Eyes on the Prize
The Story of the Movement — 26 Events

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School Desegregation in Boston


"...a racially imbalanced school is not educationally harmful."
—Louise Day Hicks, Boston School Committee

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In 1965, a decade after the desegregation of southern schools, school segregation in Boston is a natural by-product of segregated neighborhoods. Predominantly African American schools lack permanent teachers, basic furniture and supplies, even books. The NAACP helps black parents bring their complaints to the Boston School Committee, whose chair, Louise Day Hicks, claims the schools are not inferior. After years of struggle, when community strategies to improve their children's education fail, black parents take the school committee to court. On June 21, 1974, federal district court judge W. Arthur Garrity rules in the parents' favor, saying the school committee has consciously maintained two separate school systems. Garrity orders students to be bused city-wide to integrate the schools.

Boston residents anticipate trouble. Less than a mile apart, the black community of Roxbury and the white community of South Boston (Louise Day Hicks' stronghold) are slated to integrate their schools. City politicians make matters worse by promising white residents they will seek to overturn the decision. Senator Edward Kennedy, once a favorite son of the city's Irish community, is threatened by a mob during a demonstration at the federal building. In September, buses carrying black students are met by white crowds in South Boston, yelling slurs and threatening violence. White parents stage a boycott, pulling their children from the schools. The violence persists inside and outside the schools, and white resistance continues for years. Not until Louise Day Hicks is unseated and a black school committee member is elected in 1977 will the situation start to stabilize.


Other Events: 1974

Anthropologist Donald Johanson discovers a fossil of an early hominid species, Australopithicus afarensis, in Ethiopia; he names the skeleton Lucy after the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

President Richard M. Nixon resigns rather than face impeachment for his role in the Watergate burglary and its cover-up.

A militant, fringe political group, the Symbionese Liberation Army, kidnaps heiress Patty Hearst and holds her for ransom.

Baseball player Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth's record of 714 lifetime home runs; Aaron's lifetime total will reach 755.

Eleven women are ordained as priests in the Episcopal Church.


The New York Times, September 12, 1974

Boston Is Tense on Eve of Busing
White Boycott Is Possible When Integration Plan Implemented Today

This tense city faces the opening of school tomorrow with the prospect of a massive boycott by whites over court-ordered busing to achieve integration...

...This afternoon, Mrs. Louise Day Hicks, long the political symbol of antibusing sentiment here, issued an appeal for calm.

"I pray that no harm will come to any child," she said. "Their parents bear scars that may never heal, but 'Harm no one' I say to those on both sides of this soul-searching issue..."

...In a carefully crafted speech, the Mayor [Kevin White] touched on the city's neighborhood tradition -- "clearly defined, proud of the past, conscious of their own sense of community." And he spoke of parents' fears -- "I have listened to mothers and I have heard the anguish in their voices -- voices explaining inconvenience and hardship that parents and children both will be forced to endure."

But, the white-haired, craggy-faced Mayor said:

"No man, not even a President stands above the law. And no city, or group within it, can stand in defiance of the law..."

The New York Times, September 13, 1974

Violence Mars Busing in Boston
Mayor Restricts Gatherings to Prevent Recurrence of Stonings in South Area

Rock-throwing, jeering crowds in South Boston marred the start today of a busing program designed to integrate Boston's public schools, and tonight Mayor Kevin H. White banned any gatherings in the streets of the troubled section...

...Buses carrying the handful of black students into the white section were stoned as they left schools this afternoon. As blacks arrived at South Boston High School this morning, they were greeted with curses and racial epithets...

...As the first yellow bus -- No. 218 -- pulled up just at 8, a rock bounced off its side and a cheer arose from the youths on the sidewalks and the stoops. "Go home, nigger," they cried. "Turn the bus over..."

..."Any white kid that goes to school out of his neighborhood should be shot, and any black kid that comes out of his neighborhood to school here should be shot," said a pudgy man in a pork-pie hat...

...In his statement, Mayor White said that "beginning tonight, the following actions will be taken" to cope with the outbreak:

"The streets are going to be clear in South Boston. No one will be allowed to disrupt students, buses, or traffic.

Any person, or group of persons, in the area of any school must have proper identification.

No crowd... will be allowed to congregate within the immediate vicinity of any public school. If groups form near schools they will be asked to disperse and move on. And if they refuse, they will be immediately arrested."

The Gary [Indiana] Crusader, early October, 1974

Editorial: Boston's Shameful Episode

If anybody needed proof that forced busing to integrate the schools of America is essential to give this country some morality, Boston has proved all of it necessary...

...the actions of any community's youth reflect the attitudes of the adults of that community. There is little doubt that proof of this suggestion is embodied in the barbaric acts of the white citizens of Boston...

...If the kind of depravity exhibited by the citizens of Boston can be generated by so small a thing, a few youngsters attending a school, then what can we expect of the same people should an occurrence of some real significance befall the country.

There is another frightening aspect of the Boston episode. It has rekindled in opponents of busing in other sections of the country -- those who had accepted busing as a fact of life -- a feeling that they have a license to renew their fight against it...

Either this country will be what it claims, a country of laws where all men are equal, or it will be what white Boston today indicates it is -- a nation of maniacal savages.

The Village Voice, October 3, 1974

The Fire This Time?

For more than two weeks [Boston] has been edging towards hysteria as it struggles to enforce Federal Judge Arthur W. Garrity's order to bus more than 18,000 black and white kids to 80 of Boston's 200 public schools...

...It threatens to produce inflexible hatreds, thousands of black and white school drop-outs, and possibly some deaths....

...it's clear that the bussing issue has reawakened an atavistic sense of clannishness in the people who lived here, and that it's produced an explosive rage at outsiders who want the neighborhood to change...

...the antibussing people see themselves as crusaders, protecting the Holy Grail of their youths...

...Scott Houle is a 42-year-old sheet metal worker, the father of eight kids. He still remembered the pride he felt when he was accepted into one of the street corner gangs -- the Aces, the Panthers, the Mullens, the Strandways... He'd never felt as much raw pride as he did in his sophomore year, when Southie beat Eastie for the city's football championship...

...So there is a way in which bussing has robbed people like Scott Houle... of their only savings -- their turf, their memories. For them, the blacks, the cops, the journalists, and city officials who arrived when the bussing began are part of an invading army. That's an instinctive emotion; it didn't take politicians like Louise Day Hicks to work it up...


Your Dog Loves My Dog
Songwriters: James Bevel and Bernard LaFayette
Performed by: The Nashville Quartet
Listen to the Music

Like many freedom songs, "Your Dog Loves My Dog" seemed to address events and situations far beyond those for which it was originally created. An original composition by James Bevel and Bernard LaFayette of the Nashville Quartet, this song questions segregation from a child's point of view. Bevel explained that he was not allowed to play with the white neighbor children, "but we had two dogs. He had a dog and we had a dog. Our dogs would always play together."

With the order to desegregate Boston schools through busing, the nation saw that even in a city that had once been at the heart of the 19th century abolitionist movement, there were parents whose intolerance led them to attack innocent children for attending class with theirs.

For more on music and the movement, read comments by Bernice Johnson Reagon.

Music courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, www.si.edu/ folkways.


School Desegregation in Boston
Duration: 2:26 min
Watch the Video

In a news report about the first day of busing in Boston, the cameras show a full range of faces among the hostile crowd.

While a news anchor describes the scene, footage shows buses arriving in South Boston, black students running inside, and whites shouting at them.

Then, still photos are shown of a white mob, cops, and a stoned police car, while the narrator describes the racial slurs hurled from the crowd and how it cheered when police officers were hit by thrown objects.

Footage courtesy of The Ten O'Clock News, WGBH TV, Boston.

Select an image to open the gallery.

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