It was way more complicated than that. The 'community' at-large had legit concerns that when the T said there'd be "equal of better" replacement that they were getting an empty promise and that their transit levels would be shafted. That unfortunately was exactly what happened. However, 'community' input back in the late-70's/early-80's back when this was all being debated was a much more limited affair that left vastly less opportunity for individual voices to be heard. In Roxbury the process primarily went through state officials talking to civic leaders...community organizers, church leaders, lowest-level precinct appointees, hyper-local media figures, etc. It was considerably less representative of the public at large than the digital-age open input forums we are used to in this area where anyone sufficiently willing to sit through enough meetings can have their oral responses recorded for government record in the Response to Proposal comments section. And the state's outreach to Roxbury could hardly be all that honest to begin with: extremely limited meeting slates, lots of no-comment-allowed presentations where things were simply dictated to them, and of-its-era talking down & obfuscating to the public in general.From what I understand, people in the community at the time were not in favor of removing the elevated. The El was badly in need of rebuilding, yes, but fixing an old El to work in the 21st century is possible - just look at Chicago or New York.
So what you had is that the 'civic leaders' who were the only officially-deigned mouthpieces for the whole *very* diverse community at large were targeted one-by-one for their buy-in, even when it ran askew to those they were supposedly speaking for. With the Orange Line, the major church pastors along the corridor in particular had their support for the El teardown effectively bought-and-paid-for by back-scratching from City Hall and the state, and the perks of being granted exclusive access to a normally shut-out input process. Some of the loudest mouthpieces pounding the drumbeat that the El had to go were representing congregations where opinion was much more split, fraught, and controversial. That selective amplification was rolled in with the "equal or better" con to quash dissent by imposing the sense of inevitability over it all. Citizens could talk amongst themselves after church about how concerned they were that was going to make their mobility a ton harder and act as a de facto transfer of wealth out of the neighborhood at a time when it needed reinvestment. But they had no way of self-verifying just how big a crowd they shared those concerns with, because to hear their civic leaders tell it "everyone" wanted the El gone. There weren't enough breadcumbs linking pockets of small discussion, because of the way the process put those breadcumbs under lock-and-key of designated "leaders" whose personal motivations went way more top-down than bottom-up.
It was a tragic sequence of community suppression. It predictably has left wounds and lasting suspicion for the community input process to this day, with a trust gap that remains more severe in Roxbury than nearly all other neighborhoods. The fact that it was/is a majority African-American neighborhood with still-lingering generational & institutional effects of segregation predictably makes everyone involved look pretty bad through the lens of history. And it was a very much of-its-time sequence of events, the planning being hatched during Boston's post- white-flight nadir of the 70's in that transitional phase post- urban renewal when we weren't up for physically razing giant tracts of neighborhood anymore but were still passively driving a lot of redev policy that sought makeover-by-displacement...with the 80's being barely any more friendly to the fate of majority-minority neighborhoods than the pre- highway moratorium earth-salting era.
What passed for community input--with its not-at-all-subtle strain of anti- on the actual "input"--is completely different to how it's done today. You can't get away with an input process as flawed as what Roxbury was subject to 40 years ago with the Internet and social media making the whole logistics of it so much less top-heavy than it used to be. The 'community leaders' that the City/State so effectively picked off from that era wouldn't be able to buck their constituencies' voices long enough to stay annointed as 'leaders' with how many more tools there are now at the community's disposal to enforce bottom-up representation. In turn, the top-down presentation can't plausibly get away with thumbing its nose at the audience as brazenly as it used to. It's been trending that way ever since the late-90's and the first wave of Internet social connectivity (e.g. emergence of the local blogosphere). Not that they don't still try...we see that in real-time today with Baker/Pollack's heel turn on some of their own tankapalooza studies. And there's still some groaners of T presentation that hit a sour note for running roughshod over the crowd at a community meeting. But by and large it's a whole different and more inclusive universe now, such that it's hard to fit the OL relocation saga into present-day transpo politics. It truly was an alien 'bad old days' era. If there are any full transcripts of those 40-year-old OL relocation meetings scanned somewhere in the Transportation Library, you'd probably feel wholly present-day anger welling up at the dripping condescension on display. Shitty outreach attitudes were very bad, and very widespread...in a way that you almost never see today. The recent successes of STEP on the Green Line Extension and TransitMatters et al. with the RUR push define the first complete homegrown Internet generation's worth of advocacy as direct antitode to those bad old days. As a lot of the current community organizers involved in STEP/TM/etc. had their interest piqued watching the whole rancid process for Arborway Restoration and Silver Line planning go completely awry in that '95-04 decade before wondering out loud the senselessness of "Can't we do this way better NOT habitually punching ourselves???" and writing that first manifesto of a blog post from there. Where we stand today the next major evolution in transpo advocacy is going to be majority-minority communities showing similar success at driving the transpo/complete-streets narrative that Somerville (which is no doubt plenty diverse...but also from a richer starting place than Roxbury) has executed so well. You never know.
Without crossing the streams too far into more controversial general politics, those high school kids who've been at the forefront of so many marches this month are getting an education-by-fire on community organizing before they even enter the workforce and find their specialty. Some of them are no doubt going to take a keen interest in transpo nuts-and-bolts and how that policy enhances or inhibits a community's ability to flex itself. It's entirely possible you've got the heads of Roxbury's future version of STEP cutting their teeth on general community organizing today while high school is out for COVID, and are merely awaiting specialization-with-age to scatter that energy to other realms. In generic sociological terms, the demographic of those now-involved youth is going to be a fascinating one to watch evolve into future community advocacy.