"Joan of Arc of Boston": Religion and Support for R.O.A.R.

Selections from the program of R.O.A.R.'s first national covention in 1975.


Among the opponents of mandatory busing throughout the 1960s and 70s, no voice rang louder or more fervently than that of Louise Day Hicks. Having traded in her career as a lawyer for politics, Hicks served as a member of the Boston School Committee in the 1960s, a U.S. Representative from 1971-73, and then Boston City Council from 1973 onward. Prior to her leadership of City Council, during which time the Garrity decision was issued, Hicks had already established herself as a steadfast adversary of busing. She refused to acknowledge Boston's public schools as being racially segregated; she consistently argued that school demographics merely reflected that of their neighborhoods, and that there was no measurable discrepancy in school resources.

Hicks was integral to the 1974 formation and operation of an anti-busing coalition named Restore Our Alienated Rights (R.O.A.R.). The organization was marked by the militancy of its views. Busing was, for the members of R.O.A.R., nothing less than a complete annihilation of American freedoms that it would not tolerate. Hicks maintained a leadership role in the coalition prior to and after Judge Garrity mandated school desegregation. She promoted the mission of R.O.A.R. in national media, and developed a following of supporters across the country. Hicks capitalized upon the bolstering discontent in Boston concerning busing, promising a successful fight against the government's presumed mistreatment of whites.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Hicks became something of a target for supporters of desegregation. Given her status as the premiere opponent of busing, it was not difficult for critics to cast her as a bigot -- a shameful representative of Boston's dark side. Hicks took this in stride, often clarifying that R.O.A.R. was engaged in battle with busing, not desegregation. She by no means considered her actions to be reinforcing racist ideologies or structural inequality, as her rivals claimed. Instead, she understood herself as a representative for the families whose lives had been disrupted by "forced" busing.

Writers to Hicks sometimes drew upon their faith system to support her cause. Like Hicks, they rarely framed their support in reference to desegregation; they focused squarely upon busing as an infringement of supposedly God-given rights. Like Judge Garrity and Mayor White, Hicks received many letters from both the Boston metro area and from all corners of the country. Her contacts shared their prayers for Hicks' strength, general blessings, and sometimes political strategies relevant to churches. Ministers from beyond Massachusetts frequently invited Hicks to church-based rallies for the protection of "freedoms." What seems to be common across all these various messages is the recognition of Hicks as a victim, targeted unceasingly by liberals. Thus, many of their messages expressed a particular brand of New Right Christian faith, which called for divine support in the face of poltical persecution. To her supporters, Hicks had become both a champion of freedom and an embodiment of the self-sacrifice necessary for moral civic advancement. For them she had become, as one admirer stated, the "Joan of Arc of Boston."



"Joan of Arc of Boston": Religion and Support for R.O.A.R.