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Busing in Boston: Looking Back at the History and Legacy, page 3 of 6

Harvard Graduate School of Education
September 1, 2000
A story from Ed., the magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education

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A Year of Turmoil: 1974
Just hours after Boston's schools had closed for the summer on June 21, Judge Garrity issued the historic ruling that had taken him a year to decide. The Boston School Committee had, he said, "knowingly carried out a systematic program of segregation affecting all of the city's students, teachers, and school facilities and [had] intentionally brought about and maintained a dual school system."

Busing in Boston 
photo courtesy of the Boston Herald

Black parents and community leaders, supported by the NAACP, had earlier accused the Boston public school system of unconstitutionally segregating the city's black students. Cocounsel in the case was Harvard's own Center for Law and Education, an interdisciplinary research institute established in 1969 by the University and the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity to "protect and advance the interests of the poor through research and action" on issues of educational opportunity.

With little time to prepare a remedy for school desegregation, Judge Garrity announced that he would rely on a plan drawn up by Ed School alumnus Charles Glenn, C.A.S.'69, Ed.D.'72, who since 1971 had served as director of the state education department's Bureau of Equal Educational Opportunity. Glenn, an Episcopalian minister, had marched in Selma and helped organize Boston's first school boycott. His 1972 doctoral thesis was on the topic of expanding Massachusetts's mandate to assure equal educational opportunity.

According to J. Anthony Lukas's Pulitzer Prize-winning epic Common Ground, Glenn saw his task in drawing up the "Phase I" plan as largely mechanical—dividing a map of the city into school districts that would ensure that each school have the right proportion of black and white children. But the plan had the feature of busing children between neighborhoods that had become deeply segregated and wary of each other, despite shared economic plight.

Busing in Boston 
photo courtesy of the Boston Herald

Roxbury and Dorchester, for instance, once home to Jews, Irish, and blacks, became predominantly poor, black neighborhoods in the early 1970s as many middle-class blacks, Jews, and Irish moved out. South Boston and Charlestown had always been Irish enclaves, but as the more well-to-do moved away, the poor Irish who were left behind clung to an often perverse territorial pride.

Busing children between Roxbury and South Boston was inevitable, Glenn said. "We didn't have any choice but to mix those two neighborhoods."

Critics disagreed, but the decision set the stage for conflict.

On September 12, 1974, school buses set out to pick up 20,000 children—out of a total of 87,000 students then enrolled in the Boston Public Schools—for journeys ranging from several blocks to several miles. But many buses pulled up to their assigned schools with only a few students, or none at all. Only 124 of an expected 1,300 students, for instance, showed up at South Boston High School for the first day of school. Of those 124 students, 56 were black and had come to desegregate the previously all-white institution.

On the second day of school, the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, HGSE alumnus Gregory R. Anrig, M.A.T.'56, C.A.S.'60, Ed.D.'63, rode the bus home with black teenagers from South Boston High School. But this gesture, which has passed into the realm of heroic lore at the School, did little to quell a smoldering violence. Day after day in the fall of 1974, stories about busing violence dominated the local news; the Boston Globe, for instance, often gave more prominence to desegregation stories than to those involving the Watergate scandal:
    "[Governor] Sargent calls up National Guard units—Will be used in Boston school crisis 'if necessary.'"
    "82nd Airborne on standby alert"
    "Ford declines to send U.S. troops to Boston"

Watching anxiously as the city came apart over busing were faculty and students at Harvard and other area colleges and universities.

Next page: Universities Step In



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