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Joe Moakley's Journey

From South Boston to El Salvador

Mark Robert Schneider

Publication Year: 2013

In November 1989 in El Salvador, six Jesuit priests and their two female housekeepers were rousted from their beds and shot as they lay face down on the ground. At first, the George H. W. Bush administration echoed the Salvadoran military's line that the rebels must have done it. When House Speaker Tom Foley tasked a senior congressman with investigating the murders, the people of El Salvador found an unlikely champion in the person of John Joseph Moakley, representative from South Boston. In Joe Moakley's Journey, Mark Robert Schneider charts one of the most unusual transformations in American politics. A native son of South Boston, Moakley was an effective and influential House member, whose greatest influence and legacy is, paradoxically, far from home in the fields of El Salvador and Central America. Though firmly, fiercely grounded in his hometown of South Boston--he never lived anywhere else--from the beginning of this investigation until his death in 2001, issues of Central American justice, peace, and economic development became Joe Moakley's cause.

Published by: Northeastern University Press

Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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Preface: A Regular Joe

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pp. ix-xvi

Congressman John Joseph Moakley styled himself as a regular Joe. He studied sheet metal in high school, but dropped out to join the Navy. He went to college in Miami only for a semester; mostly he boxed during that brief sojourn. “Joe” Moakley hesitated to enter law school when he considered the size of the law books. (His fa-ther advised: “But you only gotta read ’em one page at a time.”) No one Like most congressmen on his side of the aisle, he was shaped by the ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Writing this book led me to unfamiliar places, and I was fortunate to have guides along the way. I decided to write about Joe Moakley in part because I teach at Suffolk University, which holds his papers. Luckily for me, my chairman in the History Department, Bob Allison, is also the president of the South Boston Historical Association, as well as being a ...

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1. Chronicle of a Death Foretold

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pp. 1-15

On February 2, 2001, Congressman John Joseph Moakley stepped to the podium in the jury room of the courthouse that everyone in the audience knew would soon be named for him. Just two months shy of his seventy-fourth birthday, Moakley remained a vigor-ous, sturdy man, with a round, friendly face marked by bushy eyebrows, a close-cropped white beard, and a slightly rearranged nose. More than fifty years earlier, as a young boxer in Miami, he had been billed as the ...

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2. Southie Was His Hometown

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pp. 16-28

In October 1903, Elario and Antonia Scappini boarded the passen-ger vessel Cambroman at Genoa and sailed for faraway Boston. Origi-nally from Parma, they joined hundreds of other northern Italians on that crowded ship, seeking economic opportunity. Boston was not an un-known land, for the couple almost certainly would have had letters from Antonia’s brother Giuseppe Lamoretti, who already lived there. They were both thirty-three years old and in good health. With them was their ...

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3. From Curley’s Boston to Kennedy’s America

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pp. 29-42

Sometime in 1949, a chance encounter set Joe Moakley on his life’s course. Fifty years later, just before he died, he remembered it “like it was yesterday.”Joe boarded the Bayview bus at Knowlton Street and ran into two foot-ball buddies, Henry “Looper” Doherty and Martin Carter. Joe was just back from Miami University, and his pals were impressed. Not many peo-Carter insisted: “You’re young, you’re a veteran, someone our age—...

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4. The Invisible, the Blind, and the Visionary

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pp. 43-59

Mary Scappini Moakley, Joe’s mother, died of heart disease on Mother’s Day in 1959, at age fifty-three.1 She had been a quiet doer of good deeds, a member of the church faithful, and a good mother. She lived her whole life in South Boston, and at the end she lived in the house into which she had been born, at 291 Dorches-ter Street, back at St. Augustine’s parish. All three of her sons had turned out well, and for a woman of her generation, that probably mattered ...

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5. Moakley versus Hicks

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pp. 60-75

Speaker of the U.S. House John William McCormack was a formida-ble poker player, known for holding his cards close to his vest and maintaining an inscrutable demeanor. Although he was seventy-eight years old and completing his twenty-first term, only his wife, Har-riet, and his closest aides knew that he would announce his retirement on May 20, 1970. His colleagues in the Massachusetts delegation were McCormack had been Speaker of the U.S. House since the death of ...

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6. The Man on the Barbed Wire Fence

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pp. 76-98

During Joe Moakley’s first term in Congress, a lawsuit against the Boston School Committee brought by the parents of black school children initiated the deepest crisis in the city’s history. On June 21, 1974, Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled on behalf of the plaintiffs, finding that the school committee had deliberately allowed the schools to become racially segregated, thus violating the decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case that racially segregated schools ...

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7. The Last Days of the Working Class

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pp. 99-118

In the winter of 1976, the antibusing movement split into two camps that mirrored tensions in the conservative wing of the Democratic Party. Louise Day Hicks and her ally Jimmy Kelly supported Henry Jackson, the hawkish “Senator from Boeing,” in the upcoming March 2 Democratic primary. Jackson had put forward a measure in the U.S. Sen-ate to compensate Boston for its expenses in the busing battle. Hicks’s rival on the city council, Pixie Palladino, and her friends John Kerrigan ...

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8. Into Foreign Lands

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pp. 119-142

Ronald Reagan’s 1980 landslide swept away more Democrats than the unfortunate Jimmy Carter. The Democrats had held majori- ties in both chambers since the 83rd Congress during the Eisen-hower administration. Just as devastating as the loss of the White House was the loss of the Senate, an epic defeat for the Democrats. The 97th Congress elected in 1980 returned a slim Republican majority, 53–46–1, to the Senate for the first time in almost three decades. George Mc-...

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9. A Most Unlikely Hero

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pp. 143-159

Joe Moakley’s first order of business as the next congressional ses-sion opened was to introduce hr 822, a new bill to protect the Salva-doran immigrants. John J. Dooling, a former Moakley aide and now counsel to the Rules Committee, crafted the El Salvador Refugee Act of 1985, a modified, more specific version of its predecessor. This one would establish an El Salvador Refugee Commission in the Government Accounting Office, tasked with settling disputed facts such as the num-...

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10. The Jesuit Murders

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pp. 160-182

Joe Moakley greeted the new Bush administration warily. “I don’t think we can afford a honeymoon,” Moakley told a reporter. “Bush comes into office as a former congressman who knows the Hill, who didn’t run against Congress . . . We’re not going to beat him to death, but face [the problems] with hands joined,” he promised. Bush faced skepti-cal Democratic majorities in both houses. George Mitchell of Maine re-placed Byrd as majority leader in the Senate; in the House Jim Wright, ...

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11. “Wellcom Senador Smoklin”

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pp. 183-201

Moakley’s fight for the Salvadoran immigrants and his investi- gation into the murder of the Jesuit priests constituted two major contributions to justice for Salvadorans. He could have dropped his interest in the country at this point, but he didn’t. He was hooked. In 1991 he would on his own initiative venture out into the Sal-vadoran countryside to meet real people, a very different experience from confronting generals. By doing so he would encourage the peace process ...

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12. Death and Resurrection

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pp. 202-224

Joe Moakley relished the inauguration of President Bill Clinton. He had served in Congress for twenty years in January 1993, only four of them under a Democratic president. Unlike Jimmy Carter, Clinton came into office without having run against a corrupt Washington estab-lishment, and he appointed former representatives like Leon Panetta to important offices that worked closely with the Congress. Moakley liked Clinton’s style too. He recognized the new president as a gifted politician ...

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13. Return to Santa Marta

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pp. 225-240

A month after his hip replacement surgery, Joe Moakley celebrated Bill Clinton’s second inauguration and the swearing-in of fresh- men Jim McGovern, Bill Delahunt, and John Tierney in the new Congress. During this session, Moakley would return to El Salvador, where he was hailed as a hero in Santa Marta. In Cuba he would partici-pate in a historic papal Mass, and meet Fidel Castro again. As they took their oaths, no member of the 105th Congress could imagine that they ...

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14. Man of the Century

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pp. 241-256

When Moakley returned from Cuba in January 1998, moviego-ers were flocking to a new film set in South Boston starring two young actors, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, called “Good Will Hunting.” Both played typical working-class young men, but Da-mon’s character, Will, an adopted child, was a math genius. Will wouldn’t leave South Boston to cross the river to Cambridge where he might have gone to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; but through the ef-...


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pp. 257-284

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 285-287


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pp. 289-293

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Image Plates

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pp. 314-321

Moakley at meeting in El Salvador, aide Jim McGovern on Moakley’s right. Moakley, Fidel Castro, Massachusetts congressmen William Delahunt, Jim McGovern, and Richard Neal on delegation trip to Cuba, 1998. St. Patrick’s Day Luncheon—Moakley, William Bulger (center), Moakley with Pope John Paul II on congressional trip to the Vatican, January 2001. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9781555538088
E-ISBN-10: 1555538088
Print-ISBN-13: 9781555538071

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Moakley, John Joseph, 1927-2001.
  • United States. Congress. House -- Biography.
  • Legislators -- United States.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
  • Legislators -- Massachusetts -- Biography.
  • Massachusetts -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • South Boston (Boston, Mass.) -- Biography.
  • Boston (Mass.) -- Biography.
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