Jamaica Plain, also known as "J.P.,” began as part of the town of Roxbury in 1630, then seceded to become part of the new town of West Roxbury in 1851. Boston annexed West Roxbury in 1874, making J.P. part of Boston proper. By 1960, the neighborhood had a population of 53,000. It was ninety-five percent white, but economically diverse. Middle-class residents resided in single- and two-family homes, while working class families lived in two-family homes, three-deckers, and public housing. According to author Jim Vrabel in his book, A People's History of the New Boston, Jamaica Plain “had long been home to residents known for supporting liberal causes--- among them John Eliot…. Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the feminist Margaret Fuller.”
What were the experiences and opinions of Jamaica Plain residents?
The following items showcase two different opinions on busing, shaped by different life experiences. The first item is a letter to Judge W. Arthur Garrity, the federal judge who ordered that Boston's public schools be desegregated, from a resident who had been mugged. This experience left her strongly opposed to desegregation. The second item is an interview with a former resident, whose family supported desegregation. Their experience of having a black son shaped their support for busing. These two items are random samples of the diverse opinions found in Jamaica Plain.
"They (the colored people) made a hell-hole of Mission Hill, so let them stay there. It was fine before they came."
A resident’s letter to Judge Garrity complained that blacks “changed the face of Roxbury” and made a “hell-hole” of Mission Hill. The resident’s experience in Mission Hill, a part of Roxbury, included being “held up and assaulted by them four times, the first of which required hospitalization.” This experience left her opposed to desegregation because her interactions with some black people left her traumatized. Her opinions also conflict with Vrabel’s generalization that J.P. residents supported liberal causes, disproving the idea that these neighborhoods were single voting blocs.
"Well, they certainly felt it was important to have racially mixed schools."
Having an adopted black brother influenced Jamaica Plain resident Kirsten Alexander and her family to support busing. In this interview, she mentioned her brother’s “experience as an African American boy in a white family was extremely hard on him.” She also noted that their parents felt “it was important to have racially mixed schools.” Like some opponents of busing, they expressed concern for their children’s education. However, having a black son led them to the opposite opinion of the opposition.
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.