Busing Crisis Leaves South Boston With Racist Reputation

The city of Boston is commonly known for its segregation of ethnic neighborhoods, which still remain distinct today.   Newcomers to these neighborhoods tend to gravitate to areas where they fit in more with the ethnic background that is already there.  The busing riots that broke out in South Boston were caused by the arrival of the African Americans’ arrival at South Boston High in 1974.  South Boston was so significant during this historical moment because, it was a neighborhood that was strictly Catholic, white, Irish Americans that inhabited it.  At this time—in 1974—anyone else of any other minority was violently shunned from the area.  The white community held a deep hated for the African Americans of Roxbury because they were the particular minority that violated their space, by “invading” their schools.  The “street level” perspective of these people is extremely important to take into consideration when remembering this awful time in American history.

The perspectives of African Americans and the whites opposed each other in this situation.  In The Other Boston Busing Story, one woman admitted, “a lot of people in some parts of Boston, they don’t have knowledge of where things are outside their little neighborhood” (Eaton 25).  This statement held true for both blacks and whites in Boston in 1974.  Boston’s boundary system kept people separated, which caused them to develop a deep hatred or disgust for people of opposing ethnic races, religious backgrounds and educational institutions.  For example, Kevin Tyler—just 12 or 13 years old—from Roxbury disclosed that he felt “out of sorts, out of [his] element” when he looked around the suburban neighborhood around the school he went to.  Although he was only ten or twelve miles from home, he said suburbia looked like “another world” (Eaton 218).  This feeling of discomfort and alienation became more serious when it came to the actual busing back and forth between the schools in Roxbury and South Boston.

Although “Boston and its suburbs are generally close in proximity…as the cliché says aptly, they are worlds apart” (Eaton 219).  This quote not only represents the actual, geographical locations’ differences, but the schools as well.  African Americans in the Roxbury area stated that they were seeking equal educational opportunities, rather than integration of school systems (219).  Yet, as it has been recorded, many black parents were completely against the idea of integrating the students of Roxbury and South Boston.  According to Manwaring,

A 1982 Boston Globe poll found that 79 percent of black parents with children in the public schools favored an open-enrollment plan over forced busing. In fact, 42 percent of those polled said they did not even favor busing in 1974.

This statistic shows just how unwanted the forced busing actions were amongst the black community of Roxbury.  Young, black students especially hated being bused to South Boston because they were “greeted” by a gauntlet of thrown rocks and bottles, and signs that read “Bring Them Back to Africa!” (Hoover, Busing’s Boston Massacre).  Not only were the students from Roxbury unwanted in the school systems in Southie, but they were literally shunned from the area by white students.  This was such a serious problem that the black students were escorted in order to protect them from being outright beaten.  From the perspective of black parents, they thought that the desegregation of the schools had to be done in order to achieve equal education opportunities—despite the concerns about the safety and wellbeing of their children.

Desegregation efforts met with great resistance from the white community of South Boston (Manwaring 4).  White parents of South Boston’s main priorities were safety and quality education for their children, as well as a sense that the schools should remain closely linked to their neighborhoods (Manwaring 13).  These parents were also concerned that if the African American kids from Roxbury came to their schools, that their reputation for having “good schools” would be destroyed.  They thought that if they black kids went to these schools that the quality of the education would also be lessened.  I think that the white population of South Boston was especially worried that the African Americans would change that area of Boston forever.

For one particular South Boston student—Tim Norton—who was in the ninth grade the second year of busing, said it was still intense.  He reported that he felt under pressure by other white kids to stay away from South Boston High.  Norton stated that, “it was craziness—basically no teaching going on at the school.  It was just total disruption” (Handy).  For white students of South Boston, attending school during this time was completely pointless because there were constantly protests and boycotts going on.  If a white student did show up at school, they would consequently get beaten by their fellow classmates.  Norton also stated that, “[he thought] it was an eye-opener, certainly for many families. Why [did] we keep sending our kids to Southie high and get a poor education? Open people’s eyes, there are better schools” (Handy).

The parents of students at South Boston High were in denial that they thought that the school systems in South Boston were so much better than any other area around them.  This in part was true, due to the fact that the public and private schools of South Boston were given much more money than the public schools in Roxbury.  This left the schools in Roxbury with less teachers and resources, which made the quality of education very poor.  The whites clearly did not want the African Americans in their schools, as South Boston was primarily Catholic, Irish Americans.  By having black students in their schools, their “exclusive” neighborhood would be ruined.

Not only did the students of South Boston act out violently toward the arrival of the black students of Roxbury, but so did the parents.

When school started in the fall of 1974, white parents met the buses of black students with racial epithets, stones and bottles.  They shattered windows and sent black students home with broken glass in their hair.  They harassed white families who went along with desegregation” (PBS, Eyes On The Prize).

This statement proves that the entire population of South Boston was furious and acted violently with the arrival of the black students, including the parents.  The violence was generally concentrated around the working-class community of South Boston High School, and was also present in the city’s middle class white neighborhoods.  In effort to avoid attending school with the African Americans all together, white students were tutored at home, some left the city, some even were sent to parochial or other private schools (PBS, Eyes On The Prize).  I think that the white, working class community of South Boston was especially infuriated with African American community coming into their territory because they had to work for what they had.  They were aware of how hard they had to work to make money to have what they had, and to see this random group of people infringing on their school system made them extremely spiteful.  In my opinion, I think that the working class was particularly outraged at the African Americans because they didn’t like seeing other people from another neighborhood benefitting from their resources they had to work so hard for.

Considering where each side was coming from during this time of turmoil is vital in understanding how South Boston High School was so significant in the busing crisis.  I think that this location was extremely important in this situation because it was an institution where all of the kids of the parents living in South Boston went to school.  The white parents and African American parents had a lot to fight for that was more complicated than what the kids were fighting for.  The parents on both ends were upset that the neighborhoods they lived in were not sufficient for educating their children.  The African America parents were extremely disappointed that the Roxbury school system lacked so many resources due to the limited budget they were given.  Meanwhile, the white parents of South Boston were mostly working-class, white people who were perturbed at the fact that their neighborhood’s school system was being invaded by outside people. The white parental community knew that they needed to work hard for their kids to go to school, and the fact that African American kids from another neighborhood could just come in go to their schools made them furious, and act out racially demeaning toward them.  The ultimate outcome of this racial turmoil was a terribly racist reputation among the community of South Boston.

Works Cited:

“Busing’s Boston Massacre.” Policy Review (2012). Hoover Institution. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. <http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/7768&gt;.

Eaton, Susan E. The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost across the Boundary Line. New Haven: Yale UP, 2001. Print.

“Eyes On The Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985.” PBS. Ford Foundation & The Gilder Foundation, 23 Aug. 2006. Web. 08 May 2012. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/eyesontheprize/story/21_boston.html&gt;.

Handy, Delores. “40 Years Later, Boston Looks Back On Busing Crisis.” 90.9 Wbur (2012). 90.0 WBUR. 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2012. <http://www.wbur.org/2012/03/30/boston-busing-crisis&gt;.

Manwaring, Melissa. “Boston Busing: Integrating Schools in Massachusetts: Historical and General Instructions.” Workable Peace (2001). Print.

Additional Blog Sources:

Farmer, Padriac. “Busing.” Web log post. Padriac.com. 17 Dec. 2010. Web. 25 Apr. 2012. <http://padriac.com/about&gt;.