiltey Bulger - one of us!!!) Macdonald does a very good job of dispelling the romance of Southie. His family is devastated by drugs and violence and little is done by his neighbours to either stop the trend or help the family. Tragic personal history, tragic cultural history. Worth reading, especially for anyone in the greater Boston area.
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saltandpepperST More than 1 year ago
disturbing, but the raw truth...
LIBBYEM More than 1 year ago
This was so sad n yet this is a family that went Thur hard time in their life.Out of all the kids that was killed n injury.,life goes on.
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