Friday 12 September 2014

Violence over Forced Busing in Boston

A decade after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill, violence broke out in South Boston over forced desegregation of the city's schools on this day in 1974.  Whites pelted rocks and eggs at buses carrying black students to South Boston High.  Police on motorcycles were asked to escort the buses along their route.  The National Guard was called in to line the bus routes.  However, violence continued for three years and the problem was not completely resolved until 1988.

Police escort a caravan of 20 buses carrying black students to South Boston High courtesy

Segregated neighbourhoods in Boston naturally led to segregated schools.  Roxbury, formerly a Jewish neighbourhood, was predominantly black by the 1970's.  South Boston was a predominantly white (Irish Catholic) neighbourhood.  Blacks complained that Roxbury School lacked teachers, furniture and books, all of the things the white schools had.  School Board head Louise Day Hicks claimed that "a racially imbalanced school is not educationally harmful".  Rather than putting money in the predominantly black schools, the Board of Education did nothing.

Valerie Banks was the only student to show up for her geography class at South Boston High School on the first day of court-ordered busing, Sept. 12, 1974. (AP)

Valerie Banks was the only student to show up for her geography class at South Boston High on
 Sept. 12, 1974 courtesy

However, in the case of Morgan vs. Hennigan, a U.S. judge ruled that the Massachusetts State Board of Education must have a balanced racial mix in its schools.  At the beginning of the school year in 1974, the Board of Education was ordered to mix up the school population in the 80 of 200 schools that were less than 50% black.  Roxbury High, a predominantly black school, would have its students bused to South Boston High, an all-white school;  Conversely, South Boston students would go to the Roxbury.  A predominantly Italian-American neighbourhood in North Boston would also be affected. In fact, eighteen thousand students would be bused all over Boston to different schools.

Black students arriving at South Boston School courtesy

Violence erupted on the streets of South Boston on the first day of the forced integration of the schools.  Later, Boston Police, riding motorcycles, accompanied many of the buses on their routes. But still, many whites (and blacks) protested by pulling their children out of school.  Senator Edward Kennedy was attacked by a mob protesting the decision outside a federal building.  Board of Education head Louise Day Hicks led protests.  Protesters wore pins with lions on them stating R.O.A.R. (Restore Our Alienated Rights).

Louise Day Hicks (at right) lead protest of forced busing in Boston circa 1974 courtesy

Finally, in 1977, Ms. Hicks resigned from the Board and a black member was elected.  It was not until 1988, however, that the desegregation issue was fully resolved in Boston.

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