Bostonagainst Busing: The Role of Gender
HIST 142: U.S. 1945 – Present
April 27, 2015
Bostonagainst Busing: The Role of Gender
Desegregationof schools became an important consideration in Boston, Following theUnited States Supreme Court verdict in the case: Brownv. Board of Education of Topeka,347 US 483 (1954). The court contended that the notion ofseparate education system for white and black students was anindication of inequality. In this regard, school districts wererequired to integrate public schools to incorporate both the blacksand the whites. However, despite the court’s ruling and theenactment of the 1965 Racial Balance Act in Massachusetts, publicschools in Boston remained largely segregated.
Respondingto the failure of Boston to desegregate its public schools, blackparents took a case to the court accusing the Boston School committeeof defying the Supreme Court order. The case was between Morgan etal.versus Hennigan etal(379 F. Supp. 410) filed 15thmarch, 1972. The claim was that a deliberate move had been taken byBoston School Committee to segregate Boston Public Schools. In Juneof 1974, Judge Arthur Garrity established a plan to bus Boston PublicSchool students to schools away from their neighborhood and thepairing of black dominated schools with the white dominated schools.For instance, the plan called for busing of students between thewhite dominated and black dominated schools and the pairing of blackpredominated Roxbury High School with the white dominated SouthBoston High School1.This move raised uproar in Boston as people sought to resistdesegregation.
Themove led to formation of anti-busing organizations such as RestoreOur Alienated Rights (ROAR). ROAR was predominantly a women’sorganization2.In this paper, I will analyze the role played by women, through ROAR,in the anti-busing campaigns. I will argue that women conceivedforcedibusing as a “women’s issue” which sought to separate childrenfrom their mothers3.Hence, as much as there has been little focus on their role, theymade remarkable contributions in the resistance. The reason forsettling on the role of women in anti-busing strategy is that manyworks done focus on other factors such as the influence of socialclass, as in Formisiano’s analysis,and tend to forget the white women activism efforts in the struggleagainst desegregation4.
Thecall for desegregation of public schools in the United States in 1954Supreme Court ruling implied that all states, as well as statedistricts, were required to integrate students from all races inpublic schools following an equitable racial balance strategy. In thecapital of Massachusetts, the 1954 court order faced a huge challengefor both leaders and the citizens. Desegregation of Boston PublicSchools called for massive disturbance in the way the Boston SchoolCommittees manned the education system. Boston Public Schools hadbeen historically heavily segregated in relation to race. In thisregard, very few leaders in Boston executed or planned to execute themandatory Supreme Court ruling. In this vein, several legalinterventions were made to remedy the situation5.
Thefirst remedy taken in Massachusetts was the enactment of the 1965Racial Imbalance Act. This law required that school committees inMassachusetts should work together so as to eradicate the imbalanceof race in the public schools across the state. Moreover, the lawenabled the state to deny funding to any district that did not comeup with a plan of desegregating education. However, the law was notall perfect. For example, the legislation described a school asracially segregated and in need of intervention if and only if it hada percentage of non-white students above fifty6.This implied that the law was only applicable to public schools infew cities, like Boston, leaving out others. Moreover, a school thathad a population of all white students was not considered imbalancedin terms of race. This condition too affected Boston as opposed toother districts.
Itis on these grounds that Boston started opposing the Racial ImbalanceAct in efforts of evading its requirements. Louise Hicks was giventhe position of Chair to the Boston School Committee in 19637.For the next decade, she engaged in active efforts to oppose theRacial Imbalance Act and court orders for intervention in BostonPublic Schools desegregation. In her leadership, Boston SchoolCommittee was able to avoid the implementation of any provision ofthe Racial Imbalance act. This implied that the racial segregationfact remained unaltered for a long time thus hindering theimplementation of Brown. In reaction to Boston School Committeedefiance, the state of Massachusetts denied the Boston SchoolDistrict funding in 19728.
However,the situation in Boston changed in the June of 1974 when JudgeGarrity handed down the case of Morgan etalv. Hennigan. In his ruling, Garrity established that Boston SchoolCommittee had deliberately pursued efforts to segregate education inBoston. He was convinced that racial imbalance was evident in allschools across Boston (Morgan v. Hennigan, 1974). Garrity furthernoted that the school committee of Boston had built schools andplanned transfers as well as designing school districts with an aimof maintaining racial segregation.
Onthe basis of the 1974 ruling, Judge Garrity came up with a masterplan to remedy racial segregation in Boston public Schools to beimplemented in three phases9.The first phase involved transporting students between neighborhoodschools to remedy racial imbalance. Phase two called for constructionof new schools, pairing of schools, controlled transfer of studentsto public schools and closing of some old schools. There is no doubtthat the busing strategy was a forced initiative to curb racialimbalance in public schools. In reaction to the busing strategy,anti-busing campaigns and organizations started to form in Boston. AsElliotWeinbaumobserves, even though many people were for desegregation of publicschools, the details of busing of students annoyed almost everyone10. It is at this juncture that women pre-dominated organizations suchas Restore Our Alienated Rights found their place in the resistanceto Garrity’s decision. The fact that ROAR was pre-dominated bywomen shows the important role that women played in this resistance.
LouiseDay Hicks founded restore Our Alienated Rights in 1974 as anorganization to resist busing in Boston. As it has been observed,Hicks’ efforts to resist desegregation have their roots in BostonSchool Committee when she served as the chairwoman of the committeefrom 1963 to 196511.On November 7th1974, Nashua Telegraph reported that Mrs. Hicks had been at thecenter of the resistance of forced racial integration in schools. Thepaper depicted Hicks as unstoppable in her plans12. Not even the federal court or the law enforcing agents such as thepolice. After diverging to other political interests until 1973,Hicks returned to Boston and formed ROAR in 1974 in response toGarrity’s decision. Nashua Telegraph captured Boston Police CaptainArthur Cadegan saying that the leaders of ROAR were almost all womenand that they met in secrecy on Wednesdays in the city hall headed byMrs. Hicks. Cadegan reported that the women persistently metregardless of the arrival of five lawyers from the Justice Departmentwho were sent to prosecute those who opposed the busing order.According to the Telegraph Report, the women’s resistance to busingwas run like an election campaign with a highly organizedcommunication network among the members.
Cadegantold the Telegraph “one day it was a quarter to 12 and they gotword of something going on at the high school. By five minutes oftwelve there were a couple of hundred mothers in front of theschool13.”Kathleen Banks also observes that ROAR’s membership was exclusivelyfemale who started aiming at women liberation movements in Boston.Banks calls the women ROAR militants who were highly politicized14.
Theobjectives of ROAR can be traced from the demands the organizationput in writing15.The organization called upon the senators and congressmen to take aninitiative, to revert what they termed as unconstitutional abrogationof Boston School Committee statutory powers by Garrity decision, tothe congress. Secondly, ROAR demanded that the constitution beamended so as to prohibit forced busing and be taken for voting inthe Senate and in the House of Representatives. The Boston cityrepresentatives were to take the amendment to the congress. Thirdly,ROAR demanded a meeting between white students and senators andcongressmen be arranged so as to rebut the ruling of Garrity.
Moreover,the organization demanded a meeting between parents’ representativeof Boston and the Senators and congressmen so as to get into thereality of the frustrations caused by Garrity’s decision. From thedemands sampled, it is evident that ROAR was comprised ofconservative women who would do anything to maintain the status quoin Boston. As Banks observes, the ROAR women sought to maintain theirtraditional maternal values16.Bank continues to add that the role that women played in conservativemovements, like the anti-busing movement in Boston, derived itssubstance from gender-specific issues and thus must be addressed atpar with role played by men. Women who were proclaiming themselves asmothers added a new aspect gender role into the resistance forum.They were not just viewed as women but as women playing a genderrole: the role of a mother. Hence, all the activities of ROAR wereconducted in the voice of ‘mothers’. The Mayor of Boston KelvinWhite, was on 11thSeptember 1974, recorded saying that he had listened to the voice ofmothers and had heard their suffering. According to the mayor, themothers expressed the inconveniences that children and parents wouldendure upon the implementation of Garrity’s decision17.
Accordingto Banks, ROAR’s agenda was based on both community and parentalcontrol. In this regard, the women fought for restoring the custodialrights for their children that had been alienated by Judge Garrity’sruling. To do this, ROAR organized invitation-only meetings onFridays of every week in the City Hall. Most of those invited werewomen like Virginia Sheehy, Pat Ranese and Rita Graul as therepresentatives of South Boston, Pixie Palladino from East Boston andFran Johnnene from Hyde Park18.
ROARapplied a number of strategies in resisting busing in Boston. Forinstance, white mothers urged their children to boycott school whilesome took their children to parochial schools. In response to theboycott called by ROAR, many parents chose to have their childrenremain at home to guarantee their safety. Banks notes that schoolabsenteeism level was high in high and middle school grades. Morethan 50 percent of the students did not attend school. In SouthBoston High School, only 124 out of the 1,300 attended school on thefirst day of busing. 59 of them had been bused from Roxbury blackdominated school19.
Secondly,ROAR, under the leadership of Hicks, lead demonstrations to resistbusing. For example, on 11thof December 1974, violence broke in South Boston High School where awhite student was involved in a physical fight with a black student.This led to the gathering of angry mob outside South Boston HighSchool. White mothers yelled racist slogans20.The demonstrations turned to violence as police intervened toevacuate the black students. Angry women and men overturned cars andstoned police cruisers. The leader of ROAR, Mrs. Hicks, sought tocalm down the angry mothers who wanted the black students to be busedback to Roxbury. The violence led to the closure of South Boston HighSchool until the New Year.
Moreover,after the violence cases in South Boston, ROAR women shifted theirattention to the public venues21.According to Boston Globe, 150 women from ROAR attended the signingof the 1975 International Women’s Year. The women wore gold andblue ROAR attires with the words, “stop forced busing” written onthem. These were efforts by ROAR to seek a forum on which to expresstheir grievances22.
Accordingto Banks, 1975 witnessed a change in the organization leadership ofROAR. The new Mother’s leader Palladino was viewed as more activethan Hicks. In her leadership, ROAR extended its agenda fromdesegregation to fighting liberal politics. In this line, ROAR soughtto express women’s grievances in public rallies and annualcelebrations such as the 1975 Boston’s Patriots’ Day. Theactivities of ROAR continued to be rigorous until 1977, when Hickslost her position in the Boston City Council.
Fromthe foregoing, my analysis has established an active role played bywomen in the anti-busing resistance in Boston. I argue that despiteof lack of much work done on the role of women in the resistance, itis evident from the little that has been documented and analyzed thatthe influence of gender in the resistance cannot be overlooked. Thereis a close relation between motherhood and the events that unfoldedin Boston. Mothers felt that the authority traditionally bestowed onthem upon their children in terms of deciding where to take them toschool was being threatened.
However,this does not imply that the mother’s motives were to retain thechildren in their neighborhood and choose freely where they wished toeducate them. Rather, from the discussion, it seems the centralfactor was difference in races. The notion of white privilege must betaken into account. By the color of the skin, the white mothers feltthat they were entitled to certain benefits such as educating theirchildren in better-equipped schools. Moreover, the issue of class isof importance here too. By seeking to have separate schools for thewhites and blacks, it is evident that the system was in favor of themiddle class. It is typical that the whites dominated the middleclass while the low class was predominantly black. In this regard, Iargue that as much as the role of women is to be given considerationin the resistance war, we must also admit that this consideration canonly make sense not in isolation but in the context of class andracial factors. It is in the light of class and race that ROAR airsits grievances.
Inconclusion, the activities of ROAR were not entirely fruitless. Asone study establishes, Boston Public Schools comprise ofpredominantly the Latinos and the Blacks23. Public schools in Boston have only a small portion of white andAsian students. The public school enrollment dropped tragicallyduring the era Garrity, leading to closure of some schools, such asRoxbury. In this regard, Boston sought to lower its cutoff percentageof imbalance from originally 50% white to 9% white. We may concludethat the activities of ROAR and other anti-busing strategies weresuccessful to a great extent. Today, busing has failed to desegregateschools in Boston, just like it failed in the 1960s and 70s.
Boston’sBusing Crisis: Joe Moakley, Judge Garrity and the people ofMassachusetts. Suffolk University. Accessed 26thApril2015. www.suffolk.edu/moakley
Garrity Decision Research Guide.Suffok University. Accessed 26 April 2015.http://www.suffolk.edu/moakley/garrityguide.html#citedGarrityDecision Research Guide
HelenaP. et al. Opportunity and Equity: Enrollment and Outcomes of Blackand Latino Males in Boston Public Schools. Center for CollaborativeEducation, 2014.
KifnerJ. “Boston is tense on Eve of Busing” New York Times, Sept 12,1974, p.41.
Mydans, S. “LouiseDay Hicks, ROAR, Oppos”NashuaTelegraph , Nov, 71974 p.14
Nutter, K.B. “MilitantMothers”:Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976.HistoricalJournal of Massachusetts. (Fall2010): 52-75
Restore Our Alienated Rights.Suffolk University. Accessed 26thApril 2015.https://www.suffolk.edu/documents/MoakleyArchive/DI-0988.pdf
Weinbaum,E.Looking for Leadership: Battles over Busing in Boston.Perspectives on Urban Education journal. 3 no.1. (2004)
Zaremski, K. Guide to LouiseHicks Papers, City of Boston Archives and Records ManagementDivision. Accessed 26 April 2015http://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Guide%20to%20the%20Louise%20Day%20Hicks%20papers_tcm3-37481.pdf
1 Boston’s Busing Crisis: Joe Moakley, Judge Garrity and the people of Massachusetts. Suffolk University. Accessed 26th May 2015. www.suffolk.edu/moakley
2 Nutter, K.B. “Militant Mothers”: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976”. Historical Journal of Massachusetts. (Fall 2010): 52-75
3Mike Wallace. Crisis in the Classroom: Little Rock and Boston, DVD, Narrated by. New York: A&E Home Video, 1996.
4 Formisiano. Boston against Busing, 1991
5 Weinbaum, E. Looking for Leadership: Battles over Busing in Boston. Perspectives on Urban Education journal. 3 no.1. (2004)
9 Garrity Decision Research Guide. Suffok University. Accessed 26 April 2015. http://www.suffolk.edu/moakley/garrityguide.html#citedGarrity Decision Research Guide
10 Weinbaum, E. Looking for Leadership: Battles over Busing in Boston. Perspectives on Urban Education journal. 3 no.1. (2004)
11 Zaremski, K. Guide to Louise Hicks Papers, City of Boston Archives and Records Management Division. Accessed 26 April 2015 http://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Guide%20to%20the%20Louise%20Day%20Hicks%20papers_tcm3-37481.pdf
12 Mydans, S. “Louise Day Hicks, ROAR, Oppos” Nashua Telegraph , Nov, 7 1974 p.14
14 Nutter, K.B. “Militant Mothers”: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976. Historical Journal of Massachusetts. (Fall 2010): 52-75
15 Restore Our Alienated Rights. Suffolk University. Accessed 26th April 2015. https://www.suffolk.edu/documents/MoakleyArchive/DI-0988.pdf
16 Nutter, K.B. “Militant Mothers”: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976. Historical Journal of Massachusetts. (Fall 2010): 52-75 p.54
17 Kifner J. “Boston is tense on Eve of Busing” New York Times, Sept 12, 1974, p.41.
18 Nutter, K.B. “Militant Mothers”: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976. Historical Journal of Massachusetts. (Fall 2010): 52-75 p.59
19 Ibid 61
20 Formisiano. Boston against Busing, 1991 81-82
21 Nutter, K.B. “Militant Mothers”: Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976. Historical Journal of Massachusetts. (Fall 2010): 52-75 p.63
22 Ibid 66
23 Helena P. et al. Opportunity and Equity: Enrollment and Outcomes of Black and Latino Males in Boston Public Schools. Center for Collaborative Education, 2014. 207