Prayers for Justice and Peace: Religious Responses to the Garrity Decision
On June 21, 1974, U.S. District Court Justice W. Arthur Garrity ruled in Morgan v. Hennigan that Boston must racially integrate its public schools via inter-neighborhood busing. Organizations like the NAACP had issued challenges to Boston’s de facto school segregation for over a decade prior to the Garrity decision. These groups and their members argued that most schools within the city were primarily comprised of one racial group, and those serving African American students were notably under-resourced. Morgan v. Hennison carried on for two years before Garrity ruled in favor of the plaintiff, finding that Boston had intentionally segregated its schools and appropriated less funding to those in black neighborhoods.
Responses to the decision were varied, but almost always impassioned. Many people from within and beyond Boston wrote to Garrity, sharing their praise, outrage, or concern. Parents and children often expressed worries that busing would be a practical burden on daily life. Social justice advocates celebrated the impact that busing might have upon black student achievement. White supremacists communicated disdain towards African Americans and the concept of busing, which they perceived as an infringement upon basic freedoms.
For the most part, the religious perspectives expressed to Judge Garrity in the wake of his ruling were supportive of busing. These correspondents, regardless of location, often appreciated his decision as a first step towards social justice, which they understood within a larger, Christian context. Several churches held public prayers for Garrity and for the implementation of busing. Others called upon leaders of the church to help pacify the controversy surrounding desegregation, which had in some cases translated into physical violence throughout the city. Only a few materials drew a connection between faith and an anti-desegregation stance; these items either urged readers to pray for the restoration of "freedom" or made a religious argument against racial integration.
Collectively, then, these materials sent to Judge Garrity demonstrate that Christian faith was appropriated to suit various political and social agendas in response to mandatory busing. In general, churches were more likely to express support for desegregation (or at least social stability in its wake) than opposition to it. Religious individuals, separate from their institutions, generally followed the same trend, but not always. The collected papers of Judge Garrity thus indicate that Christians in the 1970s were not as likely to form religious arguments in support of racial segregation. They were, however, very often able to form such arguments about the process of busing itself. As other pages in this exhibit show, proponents and opponents of busing often centered their religious arguments upon various notions of justice.