Browse Exhibits (12 total)

Kathleen Sullivan: "That Girl" Who Shook Things Up


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“So it is going to be,” she said softly, “and things are going to change.”

–Kathleen Sullivan [1]

Kathleen Sullivan joined the Boston School Committee (BSC) in 1974 and served for six years, during the height of what became known as the busing crisis. Though Sullivan reformed the committee during those years, history remembers another woman, Louise Day Hicks, as the leader of the Boston School Committee during the tumultuous desegregation years. Hicks, outspoken founder of the anti-busing group ROAR, led the committee in resisting the Racial Imbalance Act of 1965 in the decade prior to busing. The following exhibit tells the story of moderate Kathleen Sullivan and how she changed Boston’s school system during one the city’s most tense periods.

Kathleen Sullivan entered the 1973 race for the BSC as a complete newcomer but, unlike most people who ran for election to the committee, she had taught in public schools in both in New York and Boston. Sullivan differed from Hicks in many wars. While they both came from affluent families and went to school for education, Hicks never taught in Boston schools. She grew up in South Boston, an area known for its fierce local pride and one of the most vocal anti-busing communities. Sullivan grew up outside of Boston, and taught in Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant before teaching in Dorchester’s John Marshall School. Her concern over student education propelled her into the race for school committee and allowed for her reelection in both 1975 and 1977.

This exhibit uses documents from the Boston City Archives and the National Archives to demonstrate how an outsider entered the Boston School Committee in 1974 and completely challenged the status quo, altering the committee for the better. It explores key phases of Sullivan’s work, including how Sullivan got elected in 1973, the reasons why she continued to get elected, her interactions with her constituents, her leadership as President of the BSC in 1977, and her attempted run for Senate in 1978. Popular memory associates Louise Day Hicks and anti-busing with the BSC. By taking a look at Kathleen Sullivan’s role in the move to desegregate Boston Public Schools, we gain an often overlooked narrative because of how she did not quite fit in with her contemporaries at the time.

[1] Jeff McLaughlin, “Teacher Kathy Sullivan learns how to win,” The Boston Globe, November 7, 1973, 34.

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Integrated Division: Resistance, Responses, and Filtered Portrayals in Phase II


On June 21, 1974, Judge Arthur W. Garrity deemed Boston’s school system “unconstitutionally segregated.” Garrity’s solution to this issue called on the Boston School Committee to submit a viable plan for desegregation in order to balance the racial profiles of the public schools to more accurately represent the city’s student population as a whole. While waiting on this proposal, Garrity would implement the State Board of Education’s plan for addressing the racial imbalance.[1] This three-phase plan was carried out between 1974 and 1977. Unfortunately, it not only failed in the eyes of much of the public, but it created further social and racial tension throughout the city.

This decision to integrate public schools through busing initiated a storm of resistance that manifested in protests and violence. Despite the intention to balance racial dynamics within the school system, the busing of students based on both race and location created new levels of social segregation, conflict, and division. Protest and violence inside and outside the classroom increased as implementation expanded. In Phase I, begun in 1974, the initial exchange between Roxbury and South Boston garnered a large amount of attention, and ‘Southie’ became seen as the epicenter for resistance with incidents of riots, student walkouts, the stoning of buses, as well as student on student and student on teacher violence. However, as Phase II was enacted and more outlying schools and neighborhoods such as Brighton, Charlestown, and Hyde Park were incorporated, resistance was far from decreasing.

 Phase II, or “The Master’s Plan,” began in September 1975. Now a year into the implementation of Garrity’s decision, reactions remained passionate and letters of both praise and concern continued to pour in to Mayor Kevin White as those on both sides of the issue fought to have their voices heard. Phase II expanded the plan’s impact to all districts except East Boston with further redrawing of attendance zones, adjustments of grade structures, opening new schools while closing old buildings to create city-wide magnet schools for out of district students, and the introduction of university-sponsored programs into certain schools.[2] However, despite being another critical addition to the plan, an increase in police enforcement and a strategic presence of the U.S. Marshals was less explicit in the media. Despite many claims that continued to insinuate peaceful cooperation and an optimistic outlook for successful integration, conflict and violence permeated Phase II and added measures were therefore taken to address this potential. While Phase II is only one chapter within the full implementation of Boston’s desegregation, it provides a snapshot of the continued passionate response among students, the public, law enforcement, and other members of the greater Boston community.

[1] “Busing in Boston: A Research Guide,” Moakley Archive and Institute, 2015,, 1-2.

[2] U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. School Desegregation in Boston. Washington, DC. June, 1975. CR1.2:Sch6/18., p 87. 

Ruth M. Batson: Mother - Educator - Civil Worker


“… a woman who has given her heart, her strength and her militant spirit in the true tradition of Harriet Tubman.”

~ The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events (2001)


Ruth M. Batson (1921-2003) was an African American woman and a lifelong Bostonian who stood up for her beliefs.  For more than thirty years she championed fair and equal education for Boston’s public school children and for the civil rights of African Americans.  On printed flyers and in newspaper advertisements for her 1951 Boston School Committee campaign, Batson lists “Mother - Educator - Civil Worker” as her three most important qualifications for this committee.  These characteristics propelled her into a life of public service where she fought for a better education for children and for the African American population of Boston. The core values she learned as a young child would became a motivation for her tireless work for justice.

 In order to bring Ruth Batson’s story forward, we must start by looking backward.  In 1975, a series of articles in The Sunday Boston Herald Advertiser appeared regarding the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools. The reporters, Alan Eisner and Frank Thompson, credit Ruth Batson as the person who initially championed changes in Boston’s School system. Batson, indeed, stood before the Boston School Committee in June of 1963 to read a statement from the NAACP demanding changes be made to the Boston Public School system. A cohesive fight to attain Civil Rights spread through out the nation movement a decade earlier, so what was Batson doing before she stepped onto the public stage in 1963?

In December 1950, The Boston Traveler reported that members from a group called “The Parents Federation of Greater Boston,” headed by Ruth Batson, held a protest at Boston’s City Hall attempting to talk to Mayor John Hynes regarding the deplorable conditions in the city’s schools. With in a few short months, Batson ran an unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the Boston School Committee.  By 1953 Batson had approached the NAACP for help with this issue and found herself the chairman of the Public Education Sub-Committee of the NAACP Boston Branch.  At a time when most American women were content to be a wife, mother and homemaker, Batson stepped out of this traditional female role to speak out and advocate for much needed changes to Boston’s public schools and for civil rights long before there was a “movement” to speak of in Boston.

Ruth M. Batson continuously worked in some capacity for almost thirty years to bring about changes to the Boston Public School system.  She started out a young mother trying to improve her children’s neighborhood school and ended up improving all the schools of Boston. This exhibit focuses on Batson’s work regarding the desegregation of Boston Public Schools.  A brief biography establishes the foundation of Batson’s belief system and demonstrates her motivation to fight for change in Boston’s public school system.  This biography reveals the many components of her life and put into perspective her family, interests, and a varied career fighting for education and civil rights. 

The remaining three parts of this exhibit explore Batson’s direct work regarding the desegregation of Boston’s schools.  The first explores her work on the Public Education Committee of the NAACP Boston Branch.  Her work included gathering information on the condition of Boston schools, advocating for parents and children, and finally becoming a spokesperson to call for necessary changes in the schools.  The second focuses on Batson’s career at the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO). She was involved with this program from its inception, helping to develop it from an idea to a thriving program.  She started out on a steering committee and went on to become its executive director.  The last looks at Batson’s involvement working behind the scenes during the early days of forced busing.  From her job at Boston University and as a committee member at Freedom House, she worked to support children and families during this turbulent time.  



Alan Eisner and Frank Thompson. “The Anatomy of Boston’s School Crisis,” The Sunday Boston Herald Advertiser (August 10, 1975): section 5, page 1.

“Hynes to Run for Mayor Again: City Head Tips Hand in Seeking to Calm Group Irate Over Schools,” The Boston Herald Traveler (December 28, 1950): 1, 32.



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Busing Boston Bound: Phase I of Desegregation in Boston, Massachusetts


The Soiling of Old Glory

Photograph, "The Soiling of Old Glory," by Stanley Forman, 1976. Copyright © Stanley Forman, 1976. Image reproduced here courtesy of Stanley Forman. Further reproduction is prohibited without prior permission in writing from Stanley Forman. The image depicts a white teenager, Joseph Rakes, attacking Ted Landsmark, an African American lawyer and civil-rights activist, with a pole bearing an American flag. The photo earned Forman a Pulitzer prize. See Forman's website for additional images.

The Beginning

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court shaped the course of history. Their decision rendered in Oliver Brown et al v. Board of Education of Topeka et al, began a slow process that would take decades to combat:  desegregating public schools across the United States.

Fast-forward to 1965--almost eleven years after this historic moment--when, in an attempt to classify racially imbalanced schools and desegregate them, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Racial Imbalance Act. This act empowered the Board of Education to require local public schools to adjust their practices and and reduce the inequity among schools. The Board was charged with confirming that schools classified as imbalanced devise a plan to alleviate the problem. While the Board had the right to withhold federal and state funds should the local school committee fail to make the necessary progress, the Board had no means of enforcing compliance. After an attempt to dismantle the Racial Imbalance Act in 1966 (which ultimately failed) the Boston School Committee employed delaying tactics, which stalled any progress towards desegregation in Boston.

In the following years, plans submitted in a back and forth exchange between the Massachusetts Board of Education and the Boston School Committee only served to stoke the growing animosity between both groups. In 1971, the Board of Education had had enough and withheld state funding for Boston Public Schools in an attempt to force the School Committee to produce an adequate plan for desegregation. After numerous unsuccessful attempts between the Board of Education and the School Committee to work together on desegregation, both groups turned to judicial mediation to settle their disagreements. Several court cases were argued; most centered on the withholding of state and federal funds from the Boston Public School system. One case in the United States District Court Massachusetts District, however, took a different approach. Tallulah Morgan et al v. James W. Hennigan et al presided over by the United States District Judge Wendell Arthur Garrity removed the desegregation issue away from money and inter-departmental squabbling; instead, this case brought civil rights and student education to the forefront of its argument. The case started on March 17, 1972, when the NAACP filed suit against the Boston School Committee on behalf of fourteen black parents and forty-four black students alleging that the former violated the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution as well as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This case, and the decision that followed, brought Boston into one of its most turbulent times in history dealing with race relations, civil rights, and education. The case in Boston brought busing and redistricting to the people and students living in the city of Boston.

Phase I, or the State Plan, brought with it the most violence and backlash. The Board of Education produced and submitted what became know as “the State Plan” during the trial. The following exhibit delves into the decision in Morgan V. Hennigan,the reason for implementing the State Plan, the details within the State Plan, and the implementation process.


Cover of booklet, "Make Congress Stop Bussing" [sic] by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the John Joseph Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.


Back to Square One: Racial Imbalance in the Boston Public Schools


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racial: ra·cial│\ˈrā-shəl\ │adj. (1862) 1: of, relating to, or based on a race 2: existing or occurring between races

imbalance: im·bal·ance │\(ˌ)im-ˈba-lən(t)s\│n. (ca. 1890) lack of balance: the state of being out of equilibrium or out of proportion*

Alone, these two words invoke feelings of mixed emotions and differing opinions. When combined, however, they create a phrase powerful enough to alter the history and reputation of a city and its residents. Up until the 1960s, the de facto segregation of the Boston neighborhoods and the resulting segregation within the schools occurred without widespread attention. This all changed with the construction of the phrase, "racial imbalance." Through photographs, primary documents, and the text, this exhibit focuses on exploring the initial attempt to desegregate the Boston Public Schools in the 1960s, before Judge Garrity's forced busing order.  

Before exploring this exhibit, what do you think "racial imbalance" means in regards to a school? Now, imagine that someone asked you to draw up a plan to resolve a problem stemming from racial imbalance in a school. How would you approach it? Before you answer, try to keep in mind a few things. Who is in charge of the school committee? What is the majority public opinion of the city's residents? What are your own viewpoints? Will your plan affect your life or only the lives of others? These are all questions that need addressing in this situation. Oh, and one last thing: you live in the “Cradle of Liberty”, the reputation of your city is at stake, and the whole world is watching, waiting, and judging.

With this in mind, explore these next few pages to discover the roots of the chaos and controversy surrounding the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools.



*Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 10th edition
Photo sources: Boston City Archives (left), Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (right)

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ROAR: The Anti-Busing group with the Loudest Voice


Every historical event has numerous perspectives and opinions; however, the perspective with the loudest voice often gains the most attention. In the case of the historical event known as “forced busing” in Boston, those with the loudest voices seemed to be the citizen groups. The group with the loudest voice was arguably the most militant, radically conservative, and most popular anti-busing group during this time: ROAR.

An acronym for Restore Our Alienated Rights, ROAR was a conservative group that fiercely protested the federally-mandated order to integrate Boston Public Schools. Opposed to what they dubbed the “forced busing” of Boston's public school students, the group staged formal, sometimes violent protests and remained active from 1974 until 1976.

ROAR began as a small, informal gathering of opinionated people--mostly women--who wanted to voice their concerns about busing. Over time, their force grew. They shouted that their rights as parents were being taken away because of the efforts to correct the racial imbalance of Boston Public Schools by busing students to other school districts. Within only a few months, under the leadership of Louise Day Hicks, ROAR rapidly grew into the fiercest, loudest anti-busing group. Modeling the the tactics of early civil rights activists, ROAR maintained they were the only voice that spoke for the rights of children and concerned the parents. 

ROAR ended within two years of its creation; however, despite its short lifespan, it is the most-remembered anti-busing organization both during and beyond the Boston busing movement.

This exhibit explores the anti-busing organization ROAR by presenting the group in small, manageable sections so that readers may better understand this anti-busing group. Although this radical conservative group no longer exists, the legacy it left behind remains alive in the United States. History repeats itself, and through learning about this group, you might be able to apply the message to the present.

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From South Boston to D.C.: Congressman John Joseph Moakley's Efforts to Stop "Forced Busing"


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“I am 100% committed to integration: but I am also 100% against forced busing. And, believe it or not, that’s a perfectly consistent position.”[i]

~ Congressman Joe Moakley 


Congressman John Joseph “Joe” Moakley (1927-2001) represented Massachusetts’ Ninth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 1973 until his death in 2001. Born and raised in South Boston, his district included his own neighborhood, as well as many other areas of Boston and several suburban cities and towns. “Joe” was dedicated to his constituents and to doing right by them, and he appreciated his tight-knit community of South Boston, where everyone knew everyone and parents sent their kids down the street to their neighborhood school. This mentality is what fueled his opposition to forced busing as a means of desegregating the Boston Public Schools; he saw the impact of forced busing on these traditional neighborhood dynamics, and this frustrated him. At the same time, though, he abhorred the racial violence that resulted and was vocal in his condemnation of it.  

This exhibit will chronicle forced busing in Boston through the lens of Moakley’s efforts to stop it. It begins with a biographical sketch to summarize Congressman Moakley's life and career. Then, through narrative text and primary source documents, it will reveal the nuanced perspective of an elected official who believed strongly in equal educational opportunities for all of his constituents, but who could not allow forced busing to destroy the city (and neighborhoods) that he loved. It will also showcase the opinions of Moakley's constituents, community groups, and other local elected officials who wrote to Moakley to share these opinions. Finally, it will link to transcripts of oral history interviews with Moakley himself and with family, friends, and colleagues; these transcripts will provide insight into Moakley's character and personality.

The primary source materials in this exhibit have been collected from the John Joseph Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University, the repository that was created upon Moakley's donation of his papers shortly before his death in 2001. The documents are arranged topically in five categories: legislative files, constituent correspondence, community group interactions, political correspondence, and oral history interview transcripts, with selected related documents interfiled within these categories.

[i] Moakley, John Joseph, “Testimony of Joe Moakley at the Jaffe Hearings,” Subtle & Stark Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston, accessed May 5, 2015,



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Collisions of Church & State: Religious Perspectives on Boston's School Desegregation Crisis


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Mandatory school desegregation in Boston precipitated a wave of activism, advocacy, and debate by religious institutions and their constituents. Whether outraged or delighted by the implications of busing in public schools, individuals often understood and expressed their positions through the lens of their faith. Some believed desegregation to be an issue of justice, and thus in keeping with Biblical teachings. Others considered the "forced busing" of white children to be evil and abusive, invoking faith-based opposition to what they considered an anti-Christian social movement. Regardless of their support or disapproval of busing, people employed a multiplicity of religious interpretations to support their stance.

People from within and beyond Boston addressed these various religious perspectives in their writings to local officials. Often, they wrote to express their views on the morality of busing. In other cases, church officials wrote to invite city or state leaders to events or political rallies relevant to their cause. Collectively, religious sentiments in public records speak to the existence of an active and passionate response to school desegregation by Christians throughout the Boston area and the greater United States.

This exhibit examines the ways in which Catholics and Protestants approached the issue of mandatory busing vis-à-vis the role of government. The three pages collectively showcase documents sent to and from Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Mayor Kevin White, and Councilwoman Louise Day Hicks that in some way address the role of church or religion during the crisis. Prayers for Justice and Peace contains letters, invitations, and cards sent to Judge Garrity in response to his decision to desegregate Boston's schools in Morgan v. Hennigan. "God Is Giving You a Chance" catalogs letters of religious support for desegregation sent to Louise Day Hicks and Mayor White. Finally, "Joan of Arc of Bostonshares correspondence of Louise Day Hicks regard-ing faith, church, and her anti-busing coalition, R.O.A.R. 

Selected materials represent a large geographic range of correspondence; some were sent from Boston, while others originated as far away as San Francisco (see the Geographic Distribution Map for a spatial visualization). The collection is limited to the years 1973-1975, which saw the height of responses to busing. Names and other identifying information have been redacted from all documents to protect the privacy of their authors or recipients.

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Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO): Solving Racial Imbalance in Boston Public Schools

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The birth of METCO was an important chapter in the battle over school desegregation in Boston. In 1963 and 1964, Black parents boycotted Boston schools for failing to integrate.  After the Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act passed (1965), a group of African-American parents took action again to end the educational inequality in Boston.  Laying the foundation for METCO, the mid-1960s program called “Operation Exodus” began with parents organizing to transport their children from overcrowded schools to better resourced city schools.  
METCO is a grassroots program that began officially in 1966 with funding from the Carnegie Foundation and enabled African American children to attend suburban schools in Arlington, Braintree, Brookline, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Wellesley.  it did not take long for the program to grow in popularity as the state began to provide grants to participating suburban districts.
METCO is the story of interracial coalition building and peaceful voluntary desegregation that has been largely overshadowed by the violent busing struggle of the 1970s.  METCO has been a vehicle for meeting the goals of Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act, which promotes racial and ethnic diversity in public schools.

 The goal of this exhibit is to illustrate how METCO and its administrators worked to reach out to organizations making the transition easier for black students and how organizations were reacting to the role that METCO ultimately played in desegregation.

The exhibit highlights that while METCO was focused on monitoring and resolving racial imbalance issues in school placement, there were also problems that needed to be dealt with internally. Documents included in the exhibit range from letters of petition from different organizations to Boston officials that were monitored and sometimes filtered through METCO. Letters from executives in METCO to officials in the Boston School system imploring them to aid in making school desegregation an easier process for students and organizations helping in communities.  Some of these letters will show not only the frustrations of grassroots organizations and major organizations like the NAACP branch of Boston, but also the problems faced by METCO in regards to representation of their work with desegregation and student placement.



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What About the Kids?: A Look into the Student Perspective on Boston Desegregation


An exhibit announcement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of Healey Library, University Archives & Special Collections, UMass Boston. Copyright restrictions may apply. Visit here for more information.

In 1961, the NAACP met with the Boston School Committee in an attempt to get the committee to acknowledge the segregation of Boston's schools. The school committee refused to acknowledge the presence of segregation for over a decade. In the 1971-1972 school year, enrollment in the public schools were 61 percent white, 32 percent black, and other minorities making up the remaining 7 percent. However, 84 percent of the white students attended schools that were more than 80 percent white, and 62 percent of the black pupils attended schools that were more than 70 percent black. During this time, at least 80 percent of Boston’s schools were segregated.[i]

Eventually, the NAACP filed a suit in Federal district court in 1972, known as Morgan vs. Hennigan. The case came before Judge Wendell Arthur Garrity Jr., who made his decision on June 21, 1974. He found that "racial segregation permeates schools in all areas of the city, all grade levels, and all types of schools."[ii] The court ordered that the school committee immediately implement a desegregation plan for September 1974. Phase I was a limited plan, dealing only with correcting student racial imbalance in schools.

Garrity’s decision met with a myriad of responses from hostility and protest to submission and acceptance. Parents, teachers, and politicians all had an opinion on the decision and voiced it in various ways including picket lines, angry letters, and violence. But what about the students? It is evident that although students were never asked, they too held opinions about forced busing. Were they scared of violence erupting? How did the concerns of elementary students differ from those in high school? This exhibits seeks to explore the thoughts and experiences of students in Boston and across on the country. 

This exhibit is broken down into four sections: Elementary, Middle School, High School, and National. Within each section you will find letters, essays, pictures, and illustrations by children of ages corresponding to the section. The first section, Elementary, demonstrates the innocence of young children more afraid of making new friends than of racism and violence. They are also the children who sent more letters of prayer than opposition. According to many of the essays written by middle school students, they were initially afraid of violence and being bused far from home. By the end of the first year, they admitted to “having the best year ever.” These students attest that very little violence ensued at the middle school level.

High school students demonstrated the greatest opposition to busing than any other group of students. Their reasons varied from being afraid of violence to starting a new school for senior year. Many high school students opposed starting over because they already had a position on a sports team, bought class rings, or worked close to home. Forced busing during high school proved difficult. It is also this age group where the most violence erupted including fistfights, stabbings, and riots. More notable than the violence is the cooperation and peace that came after. High schools in Boston began to set an example for racial tolerance and cooperation among students.     

The last section of the exhibit includes student letters from across the country. Many of them send support and offer advice based on their experiences.  Each item includes a brief history of the process of desegregation in correlation to the students’ geographical location. It is interesting to see the ways in which the Boston experience was both vastly different and similar to other American cities. 


i. School Desegregation in Boston: A Staff Report Prepared for the Hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Boston, Massachusetts, June 1975. Washington: Commission, 1975, 20.
ii. Ibid., 71.


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