Comprising over six square miles, Dorchester is the largest neighborhood in Boston. It was founded in 1630, and named after an English town. New immigrants from Ireland, French-Canada, Poland, and Italy, as well as migrant black Americans came to Dorchester, seeking a better life. Between the 1950s and 1980s, its ethnic landscape changed from primarily Jewish and Irish residents to African, Asian, and Caribbean residents. Judge Garrity’s decision to desegregate the Boston public schools in 1974 overlapped with the end of this demographic shift. On the first day of annual hearings to repeal the Racial Imbalance Law, antibusing supporters from Dorchester wore red-colored armbands to identify their neighborhoods. The items exhibited below provide a sample of the different opinions and experiences of Dorchester residents during the implementation of "forced busing" to integrate Boston's public schools.
"Can't we please either have the buses or transfers back... for our children."
These following items pertained to opposition and concerns with busing, mainly on behalf of parents who feared that it would affect their children's education. The first item concerned the hostess of a “coffee klatch” Mayor White attended. Coffee klatches are informal gatherings for coffee and conversation. These meetings would take place in someone's home, and Mayor White attended them to discuss issues with neighborhood residents. This hostess expressed concern for the children by asking how many empty seats would be available. She also had a ten year old son, who was to be bused in the fall. The second item is a letter from a Dorchester resident to Judge Garrity. In this letter, she wrote that the School Committee was "not supplying buses for the children in this area." The author of the third item wrote that her daughter might not attend the same school she had been for the past three years. She felt that Garrity was "being unfair to seniors" and that everyone she "spoke to felt that seniors should be allowed to finish at their present school." Each of these items described the potential burdens these residents might face because of Garrity's decision.
"...And who pays for busing?"
These following items were notes from Mayor White's office. All three of them pertained to a coffee klatch, held by the mayor, in Dorchester. These three notes describe the experiences of taxpaying citizens, who are not supportive of desegregation. However, none of these notes make any reference to questionable ideas. The first resident asked Mayor White "about the possibly (sic) of anti-busing people withholding the portion of their property taxes that go for schools?" The second resident "asked why the taxpayers of Boston must pay for busing, buses, busdrivers, etc." The third item mentioned that this resident "asked about taxes. (K.H.W. - no raise this year, hopefully next.) and who pays for busing?" These residents were concerned for where their taxes were going to.
"We will before long have a black Boston, not an integrated one"
The letters displayed below describe African Americans using negative stereotypes and derogatory epithets. The first item came from a Dorchester resident, who asked Mayor White, "What will happen to the city when only 30% of the school population are white?" The note also mentioned that this resident "will leave the city when that occurs." The second item was a letter from a resident who said that "most of us fear is the criminal element in the black area." She wrote that she prayed that her husband "will come home unharmed - and that our car will remain intact." The third item was a letter to Senator Edward Kennedy, which noted that the "only inferior part of the black schools is the safety of the neighborhoods in which the schools are located." In the fourth item, a resident's letter to Judge Garrity expressed concerns about "a black Boston, not an integrated one." Each of these were worried about the black community's influence, whether it was fewer whites in public schools or the fear of being attacked by black teenagers.
"It was an issue of equality."
Former Dorchester resident Tom Goodkind recounted his experiences with busing in Boston in interview with UMass Boston graduate students Laura Kintz and Vini Maranan in April 2015. His experience with civil rights in Chicago, and Students for a Democratic Society in college shaped his view that desegregation was "an issue of equality." He also felt that blacks established the right "to walk in any part of the city" through busing.
Vrabel, Jim. A People’s History of the New Boston. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.
W. Arthur Garrity Jr. Papers on the Boston Schools Desegregation Case, 1972-1997. Series LXVII. Correspondence, 1973-1994. University Archives & Special Collections, University of Massachusetts Boston.
Mayor Kevin H. White records 1929-1999. Boston City Archives.