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The late U.S. Representative John Joseph “Joe” Moakley (D-MA) represented Massachusetts’ Ninth Congressional District for fourteen consecutive terms (1973-2001). Over the course of his fifty-year career in public service Moakley, a self-described “bread-and-butter” politician, devoted himself to the bedrock concerns of his constituents: education, jobs, housing, health care, veterans’ benefits, and the prosperity of his city, his state, and his region.
Born on April 27, 1927, his childhood years were spent in South Boston, a tight-knit, blue collar neighborhood of Boston during the Great Depression. At the age of 15, he altered his birth certificate to enlist in the U.S. Navy and served as a Seabee in the Pacific theater during World War II. After the war he took advantage of the GI Bill to attend Newman Prep and the University of Miami.
His political career started in the early 1950s when he ran for a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He was elected to the legislature on his second attempt in 1952. While serving as a state representative, Moakley enrolled in Suffolk Law School, spending his days in the State House and his nights in class. He earned his law degree in 1956 and later received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Administration in 1977 from Suffolk University. It was during this period that he met his future wife, Evelyn Duffy of Cambridge, MA, whom he married in 1957. When Moakley lost a bid move up to the Massachusetts Senate he spent several years in private legal practice. He later ran successfully, serving in the Senate from 1965 until 1970. Some of the major themes of his career began to emerge during these years, such as his support for affordable housing, historic preservation, and a commitment to the environment.
In 1970, Moakley ran for the open U.S. congressional seat being vacated by longtime Speaker of the House John McCormack of South Boston. In a crowded field, Moakley lost in the Democratic primary to Louise Day Hicks, who was nationally known for her opposition to court-ordered busing. Undeterred, Moakley jumped into the race for city councilor, won with the highest vote total in the city's history, and waited for his next opportunity.
In 1972, Moakley again ran for the congressional seat, outmaneuvering the incumbent by running as an independent. Hicks faced a bruising primary against multiple opponents before Moakley easily defeated her in the general election.
Once in Washington, Moakley returned to the Democratic fold and Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O'Neill took the rookie congressman under his wing. With O'Neill's support and his own political sense, Moakley gained stature and influence on the House Personnel Committee and the House Committee on Rules. The Rules Committee, sometimes described as the “traffic cop” of Congress, controls how and when legislation reaches the House floor for debate. In 1989, he was appointed chair of the Rules Committee.
Moakley often came to an issue through a local event or constituent need and was inspired to address it on a national or international level. He often held open office hours in towns in his district, meeting constituents, answering questions, hearing their complaints and requests for help.
In 1983, at a post office in Jamaica Plain, Moakley heard from Salvadoran refugees who feared being deported. El Salvador was mired in a bloody civil war, and deaths squads were murdering or “disappearing” tens of thousands of civilians. The refugees feared that they would be harmed by the Salvadoran government and its allies if they returned. For six years, he fought to pass legislation that would allow Salvadoran immigrants to live and work in the United States until it was safe to return to their country. Finally, he used leverage as the new chairman of the Rules Committee to amend the Immigration Act of 1990 to grant Temporary Protected Status to Salvadorans who had fled their country. The bill passed, implementing measures that have saved hundreds of thousands of lives from potential harm—and which are still in use today.
Moakley may be best remembered for his courageous leadership of the investigation into the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador in 1989. Speaker of the House Tom Foley launched a congressional investigation into the murders and appointed Moakley to lead it. Congress had authorized billions of dollars in economic and military aid over the years to El Salvador, and, with the Salvadoran military and the leftist guerilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) accusing one another of the atrocity, U.S. legislators demanded answers. The Moakley Commission, also known as the Speaker’s Task Force on El Salvador, was able to prove that the murders had been carried out by the Salvadoran military. The Commission's final report hinted that culpability could extend to the highest levels of the government of El Salvador. The Moakley Commission findings were used as trial evidence in the first-ever convictions of Salvadoran military personnel for human rights crimes.
Additionally, Congress used the commission's findings to cut military aid to El Salvador, forcing the government to negotiate with the FMLN to end the war. Moakley then became a significant figure in the peace talks, most notably through a historic visit behind the lines to meet with FMLN leaders. His willingness to recognize the guerrillas was a breakthrough moment on the road to peace—the FMLN finally believed that the U.S. would back an agreement—and, in January of 1992, both sides signed accords that ended the violence.
Other signature issues in Moakley’s career included the fight for a fire-safe cigarette, accurate labeling on food products and advertising, and lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
In 1979, five children and their parents died in a tragic house fire sparked by a smoldering cigarette in Westwood, Massachusetts. In an effort to prevent similar tragedies, the congressman began a twenty-year fight for federal legislation requiring the tobacco industry to develop a self-extinguishing cigarette. He obtained passage of two bills that laid the foundation for a federal law. The Cigarette Safety Act of 1984 established Congressional committees to determine if a fire-safe cigarette was technically feasible. Then the Fire-Safe Cigarette Act of 1990 required the government to develop a test to assess how “fire-safe” a cigarette was. As of 2008, there was still no federal law mandating the manufacture of fire-safe cigarettes, but sixteen states, including Massachusetts, have regulations in place. Massachusetts Congressman Edward Markey has continued the fight, submitting to the House in 2002 and 2004 a fire-safe cigarette bill called the Moakley Memorial Act.
Moakley was a major supporter of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which called for clear and concise information and prohibited misleading nutrition and health claims on food labels. He also introduced legislation to extend these requirements to food advertising.
In the 1990s Moakley became involved in the Cuban embargo issue. He promoted an open policy, including expanded trade between the U.S. and Cuba, to lessen the suffering for the Cuban people. The Congressman introduced bills in Congress to lift the embargo on food, medicine, and medical supplies, but despite mustering considerable bipartisan support, he was unable to win their passage. Nonetheless, he attempted to keep the spotlight on the plight of the Cuban people through his trips in 1996, 1998, and 2000.
Moakley’s belief that ensuring the economic prosperity of Massachusetts and New England was a major responsibility for elected officials is evident in the many public projects that he championed on behalf of Boston, the state of Massachusetts and New England. In the Boston area, he promoted and helped secure funding for the following projects: revitalizing the South Boston Waterfront, public transportation improvements such as the “Big Dig” and the Silver Line, and the Boston Harbor clean-up. Additionally, Moakley was able to obtain federal recognition and funds critical to protecting and restoring important locales, such as: the Boston African American National Historic Site, Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, Charlestown Navy Yard and the USS Constitution, Dorchester Heights, Faneuil Hall, the Old South Meeting House, and the Old State House. Outside of Boston, he embraced the concerns and agendas of his entire district including the relocation of GTE to the Miles Standish Industrial Park in Taunton, Ma, helping the town of Walpole fight off a sludge landfill, and the establishment of a technology center at Bridgewater State College.
In the 1990s the congressman championed the core issues of his career while enduring personal battles that included a liver transplant, the death of his beloved wife, Evelyn, and, finally, incurable leukemia. Despite these challenges, he continued to ably and energetically represent his district until his death on May 28, 2001.
The Congressman John Joseph Moakley Papers, 1926- 2001, consists of 521 boxes of materials accumulated during the congressman's life and work. The collection documents his early life, his World War II service, his service in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate and the U.S. Congress.
The archive includes records from Moakley’s early life that document his service in World War II, his career in Massachusetts politics and his family life. Scrapbooks, correspondence and other family records offer glimpses into his life during and shortly after World War II. Press clippings, committee files and campaign materials document his service in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Massachusetts State Senate and Boston City Council.
The bulk of the collection, however, consists of the records created by Moakley and his staff in the course of his duties as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1973 until 2001. The types of materials include legislative files; reports of the Congressman's legislative initiatives and voting records; constituent service records; district project files; public relations materials; policy files; campaign records; photographs; memorabilia and audiovisual materials. Of special interest are documents related to Moakley's service as chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee; his legislative and policy campaigns centered on international human rights, the Speaker’s Task Force on El Salvador and Fire-Safe Cigarettes; and his promotion of district projects such as the Boston Harbor Islands, the “Big Dig” and preservation of historic sites.
- Boston Harbor Islands (Mass.)
- Busing for school integration
- Cigarettes -- Safety regulations -- United States
- Democratic Party (U.S.) History 20th century.
- El Salvador -- Politics and government -- 1979-1992
- Jesuits -- El Salvador Legislators -- Massachusetts.
- Legislators -- United States.
- Massachusetts -- Politics and government--1950-2001.
- McGovern, James P., 1959-
- Moakley, John Joseph, 1927-2001
- Politicians -- Massachusetts.
- O'Neill, Tip
- United States -- Congress -- House.
- United States--Politics and government--1973-2001.
Description: This series contains materials related to the day-to-day workings of Moakley’s Washington and District Offices including awards received by Moakley, office files and subject files.
Arrangement: Divided into six sub-series: Awards and Events, Biographical Files, Correspondence, Subject Files and Office Files and Schedules.
Description: The Legislative Files document Moakley’s legislative initiatives and his stand on issues of the day as documented by copies of bills, correspondence and his voting records. The series is divided into three sub-series: Bills Sponsored/Co-sponsored, Legislative Correspondence, and Voting Records.
See Also: In-depth files on Moakley’s key legislation and public policy efforts are located in Series 3: Legislative Assistants’ Files.
Arrangement: Divided into three sub-series: Bills Sponsored/Co-sponsored, Legislative Correspondence, and Voting Records.
Description: The records in this large series represent files created by Moakley’s legislative directors, assistants and aides as they drafted bills, advised Moakley on possible legislative strategies, researched pending legislation, represented him at meetings and kept him abreast of current issues. Moakley’s Rules Committees files were not transferred to the Archives, instead they are official records retained by the National Archives. The types of materials include correspondence, memoranda, draft legislation, statements and speeches and secondary material collected for reference.
Topics covered in this portion of the collection include foreign policy, defense spending, government affairs, the environment, energy, aging, trade, transportation, and education. The legislative files have been divided into sub-series by the name of the staff member who created them, with the exception that legislative directors’ materials were often interfiled in other staffers’ papers. Additionally, some of the staffers generally acquired the files of those who had previously covered those subjects and they remain interfiled with their papers. Because each staffer managed their own files the arrangement varies according to the staffers’ method of organization.
Arrangement: Divided into 9 sub-series: 3.1: Carlton Currens, 3.2 Jack Dooling, 3.3 Ellen Harrington, 3.4 James McGovern, 3.5: Sophie (Wattles) Hayford, 3.6: Steve LaRose, 3.7 Kathleen Texeira, 3.8: Kelly Timilty, 3.9 General files (No staffer assigned)
See Also: Additional materials related to the Boston Harbor clean-up and the Walpole landfill issue can be can be found in Sub-series 3.3: Ellen Harrington’s files.
Restrictions: Access to sensitive or confidential materials may be restricted; consult Archivist.
Description: This series documents Moakley’s campaigns for Congress from 1970 to 2000. The materials are the working files of Moakley’s campaign staff; including campaign managers, Roger Kineavy and Fred Clark. The files include correspondence, public relations materials, strategy papers, position papers, opponent research, issue research, voter information and financial information. Based on interviews with former staff, the files of previous campaigns, including materials from the 1950s, were used in planning for the next campaign cycle. As a result, documents from earlier campaigns are interfiled with later campaigns. The files are arranged chronologically in the context in which they were found.
See Also: Memorabilia, photographs and audiovisual materials related to his campaigns located in Series 9: Special Materials. For campaigns pre-dating 1973, see also Sub-series 11.1: Political Papers.
Arrangement: Chronological by campaign cycle and alphabetical within cycles. Oversized materials are stored in Box 25.
Description: This series documents the constituent services handled by Moakley and his staff. Moakley regarded constituent service as one his most important functions and would often personally handle requests. The district offices handled the majority of these requests, with complex casework and aid and assistance requests handled by District Directors Roger Kineavy (1973-1994) and Fred Clark (1995-2001). Requests were fielded via phone, letter or through informal constituent sessions held at Castle Island, district offices, post offices or for a time via his mobile congressional office. Typical transactions included information requests, responding to inquiries regarding legislative issues, assisting groups in Massachusetts to secure federal grants, and helping individuals with difficulties involving the Federal government (casework).
Restrictions: Access to sensitive or confidential materials may be restricted; consult Archivist.
Arrangement: Divided into six sub-series: 6.1: Aid and Assistance Files, 6.2: Casework, 6.3: Constituent Index Cards, 6.4: Constituent Services Logs, 6.6: Information Requests
Description: This series documents the efforts of Moakley's press secretaries to deliver Moakley’s message to constituents and the general public via television, radio, newspapers, and mailings. Moakley's press secretaries were Jack Dooling (1974), Amy Levy (1976), John Weinfurter (1977-1980), Jim McGovern (1984-1993), and Karin Walser (1994-2001). The files include newsletters, press releases and specialized mailings. Many of these items are interfiled in other parts of the collection.
See Also: Photographs and audiovisual materials located in Series 9: Audiovisual Recordings and Series 10: Photographs.
Arrangement: Divided into three subseries: 7.1: News Clippings, 7.2: Newsletters and Mailings, and 7.3: Press Releases.
Description: The series is comprised of speeches and remarks delivered by Moakley at events, before congressional committees or on the House floor. The speeches provide insight on Moakley’s stands on issues of the day, legislative initiatives and interactions with constituent groups.
See also: related materials in Sub-Series 7.3 Press Releases.
Arrangement: Divided into two sub-series: Congressional Speeches and Non-Congressional Speeches
Description: This series encompasses all the audio recordings, video recordings and memorabilia collected by or given to Moakley during his nearly thirty years in Congress. The items often tell the story of Moakley’s trips to foreign lands, relationships with constituents, campaign strategy, public policy in action, events he attended and honors received by Moakley.
Arrangement: Divided into three sub-series: 9.1: Audio Recordings, 9.2: Video Recordings and 9.3: Memorabilia
Description: The images in this series document various aspects of Moakley’s activities as a congressman including congressional hearings and meetings, district events, political campaigns, foreign policy trips and publicity photos. The photographs are mostly prints but there are also slides, contact sheets, and negatives. Unidentified or undated photographs are listed at the end of each category.
See also: Photographs from Moakley’s early life in Series 11. Images available in digital format as noted.
Arrangement: Divided into 6 categories: Campaigns, Congress, District Projects, Events, People and Portraits and Publicity Photographs.
Restrictions: Materials may be restricted based on copyright status; consult Archivist.
Arrangement: Divided into four sub-series: 11.1: Political Papers, 11.2: Personal Papers, 11.3: Photographs and 11.4: Special Materials.