Committee Work: Organizing behind the Scenes
Ruth Batson started out as a volunteer fighting for a fair and equal education. Her grace and tenacity led to several high-profile paid positions, but she always remained passionate about improving the education of Boston’s children and the civil rights of Boston’s African American community. She may not have always led the charge, but she always maintained a presence in this fight. In the 1970s, Batson worked for Boston University School of Medicine in the division of Mental Health as a director of the “Consultation and Education” program, she was also involved with Freedom House’s Coordinated Social Services Committee, and Judge Garrity appointed her to the Citywide Coordinating Council. Due to her associations with these organizations, Batson developed several programs supporting families and children when Garrity’s busing plan (“Phase I”) began in Boston. Batson wrote articles for local newspapers, authored several books, and was often sought out by the press for an interview or a sound byte regarding her thoughts and memories of the desegregation fight.
In June 1974, Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered the Boston School Committee to desegregate the schools. He believed that busing students away from their neighborhood schools into other Boston area schools would effectively desegregate Boston schools. Many people and organizations in Boston believed there were problems with this plan and they formed committees to try to help make this transition as peaceful as possible.
Freedom House: Working for a Smooth Transition
In early summer 1974, Freedom House, Inc. invited several community leaders and organizations that had supported of the fight to desegregate Boston’s schools to meet to share information, and to figure out how to help the community deal with forced busing. By the fall, they decided to meet on a regular basis at Freedom House to discuss what was happening and how to handle any potential emergencies. They called this newly formed committee the “Coordinated Social Services Committee” (or sometimes “Group”). Batson became the co-chairperson of this newly formed committee with her friend Ellen Johnson. “…we would meet to get legal updates, findings out what was happening, where it was going. And there were all kinds of appeals coming in from the school systems so we needed to have an understanding." This Freedom House committee pulled together many service providers in the community of Boston to help students with the transition into their new schools and other issues that may arise from forced busing. They provided a hotline, bus monitors, published a “question and answer” brochure and provided assistance to a black citizen’s group who was also trying to help with the transition.
Consultation and Education Program: Working for a (Mental) Healthy Transition
Batson felt her involvement in the community and in her position as director of the Consultation and Education program at Boston University School of Medicine, Division of Psychiatry, she was best prepared to provide help for those who were struggling with the stresses forced busing may bring to individuals. Batson and a co-worker, Lyda Peters, came up with a plan to help parents and students with any mental health issues that would arise from this transition. They went to Washington, DC and met with officials from the National Institute of Mental Health. They secured funds to train people to work with the students during this period. They set up a program in the summer of 1975 where there were teams of people to ride on buses and work in schools to help the children feel safe. They created a counseling program, that trained professionals and provided places for students and parents to discuss their worries and concerns with forced busing. Out of their efforts came a booklet titled Community Crisis Intervention and Boston’s Desegregation Effort: A Case Study of a Training Program, which outlined their program, what worked and what didn’t work, as an informational guide for other professionals who may be interested in starting a similar program.
Riding the Buses: Working to Keep Children Safe
In October 1974, Batson took her turn riding the school buses, as a monitor, to escort children from Roxbury to their new school in South Boston. For the interview for a PBS documentary called Eyes on the Prize, Batson tells of her experience as a bus monitor. She describes how the children were loud and boisterous early in the ride, but as the bus began its approach to the school, the children became quiet. The street to the school was lined with signs and there were protesters at the school. “The other thing that shocked me, as we pulled up to the school, was the large number of women standing there making noises and making gestures at these children. And you know, it really bothered me because somehow I felt that women would be more understanding, and even if they didn’t agree with what was happening, they would at least have this motherly feeling….or some kind of feeling for these children.". For safety, the children would stay on the bus until the police could provide a safe escort past the protestors and into the school. Once in the school the children passed through metal detectors. “It killed me to see our Black students go through that procedure."
Citywide Coordinating Council: Working to Bridge the Gap
Judge W. Arthur Garrity ordered the creation of the Citywide Coordinating Council (CCC) in spring 1975. The purpose of this group was to monitor and to promote public awareness during the process of implementing the desegregation of the schools. Forty-two people of different ages, ethnicities, neighborhoods, religions, and levels of education were appointed to this council. Ruth Batson became one of the first appointed members. The committee had a wide range of responsibilities, but becasuse the group was so large, they had a difficult time being effective.
Judge Garrity had planned that the group would establish smaller functional sub-committees as part of the CCC’s structure, these sub-committees would report to each other before they finally reported to him. Boston newspapers covered their activities for the two and a half years they existed. Very often they were viewed in a contentious light. In August 1977, Judge Garrity ordered the disbandment of the Citywide Coordinating Council and he split their responsibilities between several other councils.
Story Teller-Record Keeper: Working to Keep the Memory Alive (and Accurate)
Ruth Batson willingly became a voice for the era. She was deeply concerned that the history of this era should be recorded accurately. She was often sought out for interviews in Newspapers, Magazines and Books. Sometime she was the interviewee and sometimes she was the author of the articles. Batson participated in several oral history projects and television documentaries on the subject. She wrote several books on the subject; The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (1995), A History of METCO: Suburban Education for Boston’s Urban Students (1986)and Community Crisis Intervention and the Boston Segregation Effort: Case Study of a Training Program (1976). When J. Anthony Lukas’ book Common Ground was published in 1985, Batson was extremely upset as the civil rights movement barely got a mention in the book. When it won the Pulitzer Prize, Batson became very concerned that Lukas’ story would become THE story of the desegregation era in Boston. Her concern for this potential outcome, along with her fundamental belief in accurately portraying the events of this era was a driving force for her willingness to tell the story in the public forum.
Epilogue: Always Working
Ruth M. Batson remained active in the community of Boston advocating for children and for African Americans her whole life. In 1951, she highlighted her attributes for a School Committee campaign as “Mother – Educator – Civil Worker” and these are attributes she always retained. She may not have known it at the time, but these characteristics became her driving force to make changes in Education and demand equal treatment for Boston’s African-American population.
It is important to note, in June of 1963 when Batson, as chairman of the Public Education Committee of the NAACP Boston Branch presented the list of fourteen demands, busing students to desegregate the schools was not one of them. In fact, there was no mention of desegregating the schools. It was not until September of 1963 that the Public Education Committee began to mention an integration plan, which was to build new schools on the edges of neighborhoods, and to redraw the school boundary lines for better integration. After eleven years of filibustering, Judge Garrity had reached the end of his patience with the Boston School Committee. During these years the school committee had filed appeal after appeal, they created programs and policies that would appear to address the NAACP’s concerns, but these programs and policies never amounted to anything. But mostly, this committee seemed to fan the flames of anger. Busing was Judge Garrity’s best plan to desegregate the schools. People like Ruth Batson, who worked for almost thirty years to achieve integration of the Boston school system, inherited the fallout from the Judge’s court order, but it was mostly the children of Boston who got stuck having to deal with this situation. Ruth Batson was there all along the way.
“Twenty years later, six years before the 21st century, the citizens of Boston must turn their sights on restoring Boston’s tarnished image. We must ask ourselves: How do we want history to record us?”
~Ruth M. Batson, 1994 
- Jackie Shearer, “Eyes on the Prize II Interviews: Interview with Ruth Batson,” Washington University Digital Gateway Texts, conducted by Blackside, Inc., for Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection, Seattle, WA. November 8, 1988. Question 8.
- Ibid., Question 9.
- Alan Eisner and Frank Thompson “The Anatomy of Boston’s School Crisis,” The Sunday Boston Herald Advertiser (August 10, 1975); section 5, 1.
Batson, Ruth M. The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology. Boston: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001.
Baton, Ruth M. The METCO Story, 7. An unpublished paper written for The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, October 11, 1985. Ruth Batson Papers, 1919-2003; MC 590, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.