Browse Exhibits (2 total)

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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An International and Domestic Response to Boston Busing directed at Mayor Kevin White

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Boston Qoute

"Although our situation is of national concern… 
the specifics are particular to Boston."

~ Kevin H. White

Since its foundation, Boston recognized itself as a “city upon a hill.” A city that fought against the crown, the first to have an underground subway system and  provide a home to activists and political progressives abound.  In various moments of history, Boston became the beacon providing insight into new political understandings and transformations. As the buses began to roll to combat segregation, Boston once again found itself in the national spotlight.

Sitting on the bleachers, countries and states watched Boston deploy players and officials to uphold a decision for the desegregation of schools made by Judge Garrity in 1974. As controversy and violence quickly arose in city neighborhoods, countries and states chimed in with their opinions on exactly what Boston should do to combat discrimination. Yelling from the bleachers, theses spectators brought their own perspectives and opinions into the city.

Through letters sent personally to Boston’s Mayor Kevin White and newspapers with editorials from different states and countries.The mayor received letters from countries as far away as Australia and as close to the border as Mexico. Various states provided their perspectives to Boston as well. These letters will surely demonstrate various opinions and once again solidify Boston’s position as a “city upon a hill.”

So who is Mayor White?

Kevin White served the city of Boston as Mayor from 1968 to 1984. After the Judge Garrity ruling of 1974, White's actions quickly faced criticism and praise by the public. Initially White took a stance against busing and the court ordered decision. Serving as a democrat, Mayor White was later described by the New York Times as "a stabilizing presence as he extended protection to the children and opposed order through a heightened police presence."(Fox, Jan. 27, 2012). Some of his lettered responses highlight this attribute in the exhibit. Mayor White served Boston during a trying and controversial period. He placed his faith in Boston and faced continued opposition while in office.

Mayor Kevin H. White Portrait, ca. 1975.

These letters reflect a unique perspective of public school integration--what became known locally as "Boston busing." They demonstrate the raw emotion that accompanied forced busing of students in Boston Public Schools. Names of letter senders have been redacted to respect the privacy of the individual who wrote them. Although these letters are only a beginning to understanding the international and domestic responses Boston received. Everyone had his or her eyes on Boston as it combated a controversial and difficult issue.

The exhibit contains three pages, international reactions, domestic reactions and a gallery. The International reactions page includes letters sent to Mayor Kevin White from outside of the United States. The Domestic reactions page exhibits letter sent to Mayor Kevin White outside of Massachusetts. The gallery page comprises all of the letters sent to Mayor Kevin White domestically and internationally and provides some background information on the mayor. 

 Feel free to browse the collection and come to your own conclusions about what was happening in the city and what others felt domestically and internationally. The letters place the city on a pedestal for judgment. Keep in mind that these letters are only a few of many and do not reflect all of the opinions on busing. They reflect individuals who were motivated enough and interested enough in the issue to draft a letter and send it to the mayor.  The full collection can be viewed at Boston City Archives in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Image credit

Photograph of quote, "If urban life is to have a new birth of greatness, let it be said that the renaissance began in Boston" - January 3, 1972, Inaugural Address," from Kevin H. White's inaugural address, 1972. Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts. Original image by Wally Gobetz on Flickr. Image Copyright: Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.