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Josie’s Girl: On Being Irish and White (Part 3)

By Jaime Grant

Recap: So, here’s where this story gets (even more) interesting.  In 1951, following Josie’s failed attempts at lobbying the Mayor for decent wages, the Globe reports a major racketeering scandal involving municipal workers via the Boston City Post Office.  At the time, all municipal workers punched their timecards at the post office and officials discovered that millions of dollars had been skimmed off the city budget by workers reporting time that they had not worked.  The payroll scandal was major news and the investigation and prosecutions went on for over a year, with several – largely Irish – ringleaders getting jail time and hundreds of others enduring arrest and paying fines. 

From the first moment I saw the story, the hair on the back of my neck stood up just a bit.  I trolled through the Globe archive, reading articles pertaining to the investigation, including lists of people arrested who served time and/or paid fines.  And there they were – my great uncle James J. Ahern, Jr., Josie’s brother, and my uncle Edward Grant, Josie’s firstborn, a young schoolteacher at the time.  When I read their names, it was like finding buried family treasure.  I noted that Jimmy and Ed were both fined and released.

I sat down and made a spot of tea; I drank it from heirloom china on my mother’s side, hand-painted by my great-aunt, Sophia MacNeill, just to add to my enjoyment.

My grandmother was a fighter for her community her whole life.  At a time when there was widespread poverty and discrimination, she used every tool at her disposal – her own home, her considerable social skills, and her organizing prowess to bring resources into her Irish enclave, and into her family.  And when that didn’t work – what?  Did she inform her son and brother about an alternative route to income provided by the Irish political machine in East Boston?  Or in the mix of Josie’s various associates, did her brother Jimmy get the word about the set up?  And did Jimmy tell Ed?  It’s especially surprising to see my Uncle Ed in the mix of this scandal; Ed was a “Boy Scout” according to my ne’er-do-well father, who was a gambler and something of a ladies’ man.  Uncle Jimmy apparently once famously said that if they weren’t careful my father would one day “sell Edward” to pay off a gambling debt.  Whether or not Josie alerted the men in her charge to this “opportunity” or not, there is one thing we can be certain of: she would have drawn on all of her (and Susie’s) political capital to make sure they escaped jail time.

I couldn’t love this story more.  Josie died when I was in first grade.  I remember it well because I had never seen my father cry before that morning when he sat on my bed and told me that “Grandma Grant died last night.” I remember feeling a bit frightened because my Dad was such a big man, and never showed us any kind of vulnerability.  But I was also awed; he loved his mother.  Her loss was towering.

Josie, at Center, in a sea of Grants and Donovans.
Josie, at Center, in a sea of Grants and Donovans. My Mom, Edna MacNeill Grant is at her left knee; Uncle Ed’s wife, Dot Wallace is at her right elbow Dad second from left at the top; Patrick and Edward Grant, second from right and end of back row.

My Great Aunt Susie survived Josie by decades and would tell me at family reunions that I was “Josie’s girl”.  That I resembled her, but I think she was also commenting on my way – stubborn, smart as a whip, not deferential or typically “ladylike” – as my mother often pointed out, to her great despair.

Woman speaking at a podium.

Fast forward nearly a hundred years from my grandparents’ marriage date – I’ve been a visible queer writer, fundraiser and organizer for 30 years.  I lost nearly a decade with my family after coming out; my mother didn’t even tell me when Susie died; she didn’t want me to show up at the funeral talking all things ‘80s-lesbian.  I’ve lost friends for confronting abuse when it would have been much more comfortable for everyone if I’d just gone along.  I’ve been forced out of leadership positions in academia and even queer organizations for being “too activist.”

PFLAG National Names Dr. Jaime M. Grant as New Executive Director

“…PFLAG puts an impressive mother in the driver’s seat.”  The Advocate, September 2017

“I think for the next chapter of PFLAG, we’ll be asking, ‘Are we in the places where the most fragile and the most vulnerable, the most  targeted LGBT kids are so that we can be sharing the tools of acceptance and support in the places we’re most needed?'” To Grant, those places include the foster care system, as well as juvenile rehabilitation and detention centers, where she feels LGBTQ youth are over-represented and under-acknowledged.

No Reason Given for Early Departure of PFLAG Executive Director  

DC Blade, March 2018

I’ve also had a singular life filled with love and astonishing wins.  When I got my first job in movement fundraising in 1990, I called the Ford Foundation to inquire about a grant for lesbian and gay organizing – at the height of the AIDS crisis – and the person receiving the call hung up on me.  Today, a brilliant Black gay man runs the Ford Foundation.

I’ve worked alongside the queer feminist s/heroes of my generation; I’ve travelled the world meeting activists who risk everything for the right to live and love in their communities; and in times of desperation, I’ve housed U.S. activists hiding from the police as well as asylum seekers escaping anti-queer persecution.  I’ve stood toe-to-toe beside the bravest of the brave and lost so many; I fully understand that declarations of “love” in the absence of commitments to justice are paltry, self-centered, meaningless.

Group photo. Group photo.

Group photo.

Arcus Center Prize Weekend
Me and Angela Davis, Arcus Center Prize Weekend, 2013.
Barbara Smith, Albany, 2017
Me and Barbara Smith, Albany, 2017








I’m Josie’s girl.  And every article I dig up, every picture I find, every tiny sliver of her courage that I uncover and claim for myself – and for all of her descendants – stitches a little tattered, worse-for-the-wear piece of me back together.  In an era when there is so much silence and complicity in the face of the relentless violence of capitalism, racism, sexism and anti-immigrant animus, Josie’s stubborn Irish determination is seeing me through, to the next confrontation, the next impossible organizing front, the next win.

Josephine Mary Ahern Grant, circa 1958
Josephine Mary Ahern Grant, circa 1958
Granddaughter, 2018
Granddaughter, Me, 2018







Dr. Jaime M. Grant, author of  Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey and co-editor of Friendship as Social Justice Activism is a social justice researcher, writer, and activist who has been engaged in LGBTQ, women’s and racial justice movements since the 1980s.  She is the creator of the podcast, Just Sex: Mapping Your Desire and was the founding Executive Director of the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership.

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