South Boston High School and Its impact on Racism

During the 1960’s and 1970’s the United States of America had been through a lot of transformations. The Civil Rights movement had changed the way people of other races were treated and this would have consequences that lasted through the 1970’s. South Boston High School was the battle ground for a war that the liberal elite chose to wage against segregation in their area. In an attempt to desegregate schools in Boston Massachusetts the state board in 1971 asked a local elementary school (Lee Elementary School) to achieve a balance of 53% white students and 47% black students. White parents were outraged at this and as a result pressured a member of the school committee who then changed his vote which originally barely passed the school board by a vote of 3-2 and now with the change of John Craven’s vote now the school board vote changed to deny the balance. This did not make the state board happy as we read in Thomas O’Connor’s South Boston My Home Town “an angry state board ordered a freeze on $200 million of new construction in Boston and $14 million in state aid from the city” (215). This obviously did not sit well with black parents who had been trying to obtain equal levels of quality of education for their kids. The black parents linked up with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and started a class action law suit against the Boston School Committee that became known as Morgan V. Hennigan. Tallulah Morgan was a mother of a student and James Hennigan was a member of the School Committee. The following year 1972 Judge Arthur W. Garrity an Irish Catholic from Worcester who graduated from Harvard law was given the case as a result of a lottery system used to assign the case. For two years Judge Garrity listened to arguments and counter arguments for the case and after those two years took another 15 months to decide that desegregations needed to take place. On June 21st 1974 Garrity reached his decision and said “the entire school system of Boston is unconstitutionally segregated” (O’Connor 215). A plan was devised to bus seventeen thousand students from one neighborhood school to another. No other place was so affected by the busing as was South Boston. South Boston High School would prove to be a battle ground for the anti-busing activists and on the first day of school on September 12, 1974 five hundred people gathered on G Street in front of Southie High. We read from O’Connor that “early that warm September morning local residents gathered on G Street in front of South Boston High School, angry, nervous, bitter, and waiting for the buses to arrive. This particular morning was the emotional climax of nearly a year of mounting tension and almost continuous planning” (216). People from Roxbury hated the whites from Southie and the Irish Catholics from Southie hated the blacks of Roxbury. Both races were so clouded by hate for the others race they failed to see they were both fighting for the same thing, equal quality education for their kids.  Southie High though continued to fuel the fire. O’Connor shows us “events at South Boston High School continued to keep the neighborhood in turmoil. Without letup there were confrontations in the corridors, fist fights in the lunchroom, clashes in the lavatories, and shoving matches in the locker room”(220). Eventually the violence peaked with the stabbing on December 11th 1974 where a white student Michael Faith was stabbed by a black during a fight at Southie High. It would take platoons of police as well as special tactical units to get the busing students out of the high school as protestors and violent demonstrators had gather outside the high school. Violence continued to escalate and on October 23rd 1975 fights broke out at a football game between Southie High and Dorchester. After reading the reports and taking several personal visits to the school “on December 9, 1975 Judge W. Arthur Garrity placed South Boston High School under direct federal control” (O’Connor 222). As South Boston High School was the epicenter it was the testing and also proving ground for the desegregation of relatively lower class citizens in de facto segregated communities and schools. Not only was this a struggle between the two races it was also seen as a struggle between whites and other whites over different visions for their communities. We read in Boston Against Busing “The desegregation ordered by judge Garrity was at one level an attempt by mobile professionals and elites to impose their liberal, cosmopolitan, middle-class values on working and lower-middle-class people who embraced the values of localism and personalism” (Formisano 220-221). As South Boston High School was the site that this busing was most violently protested; it was the location where the racial and social makeup of the people in South Boston and its surrounding neighborhoods were decided. The results of this still last today is seen with the way races stick together in specific areas still. Because of what took place during the busing riots at Southie High “Boston became a potent, nearly universal symbol of what not to do” (Formisano 223). Many saw the busing laws as the liberal elite’s war against racism and segregation. The events in South Boston and more specifically Southie High showed “poor blacks and lower class whites were the foot soldiers for a war initiated and pursued by the liberal elite” (Formisano 224). This caused the busing riots in and around South Boston High School as the Vietnam of the seventies. Some have said that the anti-busing riots were a result of “rapid decline of respect for authority, particularly government authority in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s” (Formisano 237). Whatever the reasons behind the busing laws and the anti-busing protestors one general lesson came from the riots at South Boston High School.  Formisano says it best “the school desegregation experience shows that partial remedies lead to failure” (238). The liberals started this war to further their agenda and because they refused to enforce laws fully and properly the lower-class citizens both black and white from Southie and Roxbury were the ones who suffered.

Works Cited Blog Project

Formisano, Ronald P. Boston against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s. Chapel   Hill: University of North Carolina, 1991. Print.

O’Connor, Thomas H. South Boston, My Home Town: The History of an Ethnic Neighborhood. Boston:    Quinlan, 1988. Print.

MacDonald, Michael Patrick. All Souls: A Family Story from Southie. Boston: Beacon, 1999. Print.

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