Heard it Through the Grapevine: METCO Correspondence and Maintaining a United Front During Boston's Desegregation
The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), was founded in 1966 after the passing of the Racial Imbalance Law of 1965, and was the first voluntary school desegregation program in the country. By implementing the program, METCO hoped to be the apparatus that would ensure Boston Public Schools were integrated, in accordance with the law, and that students enrolled in the program would be able to safely transition to their new schools and be able to have a quality education. The battle however, was far from over following the passage of the Racial Imbalance Law, and it was found that a majority of Boston Public Schools were unlawfully segregated, even leading to a boycott of black parents of the schools in order to try and illicit changes that by definition of the law, should have already been in place.
This dissatisfaction and frustration would come to a violent head, when Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. of the United States District Court of the District of Massachusetts, determined that there was indeed unlawful segregation in Boston Public School and demanded the implementation of a desegregation plan. By 1974, Judge Garrity made the decision to implement a Busing Plan developed by the Massachusetts State Board of Education, and would oversee its implementation for the next 13 years.
With this decision, METCO had a major role to play in not only seeing that the busing plan was seen through for the many students enrolled in METCO, but ensuring that METCO would continue to receive the finances it needed to keep the program lucrative for its many students that depended on the program to obtain a quality education. In this letter from July 1975, Jean McGuire, the Executive Director of METCO, writes to Senator William Owens of the Massachusetts State Senate, outlining the importance of METCO's continued focus on the issues and challenges presented by the busing program, and outlining the financial burden faced as a result of attacks on the integrity of the program. This is one of many, many letters of correspondence between Jean McGuire, and others involved in the commuity circuits and organizations that were combating racism and desegregation in the busing period in Boston, and the correspondance shows that METCO had a key role in not only financing their program and ensuring that children of color were given the opportunity of education, but also in maintaining a network with other community organizations in the Greater Boston Area that were willing to see it through.
While the items in the gallery below are random pieces of correspondence from the METCO records housed at Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, they present a small part of a pattern that best represents the efforts of METCO to maintain relationships with organizations involved in making the desegregation process in Boston fruitful and lasting for the students involved. They are in no order, but show various letters that METCO administrators were receiving in order to monitor community events and assemblies on behalf of parents in communities where busing was occuring, but also the role of the administrators, like Jean McGuire in ensuring that METCO's image throughout the process was not attacked unjustly, therefore damaging their efforts.
What these documents show, and there are hundreds more, is that while Jean McGuire, as Executive Director, was on one hand making sure that publications and media did not damage the program in any way with false reporting, and taking care of communication with various state apparatuses that had a hand in funding for METCO, she was also reaching out to organizations like Freedom House, who had a long standing in the black Boston community and were helping with desegregation efforts. It shows that while METCO had to maintain elements of professionality and compliance with state regulations and laws, it by no means limited its employees and administrators from speaking out against racism in the school system and being able to have a voice to help illicit necessary change for the betterment of their students.
Other letters show that METCO was greatly involved and invested in helping parent councils and others who were concerned for the safety of black children being bused, and were writing letters on thier behalf, demanding that the law be upheld and implemented in a way that was safe for all of the students involved. They show the problematic and stressing environment created for the black Boston community by the backlash against what media was calling "forced busing" and how METCO and others within the community worked together to combat this damaging language. Even after the first year of busing, METCO dealt with challenges of maintaining a united front to ensure that desegregation in Boston Public Schools would continue to thrive and flourish, and that METCO as an organization would be there to see it through.