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Boston Against Busing

Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s

Ronald P. Formisano
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  • Book Info
    Boston Against Busing
    Book Description:

    Perhaps the most spectacular reaction to court-ordered busing in the 1970s occurred in Boston, where there was intense and protracted protest. Ron Formisano explores the sources of white opposition to school desegregation. Racism was a key factor, Formisano argues, but racial prejudice alone cannot explain the movement. Class resentment, ethnic rivalries, and the defense of neighborhood turf all played powerful roles in the protest.In a new epilogue, Formisano brings the story up to the present day, describing the end of desegregation orders in Boston and other cities. He also examines the nationwide trend toward the resegregation of schools, which he explains is the result of Supreme Court decisions, attacks on affirmative action, white flight, and other factors. He closes with a brief look at the few school districts that have attempted to base school assignment policies on class or economic status.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0232-5
    Subjects: Political Science, History, Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 Not Little Rock But New Orleans
    (pp. 1-21)

    During the fall of 1974 shocking images of racial bigotry and violence emerged from Boston, that graceful, cosmopolitan city known for the excellence of its educational, cultural, and scientific institutions, a city once called “the Athens of America.” As court-ordered desegregation of the public schools began, entailing entensive crosstown busing of both black and white pupils, racial conflict that had been escalating for over a decade overflowed into streets and schools.

    In 1974 the tough, mostly Irish, working-class neighborhood of South Boston became as much a symbol of white racism as Selma, Alabama had been in 1964. Wild, raging mobs...

  6. 2 Democracy and Segregation, 1961–1965
    (pp. 22-43)

    On January 19, 1964, a pantheon of political and religious celebrities attended a memorial service in Boston for the late President Kennedy. Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish clergy joined together in honoring the native son, and a venerable Boston historian thought he saw in the proceedings “the spirit of Bishop Cheverus and his neighbors of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. . . . The memory of John F. Kennedy had reunited Boston.” Later that year, however, a black Roxbury mother observed sadly about Boston: “I used to feel that things like boycotts and demonstrations belonged in Birmingham and Mississippi....

  7. 3 Democracy and Segregation: Part Two: The School Committee Holds the Line
    (pp. 44-65)

    For nine years after the passage of the Racial Imbalance Act, the Boston School Committee, with or without Louise Hicks, refused to take steps to bring about any significant school integration. Through delay, counterattacks, and the most transparent obfuscation and tokenism the committee held the line against a growing black population. Meanwhile, the number of racially imbalanced schools climbed upward.¹

    As residential segregation increased the committee in no way tried to ameliorate the situation; instead, in most cases where it could choose it acted to perpetuate or even actually to increase imbalance in the city’s schools, as would be demonstrated...

  8. 4 “A Harvard Plan for the Working Class Man”: Reactions to the Garrity Decision and Desegregation
    (pp. 66-87)

    The federal district court judge who decided the Boston case, Wendell Arthur Garrity, Jr., had been assigned the case from among a number of judges by a process of random selection. It is doubtful, however, that the luck of the draw would have made the basic finding any different. Any other judge, given the twenty-year history of Supreme and lower-court decisions precedingMorgan v. Henniganalso would probably have found the Boston School Committee guilty of maintaining a dual, segregated school system.¹ But the distinctive personality of Garrity had much to do with the timing of the decision and with...

  9. 5 The Antibusing Spectrum: Moderation and Compliance
    (pp. 88-107)

    To attribute the antibusing resistance to racism pure and simple is to ignore the complexity of experiences, actions, and attitudes displayed by Mrs. Faith, Mrs. Coughlin, and thousands of others caught up in Boston’s desegregation. To focus only on the organized resistance, protests, marches, disruptions, and violence tends to obscure the great variety of individual responses.

    Most white residents of Boston, and particularly most white parents of schoolchildren, were overwhelmingly antibusing in some way. Some fought the court orders in the ranks of ROAR or by acts of individual resistance. Some fled, putting their children in parochial schools or anywhere...

  10. 6 Defended (and Other) Neighborhoods
    (pp. 108-137)

    During the 1970s the name of South Boston became synonymous with resistance to school desegregation. Not only did Southie militants make the drab, old high school on Dorchester Heights a symbol of racial strife, but Southie’s activists carried the war to other neighborhoods, to hated enemy territory in the suburbs, to corridors of power in the state legislature and city hall, and beyond, more persistently and passionately than any other group. To this day the South Boston Information Center continues the crusade against “forced busing” and for “neighborhood schools.”

    In his Pulitzer-prizewinning bookCommon Ground, J. Anthony Lukas shifted the...

  11. 7 The Antibusers: Children of the 1960s
    (pp. 138-171)

    In a strange inversion, images of the 1960s pervade Boston’s antibusing protest of the 1970s. But something jars and does not fit. The housewives, blue-collar ethnics, and middle Americans shouting slogans, marching, and chanting in the 1970s are the wrong people. A short time before, blacks, long-haired college youth, native Americans, counterculture freaks, feminist women, gays, and the oppressed-minority-of-the-week were filling the streets and television screens of the nation. What now was “Middle America,” or slices of it, doing out there head to head with helmeted riot police? Were these the people whom Richard Nixon had called the “silent majority,”...

  12. 8 Reactionary Populism
    (pp. 172-202)

    All of our nation’s history since the American Revolution is studded with social movements that combined contradictory elements. Antibusing offers another case of a typical American hybrid, a populist movement with reactionary tendencies. “Reactionary populism” describes the whole of a movement that included the organized and unorganized, militants and moderates, terrorists as well as middle-class reformists respectful of democratic norms of civility. But the mix of populism and reaction varied greatly within the ranks of antibusing leaders, factions, neighborhoods, families, and individuals.

    The populist character of Boston antibusing arose from the location of antibusing in the lower and middle ranks...

  13. 9 Battlegrounds
    (pp. 203-221)

    In the end, it was a war nobody won. The antibusing movement failed in that Judge Garrity’s decision withstood all the appeals mounted against it in the courts and streets. Not for eleven years did Garrity withdraw and turn immediate responsibility for the schools back to the school committee. Yet as one ROAR activist claimed later, with only partial inaccuracy: “We never gave up. We won. We prevented it for eight years [after 1965]. . . .His[Garrity’s]program was never a success”¹ (Italics mine.) Indeed, the resistance resulted, particularly if white flight is counted as one expression of...

  14. 10 Race, Class, and Justice
    (pp. 222-239)

    While Boston’s antibusing resistance uniquely generated protracted conflict, it is easy to lose sight of the frustrations that civil rights groups experienced in other northern cities.¹ In San Francisco and Chicago, for example, efforts to gain integrated schools by African-Americans in the 1960s led to quite parallel events in both cities: superintendents’ denials that segregation existed, alarms that forced busing would destroy the neighborhood school, and black protests or boycotts.

    In Chicago, official immobility gave way to time-consuming studies and to limited attempts at student transfers, which provoked bitter white protest. By the time the federal department of Health, Education...

  15. Epilogue: Through the 1990s
    (pp. 240-262)

    At the end of the 1980s, as the first edition of this book went to press, Boston’s saga, while reflecting patterns of resistance to school desegregation in other cities, still seemed unique. Violence had exceeded that of other cities under court orders, and Boston had attained regrettable status as a symbol of what not to do in implementing desegregation. Thus, in Buffalo, after years of white resistance paralleling Boston’s, a 1976 court order elicited relatively moderate, nonviolent protest. The presence of black elected officials and a plan phased in over several years contributed to a smoother process, but so did...

  16. Appendix
    (pp. 263-266)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 267-342)
  18. Index
    (pp. 343-356)