Boston School Desegregation

Part I: Background

Cases across the nation

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) is widely cited, and rightly so, as the case that started it all. Overturning the decision rendered in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), it was an official recognition that separate was not equal after all. However, the Brown verdict couldn’t have come to be if there wasn’t a series of cases litigated across the nation. Likewise, implementation and combatting of the desegregation resistance could not have been done without the continued battle across the country. In the 1971 case of Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the North Carolina judge ruled that busing was an acceptable means to accomplish integration. With the idea being that equality can’t be accomplished unless the variable of race is involuntarily removed.1 In Keyes v. District no.1, Denver (1973), the factors and precedents defining de facto segregation were put in place.1 Judge Garrity would wait to hand down his ruling in Morgan v. Hennigan until 1974, even though both suits were filed in 1972 and the Keyes ruling came down in 1973.2 Citing the 1954, 1971, and 1973 cases Judge Garrity would find the Boston School Committee to be acting in violation of constitutional rights as described in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Finally, the Taylor v. New Rochelle Board of Education (1961) decision outlined the conscious effort of a school board to use residential segregation a la gerrymandered neighborhood schools, to be unconstitutional. It was also the first instance of a federal court ordering a Northern city to desegregate, setting off the battle against de facto segregation.

Building a case in Boston

The origins of battling for equal education in the courts of Massachusetts can be traced back to 1849. In the case of Roberts v. The City of Boston (1849), the courts ruled in favor of the City when the plaintiff attempted to send his daughter to a school closer to her home under the Equal Education Act of 1845.3 This validated segregation as the de jure code of law in Massachusetts and was one the legal precedents used in the ruling of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In the Roberts case, authority was affirmed for what was dubbed at the time, The General School Committee to maintain segregated schools and that it was not the role of the federal government to intervene. Come 1965 the state legislature would introduce and pass legislation for the Racial Imbalance, with strong backing from Republican Governor John Volpe.4 In line with the many other pieces of legislation in the vein of the Equal Education Act of 1845, this legislation was more symbolic than practical. This would make it very easy to challenge and eventually lead to the Morgan v. Hennigan 1974 decision which officially ordered the desegregation of schools and enforcement of the Imbalance Act.

Boston and the Movement. Framing Boston in Context.

Many questions will be subject to analysis in the following sections. How did the events in Boston play into the larger conceptualization known as the Civil Rights Movement? What factors kept legislation either ineffectual or incompletely implemented? Who were the players in either fighting for equality or fighting change? What can these interactions tell us about the intricate systems in place which keep the rich and powerful in their status and the poor and working classes in conflict with each other? And finally, how do all of these things tie into the movements of today and what lessons can we apply to forge a path forward to equality and freedom? Many of the suggested answers will be framed in the framework of the concepts of De jure vs. De facto segregation and overt vs. institutional racism as will be discussed next. Then, the aforementioned questions and conceptual frameworks will be illuminated by examining Boston in the court rooms, in the streets, in the political chambers, and in the hearts and minds of those in the City.

Part II: A Dual School System

De Jure vs. De Facto Segregation

De jure segregation, according to the author and professor Alan Anderson, is the separation of the races by ordinances set forth by the courts and legislatures. This system is typified by the segregation in the South but also observed in the lunch counters and public facilities of some Northern cities in the 1950’s. It is Plessy vs. Ferguson. De facto segregation, Anderson explains, can’t be observed through looking at court documents or “Whites Only” signage because it doesn’t appear in the official records but arises by the facts that surround circumstantial realities of the black community.5 While de facto segregation isn’t the official rule of law, it is clearly the result of coordinated maleficence.

As tenant movements arose and banded together in Boston and its surrounding major metropolitan areas such as Cambridge and Somerville, the issue of slumlords and discriminatory housing practices became central to the educational desegregation movement. The cost of rent in a black neighborhood in comparison to a white neighborhood of equal median income was significantly higher. Discriminatory real estate and industrial practices made upward mobilization very difficult. Yet even when a black or Puerto Rican family wanted to live in the superior housing projects that poor whites were afforded, they were met with terroristic evictions or violence from the residents. Such was the case with the Puerto Rican family which had their apartment firebombed in the South Boston D Street Projects.6

Discriminatory practices and intimidation become the “de facto” rule of law, in a manner similar to mob rule. While mob violence and mob rule is not always government sanctioned, the system’s complicity and passivity in allowing it to happen, makes it the default code. When the federal government and court systems fail to intervene to ensure equal protection, they allow mob rule to permeate. This brings into question whether the government and establishment are merely complicit or actively pulling the strings to keep groups of people oppressed.


Overt vs. Institutional Racism

“White racism is not primarily identified with the (often quite powerless) whites who are most vocally prejudiced, but with those who benefit most from the institutional structures that hold blacks down.” These words were spoken by James Green, former professor at UMass Boston whose collection of primary sources form the backbone of the research contained in this report. Understanding the distinction he is making is essential in understanding much of the crisis in Boston in and of itself as well as, as a microcosm of the social structure at large. Just looking at the actions of angry mobs and the epithets of virulently prejudiced people is like looking at a scab on a wound and not understanding the infection. As in the case with Boston, there was real and tangible advantages for a specific group of privileged individuals who benefitted from building racial tensions between poor and working class whites and poor and working class blacks.

Understanding white skin color, as a social status, is also key to understanding how wealthy elites are able to threaten working class whites with the “fear of the other.” As was the case in Boston, this fear is used to keep the masses at conflict with themselves and not with the ruling elite. While this was seen blatantly in the 1950’s and 1960’s in places such as Alabama and Mississippi, the more de facto systems that affected both majority and minority ethnic groups brought about a racism very different that in the South. When the courts decided to solve segregation through the integration of South Boston High School with students from Roxbury High, there was only marginally better structures in place in Southie than in Roxbury. In the early 1970’s South Boston High was sending no more than 4% of its graduates to college, 20% of its attendees were dropping out each year, classrooms were overcrowded, and the high school served mostly as “that thing” that residents of the neighborhood had in common. Roxbury high, meanwhile, was run down and in need of repair and was supplying very little quality education. So when the courts handed down the order to integrate the inferior South Boston High School with students from the even more inferior Roxbury High, very little effort was shown to address the actual systems of a failing Boston Public Schools Systems.

This type of “reform without remedy” is typical of the Northern Civil Rights Movement. For in the South, De Jure segregation was so blatant that John F. Kennedy had to negotiate peace with the Governor of Mississippi to ensure a black student could attend a public university. However, in the North, as will be seen with Boston, the fate of the city’s black and minority students was intimately linked with the well being and destiny of the city’s poor and working class white students. While racial conflict was almost inevitable, it was advantageous for the ruling elite – the so-called Boston Brahmins – to make sure segregation failed.6 For if low income white’s were to realize that by dropping their status that their skin color allows them and formed coalitions with low income blacks, real systematic and institutional change would be truly achievable.

Reports on the Boston school system

Jonathan Kozol’s “Death at an Early Age” was published in 1967 and documents Kozol’s teaching experiences in a predominantly black elementary school in the mid 1960’s. He documents the neglect of the facilities through an example of a broken window which breaks in December and is fixed in April, covered by a piece of cardboard. This window is not in a classroom however. This window is in an auditorium which houses several classes.7 Kozol also talks about the eventual opening of a new school to replace the Endicott, when opening the school would cost $200,000 more than placing the students into vacant white schools. This new school was of course, not a new building, but a renovated old Synagogue. The Beth El Synagogue, cost $125,000 to open, $10,000/year to repair, and $90,000/year to operate.8 Double sessions were being utilized and all means to prevent integration in the wake of the Racial Imbalance were being taken.

In 1963, Ruth Batson, Paul Parks, and others with the NAACP issued a statement to the Boston School Committee.9 In this statement, Ruth Batson and the NAACP Education Committee touch on the attitudes of the administrators in Boston Schools. In her interviews with six principals in the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Batson had one say that black students “might have difficulty in high school when competing with students from all over Boston, because he stated ‘Negroes don’t make their kids’ learn’” Another principal told Batson that she believed black students were just not capable of learning at the same rate as white children. At this point in 1963 there were no black principals in BPS. Also reported were out of date buildings and textbooks, racially unrealistic depictions of race in elementary material, and heavily unequal class sizes and ethnic teacher to student ratios. Paul Parks reported on the thirteen predominantly black schools as old and outdated, the buildings were erected in 1868, 1870, 1906, 1908, 1909, 1912, 1916, 1922, 1932, and 1937. Quoted is the Sargent reports findings that four predominantly black schools be abandoned due to health and safety issues and eight be renovated to meet standard.

At a follow up meeting with the Boston School Committee (BSC), the Committee would cut the mic on Batson at the first mention of de facto segregation. Clearly the Committee would not respond to pressure from citizens in the form of marches and protests or in the arena of city hall chambers.

The Racial Imbalance Act

On April 14, 1965 the Massachusetts Board of Education issued a report finding that 59% of nonwhite students in the commonwealth were enrolled in BPS. Of the 55 schools in Massachusetts that were deemed racially imbalanced, 44 of them were found to be in the City of Boston. Many of the predominantly black schools were recommended for closure or renovation consistent with the Sargent report. Furthermore the report noted that the segregation resulted in inferior education for minorities, as well as creating inferiority and superiority complexes in black students and white students, respectively. This report commonly referred to as the Kiernan Commission, for Owen Kiernan – then commissioner of the Board of Education, setup the parameters which defined racial imbalance in schools. Any school being composed of more than 50% minority races was said to be racially imbalanced.3 This bizarre definition meant that a school being composed of 100% white students would still be deemed racially balanced. Since Kiernan and the Board officially named their report “Because It Is Right – Educationally,” many ironies can be applied to the ineffectual nature of the reports’ suggestions and especially of its successor The Racial Imbalance Act

The Racial Imbalance Act was passed through the Massachusetts legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor John Volpe who suggested the legislation based on the Kiernan report and his desire to be seen as addressing the issue. The reality of the legislation, however, is that of a more sinister nature. The bill that was signed by the governor on August 18, 1965 would not contain the calls for busing in the original Kiernan report. It would also serve as a reinforcement for wealthy ruling class elites. It did not call for the inclusion of the entire metropolitan area nor the suburbs. As the local newspaper Community News stated “Forced segregation has been a policy not only to keep black people in worse conditions, but also to keep all poor and working people disunited and competing with each other and in worse situations than the rich have for themselves.”10 Under the Racial Imbalance Act the same imbalance parameters as the Kiernan Commission were in pace and any school system found not cooperating with integration could be withheld funds.

This would turn out to be the case as Kiernan and the Boston Board of Education (BOE) would withhold $16 million in state funds by 1967.3 This is in addition to the $4 million in federal funds which were being withheld by the Civil Rights Commission as they elected to defer payments under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 until an investigation into Boston schools could be conducted. So while at the state, local, and federal level the Boston School Committee was coming under fire for operating a dual school system, it should have been easy to coerce them into course correcting. Yet this was not the case. Under the Imbalance Act any school district could file an appeal in court, which of course the BSC was more than happy to do in order to drag the process out. The BSC had already scored a victory in removing busing language from the Imbalance Act. These two battles had already made the BSC heroes in many people’s eyes. It would only serve to strengthen the committee and secure them easy re-elections when these victories were combined with strong rhetoric against the Republican Governor and largely suburban composed state legislator. To many, including minorities, this was a case of privileged suburbs trying to dictate how working class people of the city should live. While the Committee had been largely ineffectual for a long time, they now had exactly what they needed – an enemy to battle in Judge Garrity and the suburban legislators. All thanks to a piece of legislation that, on its face, seemed like the next step in the civil right struggle.


Morgan v. Hennigan

After years of knuckle dragging, 1974 was a year in which change came and it came rapidly. The NAACP would file a lawsuit against the Boston School Committee on March 14, 1972. They would put forth the charge the BSC, in conjunction with the Board of Education and Education Commissioner, were in violation of the 13th and 14th amendments of the U.S. constitution as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.2 Their charges of de facto segregation built on the precedent set in other Northern cities and were not unheard of charges against the city of Boston. Yet Judge Arthur Garrity would not rule on this case until June 21, 1974. Supposedly, he wanted established legal precedent and would allow the Keyes v. Denver case to be settled before handing his decision down. It was argued in the local paper Dorchester Community News, that the delay in handing down a ruling was to ensure that the final ruling was protective of the suburbs.11 This delay in ruling, having come after Keyes even though Keyes was filed much later, made people on both sides of the ruling skeptical of its motivations.

What the ruling lacked in effective remedies and implementation, it made up some in its thorough descriptions of de facto segregation. In one of the BSC’s reaction to the Imbalance Act the implementation of a new open enrollment policy was instituted. However the court found that the BSC acted in bad faith and used the open enrollment policy to benefit white students. The court found that the use of portables or other extensions were most heavily used at all-white schools. In schools composed of 95% or more of white students there were a total of 26 portable being used and 8 portable for schools 85-94% white. All other ethnic composition brackets averaged 3 portable.12 This indicated that instead of utilizing the open enrollment policy or spending substantially less money to bus students, the BSC elected to maintain segregation over the academic interests of children of all ages. The BSC was found to have used “feeder” systems in which white neighborhoods had “junior highs” and black neighborhoods had “middle schools.” Junior high schools ended after 9th grade and tracked students into high schools with grades 10-12 which tended to be more geared toward academic achievement. Middle schools ended after 8th grade and tracked students into high schools with grades 9-12 which tended to teach more vocational courses and were less geared toward academic achievement.12 The court gave the verdict that the BSC’s decision to convert the black community’s two largest junior high schools into middle schools was done entirely arbitrarily and implicated, most plainly, that they intended to maintain a dual school system.13

Additionally, at the time of the ruling there were 4,243 teachers in BPS. Of these 4,243 teachers, 231 of them were permanent black teachers. 161 of these 231 black teachers (70%) were placed in predominantly black schools. Also underrepresented were black principals and black guidance counselors. This amplified the issue of feeder systems since, as Batson pointed out in her meeting with the BSC in the 1960’s, the majority of administrator believed black students to be inferior. Thus they were not encouraged to pursue high academic achievements in theory or practice and instead were manipulated from a young age to pursue jobs that administrators thought acceptable for them. This sentiment would echo the findings of the Kiernan report and arguments made by Ruth Batson and Paul Parks.

Garrity would implement integration starting September 12, 1974 (the opening of school was delayed a week to coordinate security and police). He would initiate three phases. Phase I would involve redistricting school zones and busing. The major district pairing being Roxbury and South Boston. Phase I was almost entirely based on the recommendations of the BOE in the Imbalance Act as the BSC failed to submit an acceptable plan. It sought to reduce the number of predominantly black schools from sixty-eight to forty-four and reduce the amount of students attending imbalanced schools from 30,000 to 10,000 students. Phase II was made by an assembled group of “masters” who were to submit a plan based on their ‘expertise’ in desegregation.13 The masters panel was assembled in large part due to the BSC’s lack of cooperation and would place South Boston High into receivership, out of control of the BSC. The Committee would also be stripped of its ability to make appointments and of its ability to oversee implementation efforts.14 Phase II, implemented in 1975 also put a citizens council in charge of monitoring desegregation efforts and as a system of checks and balances to counter resistance. Magnet school districts were created and schools were pair with colleges to improve education. Charlestown and East Boston would also become involved in the desegregation efforts. Phase III called for the eventual disinvolvement of the courts in the administration of BPS.

From Birth of a Nation to The Moynihan Report – Sophistication in Racism

A brief note and digression on what Malcolm X would call the problem of the white Northern liberal should be made. Whether well intended but ignorant or intentional and malicious, efforts such as “The Moynihan Report” drove to increase the notion that black children were “culturally deprived” and that their parents were just not committed to education and societal betterment.8 The idea of coded language and a departure from the blatant racism of “Birth of a Nation” allowed institutional racism to persist under the guise of sympathetic paternalism. It has been asserted that the term “imbalance” itself is a more suitable term to the ‘sympathetic’ Northern liberal who feels the term “segregation” only ought to apply to stark and often violent racial order politics of the South.8 It is in light of these concepts that a state legislator of suburban representatives were able to dictate the futures of poor and working class urban children.

Part III: The Political Machine

The Boston School Committee

On July 29, 1975 a group of black residents filed suit seeking to eliminate the at-large voting systems in place for School Committee and City Council positions. While this would not happen until 1989(15) – for the wrong reasons, the Committee remained a viable seat through which individuals could enhance their political careers. The irony of course was that this was an unpaid position. A position that was entirely voluntary, voted by an at-large system, and held an obscene amount of authority was a seven member board with a chair. James Hennigan, of Morgan v. Hennigan fame, was the chair during the time of the lawsuit but Louise Day Hicks and John Kerrigan would also launch fairly successful political careers from the Committee. The seven member committee was voted on in an at-large system in a city-wide election. This meant that, while representatives could theoretically be from anywhere in the city, they made decisions that affected all neighborhoods and districts in the city. This gave an almost impossible-to-overcome advantage to South Boston with it’s still highly efficient Irish Catholic Democratic machine. While other districts surely would have liked to elect representatives more interested in their own district, they would have needed to coordinate with other neighborhoods and districts to choose representative who could overcome the Southie machine. The committee would remain all white until the election of John O’Bryant in 1977 making him the first black in the position since 1895.

Of course, this was only able to happen in part because citizens of the entire city started to realize how detrimental the BSC had been over the years. It was able to happen because the BSC had been stripped of much of its power by 1977 and by supporters of ROAR leaving the city. As one citizen was quoted in Spark magazine in April 1975:

“it involves the control of wealth, because you get Federal money, you get State money, and you get city money pouring into one location – The Boston School Committee. And where the hell’s it going? I certainly don’t see any improvement in education.”16

Indeed all of this money flooded through the BSC yet new facilities were scarcely built and South Boston High was only sending 4% of its graduates to college. At the same time political careers were being built from the position and those connected to it were benefitting. So when Mayor Flynn removed the at-large voting system for the BSC in 1989 it was a victory right?


A Tale of Two Mayors

Mayor Kevin White assumed office in 1968 and held the position until 1984. He just barely won the office in the 1967 campaign, narrowly beating out Boston School Committee member Louise Day Hicks in a runoff. He would go on to hold mostly moderate positions when it came to desegregating the public schools. He was seen as in large part, being complacent in the ROAR’s obstructive actions due his unwillingness to take them on. He was not held in high favor in the black community either. His actions were seen as tepid and lukewarm. When residents of the predominantly black Columbia Point projects banded together to defend the neighborhood against racist offenses, Mayor White sent a Tactical Police Force in to patrol the neighborhood.17 This move was seen in the same light as his refusal to call for federal troops to protect students. He was seen as allowing mob rule to dictate events and policing the defendants but not the aggressors.

At the very least, Mayor White at least tepidly supported desegregation. Once Morgan v. Hennigan started to be implemented and the federal civil rights commission pressured him, he voiced is support for desegregation efforts. White would hold office until 1984 when phase III had been in place and the white flight was in full bloom. Afterward Raymond Flynn ascended to the Mayor position, which he would ride all the way to a U.S. ambassadorship. Flynn was a South Boston Irish Catholic Democrat. He had been spotted at ROAR meetings while he was the South Boston representative in the Massachusetts House of Representative.18 Between his Representative position and Mayor position, he served on the City Council – a familiar position to those in ROAR or in the Irish Catholic Democratic machine. In a 2014 interview with WBUR, a 75-year-old retired Flynn expressed his remorse over the crisis. He expresses his displeasure and laments the students who were affected, who didn’t get the normal experiences associated with a great high school experience.19 That is to say, those white students at South Boston high who didn’t get the typical prom and graduation experience according to Flynn. Of course he does not lament Southie’s low graduation rate or lack of college going students from Southie. Nor does he lament the real estate and corporate interests who displaced the poor and working class whites of Southie. So perhaps it is no surprise then, that it was Flynn in 1989 who dissolved the at-large voting system of the Boston School Committee. Instead he made it a position requiring appointment – from the mayor. He cited as his reasoning, wanting to take the government out of schools.20 Of course this has the opposite effect and took place at the peak of the white flight. It happened as minorities were gaining democratic majorities and voting bloc power.

State Legislators and City Council

As stated previously, the Massachusetts State Legislator was (and is) composed mostly of suburban representative. The City Council, who had such responsibilities such as deciding how and where to allocate funds, was under the stronghold of the Irish Catholic Democratic machine. As evidenced by successful campaigns from Hicks, John Kerrigan, and Raymond Flynn, the City Council served as a stepping stone through which powerful government positions could be obtained. But if the state legislator mostly represented wealthy, suburban elites and the City Council mostly represented the Boston Brahmin elite ruling class how was selling out Southie, who was making decisions for the majority?

Louise Day Hicks

Louise Day Hicks was born to a prominent South Boston family in 1916. Her father, Judge William J. Day, was an influential and integral part of South Boston. As a judge he held a great deal of influence and respect within elite circles as well as with the residents of South Boston. As a real estate investor and director of Mt. Washington Cooperative Bank of South Boston he held a lot of sway the direction of the neighborhood. As a lawyer he represented Southie, not to the exclusion of others but, with a degree of malevolence not shown elsewhere. He was very important and very wealthy. A symbol of the old ruling class that remained as industry left Southie and poverty and violence increased.21 When Professor Maurice Ford of Harvard ventured to Southie with three of his students to see what was going on, he walked down William J. Day Boulevard before being attacked for having two black students in his group.22 Separating the Day family from South Boston was impossible. Louise Day Hicks would establish a career largely built off the reputation and resources supplied to her from her family. Yet, as a real estate investor (her profession by trade before being a full time politician) she was integral in the efforts of the small ruling class of Southie to weed out and sell out poor working class families in Southie.23 By using her connections she could buy support from the people with her left hand and with the right hand foreclose their homes and gentrify the neighborhood.

As Fred Halstead points out about Hick and Kerrigan in the pamphlet Busing and Racial Conflict in Boston:

“[they] built political careers and a set of neighborhood political machines by playing on the fears of residents of the old Boston Irish neighborhoods that the black ghetto would take them over if the schools were desegregated”23

She would ride this wave to becoming an elected member of the BSC in 1961, becoming the chairperson in 1963. Her campaign slogan urged voters to select the “only mother on the ticket” though it should be noted that her own children attended private Catholic schools as most of the ruling class’ children did.24 She would use her popularity from fighting busing to run a campaign for mayor as an ‘anti-establishment’ candidate who would fight back against the tyranny of the authoritarian government. She would lose in a closely contested race to Kevin White in the runoff. She was able to turn this into a position with the City Council where she served from 1969 – 1971. She had to leave that post, however, in order to take her place in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Massachusetts’ 9th district. She would serve one term before being voted out. She would return to Boston Politics, getting a seat on the City Council in 1973. She would become the first woman president of the Boston City Council in 1976 and served in that role for a year when she lost her reelection campaign to stay in the Council. She was able to become president of the Council in large part due to her prominent role in establishing ROAR – Restore Our Inalienable Rights.

The Irish Catholic Democratic Machine and Fear as a Political Tool

Another quick digression should be made to discuss the political climate in Boston in general terms. In a flyer distributed by the Center for United Labor Action titled Don’t Be Fooled by Hicks and Kerrigan, the flyer states “when they can get whites to say ‘I’ll take any conditions, just don’t send my children to school with blacks’ they have won the battle.”25 Kerrigan was a member of the Boston School Committee. He unsuccessfully ran for District Attorney on a promise to crackdown “on those thugs from Roxbury.” He promised to “keep those criminal out of South Boston High.” And he mastered the art of blaming suburban liberals while at the same time selling out working class folks.18 Louise Day Hicks infamously claimed that there were “at least one hundred black people walking around in the black community who have killed white people during the last two years.”24 Yet, in the years of 1973 and 1974 there were twenty-four instances of a black man killing a white man in a timeframe where 223 murders had taken place. Many of the twenty-four may have been attributable to gang warfare, retaliation, aggravated assault, or other causes. The point is to say, that Hicks, Kerrigan, and others understood this but they needed the fear of the Irish Catholic neighborhoods to peak at the point of paranoia in order to manipulate them into looking the other way when infrastructure of all kinds was crumbling in Boston at this time.


Formation and Operation

ROAR (Restore Our Inalienable Rights) was founded by Louise Day Hicks and twenty-five other women in 1974. The movement had the original name of the “Save Boston Committee.” Being that Hicks was the primary proprietor of the group and a City Councilwoman at the time, meetings were held weekly in the chambers of City Hall. A message Ruth Batson took to mean that Mayor White and the rest of the City officials were going to allow lawlessness and bigotry.8 The irony in all of this of course being for an “anti-establishment” and “don’t tread on me” themed group, they were heavily ingrained in the political culture of the time. ROAR would become decisive but in the years 1974-1976, they had both tepid and fervent support from important political figures. Calculated politicians like Raymond Flynn would try to keep his associations and allegiances with ROAR away from the public view.18 Yet there were teachers and guidance counselors who were fervently in league with ROAR as they saw Judge Garrity and not the BSC’s incompetence as the reasons for the turbulence in the schools. The formed student chapters and had student representative present in desegregated schools. They would soar in popularity and peak quickly, losing favor before the end of the decade.

ROAR would hold official campaigns such as school boycotts which would keep over 50% of white students out of school, taking a page out of Laurie Pritchett’s book of stealing your enemies tactics. They would organize rallies, marches, and protests. These protests could quickly become violent as memorialized in the infamous pictures of the white man using an American flag to attack a black man and the storming and breaking of the offices of Ted Kennedy. They would organize campaigns and attach speakers to the top of cars and form barricades to block traffic. In fact, some politicians feared that if Garrity’s order spread to the outreaches of the city and metropolitan areas, ROAR would hold up traffic on bridges and interstates. The would blare messages and distressing sounds from the speakers and beep their horns outside of schools or outside of the offices of politicians who they felt were sympathetic to desegregation causes.

At their weekly meetings, they would have regular speakers; Hicks, Kerrigan, Rita Graul, Virginia Sheehy, and Pixie Palladino. They would also at times have special guest speakers such as on October 23, 1974 when some desegregation sympathizers infiltrated the somewhat secretive and paranoid meeting. These infiltrators noted the distrustful nature of the meetings and that at time someone would be outed as not knowing anybody else their and a potential government spy.18 The October 23, 1974 speaker was Leo Kahian, a candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in George Wallace’s American Party. He would speak of his love for God and Country and his hatred and distrust for the Federal government and abortion (apparently there was a connection through the Birch society for anti-busing and anti-abortion movements). He ended his speech with a warning that if ROAR lost in Boston then the United States would become a communist state that takes your children from you like “Russia or China.”18 John Kerrigan would also speak that night. He would speak of how he denied students from Charlotte, North Carolina the ability to use the facilities of BPS to talk about why they felt desegregation in Charlotte was successful. Kerrigan told the crowd that he wouldn’t allow that filthto be spoken in his schools. He then painted what he claimed was the true picture of post Swann v. Charlotte school which was that of black student harassing white students and sexually assaulting the daughters of white parents.

The unsubstantiated claims and threats of sexual assault were a common theme. Many whites still had the image of blacks perpetuated by “Birth of a Nation” where blacks were trying to infiltrate white neighborhoods to carry their daughters off into the night. At ROAR meetings, many unsubstantiated accounts of sexual assault were made.18 Yet it was essential for the notion that this was either a reality or possibility to be accepted amongst white parents. Other common themes at the meetings would be insults hurled at predominantly black schools where white students were being bused as schools that “taught nothing but knife play.”18 Local chapters would report on the happenings of their neighborhoods. At one meeting, a man from Hyde Park would celebrate the demonstrations at Hyde Park High. Essentially reporting that the terrorizing of schools children was going swimmingly. And of course there were many more accusations of communism.

The essential underpinnings of ROAR are built on fallacies. When it come to restoring inalienable rights, it begs the question of whose rights are being trampled on? Or when they were called the Save Boston Committee, who were they saving Boston from? And at the heart of all of this were supposed liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrats using Birch society rhetoric and rebelling against big government with big government. The desegregation efforts were headed up by grassroots organizer even if the movement got co-opted by the NAACP. It was started in the grassroots and worked its way into official policy (even if the eventual policies were not what they asked for). ROAR on the other hand was a top-down organization headed by individuals in government.

Allegations of Corruption

ROAR would be accused of corruption on more than one occasion. Allegation were made that Hicks used her various positions to get her son patronage jobs with the City of Boston and to help keep him out of jail.16 While in the City Council and head of the Ways and Means Committee, she was accused of withholding funds from the Model Cities program that were supposed to go to help renovate the Franklin Park area of the mostly black portion of Dorchester. In the June 24, 1975 edition of East Boston Community News Pixie Palladino was accused and shown to have set up a patronage job with the City of Boston for her husband.27 Pixie, while protesting in East Boston High School, would personally to prohibit black students from entering classrooms. ROAR had become quite the efficient political vehicle in a short amount of time. It would soon fall out of favor along with the traditional Boston School Committee as ROAR’s action and incitement of violence across the city reached a fever pitch.

Similarities to the Tea Party Movement

A screen on the 10 o’clock News on WGBH captures the scene. Protesters, furious about the court’s decisions, call for the hanging of Judge Garrity. They scream for rope. They disparage Senator Kennedy, mocking his dead brothers and ill son, They tie tea bags on their picket signs.26 The message is being sent – don’t impose your authority onto us. So this populous uprising is a sign that the people are organizing themselves in order to combat the villainous forces that would be otherwise untouchable, right? Well not so fast. To understand the ROAR movement it is easiest to look at a contemporary movement: The Tea Party movement. Both had the veneer of a populist uprising while receiving their funds, resources, rhetoric, and enemies from elitist groups propping up Birch society style arguments about freedom from government intervention and tyranny. The strangest difference being that while the Tea Party can be traced to Koch Industries and far-right groups, the ROAR movement was started by supposedly liberal Democrats. While the TEA Party used Mexicans and Muslims as their boogeymen who were trying to take over the white dominant society, ROAR had African Americans. In both instances, disenfranchised whites were pitted against other disenfranchised groups for fear of losing the little status above the others that having white skin provided them. Both used the rhetoric and imagery, i.e. tea bags, associated with populist sentiments against powerful governments. In both instances, it turned out that it was elites stirring the pot in order to keep the masses distracted and divided while their agenda got served.

Part V: Movements and Reactions of the People

Ruth Batson

Ruth Batson was born in 1921 to West Indian immigrants. Her father died when she was young and she was primarily raised by her mother. While Ruth was in grammar school, her mother was taking classes at the same level. Because while her mother was not raised educated, she understood education as the means to liberation. This instilled in Ruth a sense that education was the only mean by which her community reach equality on their own terms. She would become heavily involved in local groups such as the Parents’ Federation in the mid-to-late 1940’s.8 While this group consisted of mostly white women, they were foremost at the time in advocating for equal education and politicized Batson’s involvement. The Parents’ Federation would disband early in the 1950’s as allegation of a communist agenda tore them apart. After an unsuccessful bid for School Committee, she would join the NAACP in 1953 as Head of the Public Education Sub-Committee – which was newly formed for her. She would become the first woman President of the New England Regional NAACP in 1957. After criticizing it for its inefficiency she would take over and lead the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). She would become the director of the METCO program, being heavily involved in equal education not just inner city or black children, but for all children. In the 1970’s she would work for Boston University, directing the Consultation and Education program as well as the School Desegregation Research project. She would become synonymous with the battle for equal education and in many ways is the Ella Baker of Boston and of education as her influence is seen in a number of groups even if she isn’t memorialized in traditional tellings of the Civil Rights Movement.

Freedom Schools, Protests, Boycotts, and Media Coverage

Owen Kiernan was strongly opposed to Stay-Out-For-Freedom school boycotts. As commissioner of the Board of Education of Massachusetts he had a particular notion of quality education looked like. He thought attendance numbers and individual effort, making the most of slim opportunities was the key to success. As William O’Connor said in 1964 when he was the newly made chair of the BSC “we have no inferior education in our schools. What we have been getting is an inferior type of student.”8 He would with the BOE setup programs like Operation Counterpoise to attack what they saw as the issue of black child ‘culturally deprived.’8 They did not understand things like boycotts or Freedom schools as a means to exercise democratic control of education as they wanted and as they saw best for their children.

If someone tuned into the news or read the paper, they wouldn’t have known that there was a desegregation force. They may have thought that this was a story of Judge Garrity versus racist white people in Boston. News coverage was of attacks like those on Yvon Jean-Louis and rocks being thrown as school buses. Very little attention was paid to the counter movements. When 20,000 turned out for a march against racism on December 4, 1974, the media gave it little attention. When, on the following day, 3,000 people turned out for an ‘anti-busing’ rally the media coverage portrayed the City as one where racism couldn’t be overcome and showed the ‘movement’ as dead. Even Coretta Scott King and A. Philip Randolph couldn’t garner much press attention in comparison to Louise Day Hicks.

Yet the grassroots were there. People were marching and demonstrating regularly. Operation Exodus and even METCO were coming up with unique solutions to getting their children the education they deserved. Ellen Jackson and others were establishing Freedom Schools in the vein of other Northern cities at the time. At the heart of the issue was the right to self-determination. Never having a strong concentration of blacks, Boston never had the calls for economic Garvey-like self-determination that cities like Newark, Chicago, and Oakland had. While Batson and Jackson were raised in cultures of Garvey’s teachings, they wanted equal education anyway that they could get it. As Jackson talks about in an interview with Washington University from 1989, the black children had to get taken out of black communities in order to get a fair education.27 While the BSC was arguing for the “defense of neighborhood schools” they were strategically disadvantaging schools in black neighborhoods, while preferentially transferring white students out of overcrowded and rundown schools. In this sense Freedom schools were a way to gain actual neighborhood schools and self-determination. The Freedom School Institute would become less of a school and more of what Jackson says others would call the “Black Pentagon”.27 A small movement aimed at teaching children things important to them, became the base of operation to ensure the safety of both black and white students. They became the central communicator with different outside players and government players, running their communications through them. When Garrity put the CCCO in charge of overseeing integration, it was largely due to the pressure from Batson, Jackson, and the grassroots demanding the right to democratically control schools.

Operation Exodus and METCO

Operation exodus sprung out of the Parents’ Association and a desire to dispel the notions that black children were culturally deprived because their parents cared not about education. Betty Johnson, of both movements, describes the movement as a reaction to attending meetings with the BSC and “blame them for their kids being stupid.”8 They researched open schools, coordinated transportation, and held fundraisers. They were not trying to overtake or invade white neighborhoods, Johnson explains, they wanted to get their children the best education possible so that they could come back to the black community and use their knowledge in skills to reinvest in the community. Indeed, this paints a very different picture than ROAR meetings where blacks were portrayed as trying to steal white parents’ daughters and invade white neighborhoods. Exodus would bus 250 students across the city in 1965, 450 in 1966, and 600 in 1967. They would bus mostly elementary children. These children would often be relegated to the back of classrooms as certain schools resented black parents finding a way to utilize open enrollment policies. Exodus would also setup tutor programs, independent courses about African history, community outreach programs, political advocacy, and was geared toward building community strength so that the community could be in control of its own destiny and not elected officials from affluent backgrounds. Exodus would fade overtime as METCO became the predominant mode of transporting students.

METCO stands for Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity. It was built off of the strength of success of Operation Exodus. Ruth Batson, who would serve as the initial director of the program, had hoped it would send a message to the BSC. Yet it was highly encouraged by Hicks and the Committee. It fit into the BSC and ROAR narrative that suburban liberals were the cause of conflict in Boston. They thought that by allowing black students into the suburbs, it would bring suburban residents to their cause. And surely some did, as they saw it the “great other” much like racist whites in Boston. The BSC was also in favor of it because part of their rhetoric that made them successful in the past was railing against the Massachusetts legislature made up of suburban representatives dictating events and actions in Boston while protecting themselves. METCO received fund from the U.S. Office of Education as well as local funds. By the mid 1970’s they were busing 2,500 students to thirty-eight different suburbs. By 2015, that number was 3,300 student.

The program has come under fire in recent days due to suburban taxpayers being unwilling to subsidize it (even if the cost is minimal). Districts have gradually withdrawn from the program and METCO has become severely underfunded, bringing the ire of supporters as well. Yet school costs are still tied to estate taxes, which is always going to benefit the suburbs and also make mobilization through social and economic levels exponentially harder. Even with a successful METCO, there would be a large gap to close in order to gain adequate neighborhood schools inside the City, assuming all METCO students went on to reinvest in their communities. In this light, Garrity’s ruling, which came under fire from those in left leaning groups and black communities as protective of the suburbs and elites, can be seen as another in a long line of inadequate rulings that do nothing to address the actual societal ills that segregation and class warfare present.

Tenant movements and organized labor

When Martin Luther King Jr. came to Boston to try and hold court with the Boston School Committee in 1965 he was rebuffed and met with ambivalence. He would lead a march of 40,000 people and accuse Boston, amongst other things, “slumlordism.” The idea of slumlordism is an important one to discuss when talking about de facto segregation. When Louise Day Hicks was a real estate investor, by trade, she held the ability to hold South Boston hostage. Using the threat of minority groups, she could sell Southie out to capitalist corporate interests. Terrorist evictions and discriminatory practices could be maintained across the city because it benefitted elites to keep the races in conflict.

In the 1970’s though, Tenant movements banded together to fight for equality in housing in Boston and surrounding Metropolitan areas such as Cambridge and Somerville. These tenant groups would fight against discriminatory practices, as well as inform residents of the actions and implications being perpetrated by the Boston School Committee. They served as a valuable way for residents in a city without strong centers of black leadership to unite around the issues. Without such movements they wouldn’t have been able to coordinate getting John O’Braynt on the School Committee or form neighborhood watches in order to prevent white terrorism and the many attacks of young black students.

When Andrew Square was the center of many muggings of young black students, the tenants movement formed neighborhood watches to fight back against this. The groups would be denounced as Communists by ROAR and antagonized by the police.18 Providing another example of what happens when oppressed people try to organize themselves to battle against the current of establishment intimidation and their complicity in allowing the violence of mob rule.

Part VI: Residual Effects: Boston Today and the State of the Movement.

Looking at Boston today

So ultimately, what was gained from the struggle in Boston? As with most things, it is a mixed bag. Boston Public Schools has improved its schools systems. While it remains one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States, there are many opportunities that the city now provides that it didn’t before. Much of this is thanks to the “Massachusetts Miracle” which saw Massachusetts become a hotbed for technological innovation as well as shifting attitudes about public education in the 1990’s. Yet racial inequality and systems of institutional racism still exist. Gentrification has caused increased racial borders as there is only so much affordable housing available. Many of the white residents fled to the suburbs and many minorities transplanted to cities like Brockton and Randolph or neighborhoods such as Mattapan or Roxbury where living is affordable. Traditional communities have largely left Boston as corporate interests have taken over, as has been the trend across the country. There is still a distinct sense of separate communities in Boston. But instead of the poor white neighborhoods or Colonial Housing Projects and black communities of Roxbury, there is mostly poor black neighborhoods and gentrified neighborhoods. At the end of the day, the winners in Boston may have truly been the suburban liberals that ROAR railed against and the Irish Catholic Democratic machine which sold the Irish neighborhoods out.

Boston and the Civil Rights Movement

I am forced to conclude, however, that the victory in Boston was for the Boston Brahmins and suburban ruling classes. This is the rule, however, and not the exception to the Civil Rights Movement and the form it took post Martin Luther King’s assassination. The socialist tinged movements for education or democratic control of neighborhoods were stifled by the usual actors in the government and their far-right conspirators. As was the case with the Black Panthers or SNCC under Stokely Carmichael’s direction, when the issue of transforming the system arose in place of superficial or symbolic legislative acts, the Boston movements was snuffed out. Had the Boston movement succeeded in the vein of Batson and Jackson’s vision, all children of all backgrounds would have access to quality education that would have been guided by the direction and needs of each community. Doing this would require a coalition of races, willing to sacrifice privileges inherent of a skin color. Doing this would have required dropping the limited benefits of being tied to ‘the system.’ Understanding this, elites used diversionary tactics typical of the the battle against de facto segregation to keep poor and working class people of different races in competition with one another. Ultimately, Boston might have just been another one in the win column for the unrelenting power structure.

Summary – Issues, Causes, and where to go from here

Contained in this report is very little about the violence and actions of racist whites in the city that can be easily accessed in old news clippings from TV and papers. Instead this report challenges the reader to understand the issues in Boston as a complex confluence of different interests which conspired to quell a potential social transformation. This report posits that those in ROAR and the Irish Catholic Democratic machine manipulated people’s prejudices in order to keep working class people in conflict with one another as they advanced their own interests. These actions are seen as typical responses to social movements, as typified in current memory with the Tea Party movement. By contrasting the rhetoric of elites who portrayed blacks as dangerous and out to overthrow whites, with the actual people and causes involved in gaining equal education I hope the ways in which elites keep people diverted is illuminated. Additionally by examining the legal histories, rulings of Judge Garrity, legislation of Republican Governor Volpes, and decisions by the suburban state legislature I hope that the reader looks at what actually defines liberal policy. Do the so-called liberal policies of the North which act paternalistically and patronizing toward poor communities, actually help transform social structures? My opinion is that until communities can more directly control through democratic means, the education of their own children – there can be no real change. This requires integration since democracy itself requires the freedom of all, not the freedom of some.


1. Adkins, John F., James R. McHugh, and Katherine Seay. Desegregation: the Boston Orders and their origin. Boston: Boston Bar Association, Committee on Desegregation, 1975. Print.

2. Buell, Emmett H., and Richard A. Brisbin. School desegregation and defended neighborhoods: the Boston controversy. Lexington Mass.: Lexington , 1982. Print.

3. Wolff, Jeremy. A Timeline of Boston School Desegregation with Emphasis on 1964 – 1976. Northeastern University School of Law. 1991. resourcefiles/Boston%20Desegregation%20Timeline.pdf

4. Taylor, Steven J. L. Desegregation in Boston and Buffalo: the influence of local leaders. Albany, N.Y: State U of New York Press, 1998. Print.

5. Nunncenter. YouTube. YouTube, 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 May 2017.

6. “IS Statement on Boston School Busing Crisis”

7. Kozol, Jonathan. Death at an early age. New York, NY: Bantam, 1970. Print.

8. Theoharis, Jeanne, and Komozi Woodard. Groundwork: local black freedom movements in America. New York: New York U, 2005. Print.

9. Batson, Ruth. “Statement to the Boston School Committee June 11, 1963.” Northeastern University, n.d. Web. Replication of the letter presented by Batson and the NAACP.

10. “From the Racial Imbalance Law to the court order, Busing: treating the symptoms but not the disease” by the staff of Community News as appears in the April 15, 1975 issue.

11. “The Tragedy of Boston” The Busing Crisis Edition as appears in the October edition of Dorchester Community News issue number 10.

12. Dentler, Robert A., and Marvin B. Scott. Schools on trial: an inside account of the Boston desegregation case. Cambridge, Mass: Abt , 1981. Print.

13. Morgan v. Hennigan. U.S. Federal District Court – Massachusetts. 21 June 1974. N.p., n.d. Web. Judge Garrity’s Ruling Opinion.

14. Kifner, John. “South Boston High Placed Under U.S. Court Officer.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 10 Dec. 1975. Web. 17 May 2017.

15. “Boston TV News Digital Library.” School committee by appointment – Boston TV News Digital Library. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.

16. April 1975 edition of “Spark” interview with a white parent from southie “Southie Parent attacks racism” pages 4-5

17. “The Racist Offensive Against Busing” – The Lessons of Boston: How to Fight Back by Willie Mae Reid, Peter Camejo, and others November 1974 Pathfinder Press, Inc. New York, N.Y.

18. “The Battle of Boston: An Investigation of ROAR” Report from the Weathermen.

19. “‘It Was Like A War Zone’: Busing In Boston.” ‘It Was Like A War Zone’: Busing In Boston | WBUR News. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.

20. “‘It Was Like A War Zone’: Busing In Boston.” ‘It Was Like A War Zone’: Busing In Boston | WBUR News. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.

21. American families. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1985. Print.

22. “Waiting for the Buses: Field Trip to South Boston” by Maurice Ford as appears in the October 26, 1974 issue of “The Nation”

23. Boston: A History of Racial Segregation by Fred Halstead. As appears in “The Racist Offensive Against Busing” – The Lessons of Boston: How to Fight Back by Willie Mae Reid, Peter Camejo, and others November 1974 Pathfinder Press, Inc. New York, N.Y.

24. Sandbrook, Dominic. Mad as hell: the crisis of the 1970s and the rise of the populist right. New York: Anchor , 2012. Print.

25. “Don’t Be Fooled by Hicks and Kerrigan” – flyer distributed by the Center for United Labor Action (Boston, MA)

26. ReasonTV. YouTube. YouTube, 21 Jan. 2010. Web. 17 May 2017. As originally appeared on WGBH.

27. “Husband of ROAR leader lands patronage job” by Joe Conason as appears in East Boston Community News June 24, 1975 edition

28. “Interview with Ellen Jackson.” Home – Washington University Digital Gateway. Washington University in St. Louis, n.d. Web. 17 May 2017.

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