Browse Exhibits (2 total)

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.


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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