In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional. While America turned its attention to the immediate resistance and ensuing violence in the South, the controversy over integrated schools lay dormant in the North.
The landmark Brown ruling challenged the de jure (by law) segregation common in the South, but it didn't address the de facto segregation more common in the North. Although not written into law, segregation "in fact" existed in the North. For example, in Boston, Massachusetts, housing patterns revealed segregated neighborhoods. Because children were assigned to neighborhood schools, the schools were "in fact" segregated.
Inadequate funding in black schools meant fewer resources, overcrowding, and poorly paid teachers. For years, black parents in Boston argued for better conditions and equal education. The independently elected school committee countered that the social conditions that led to segregated housing patterns, and thus segregated schools, were beyond their control.
In 1971, the Supreme Court's ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg gave lower courts the power to remedy the de facto segregation that had stalled school desegregation in several states. One year later, 53 black parents who had been fighting for equal education sued the Boston School Committee to desegregate the schools. The case, Morgan v. Hennigan, was named for Tallulah Morgan, one of the parents in the class action suit, and James Hennigan, the school committee chairman.
On June 21, 1974, Massachusetts Federal Court Judge Arthur Garrity ruled that the Boston School Committee "intentionally brought about and maintained racial segregation." His ruling was based on school committee records that documented ongoing resistance to desegregating schools when the school committee alone had the power to decide who went to any given school. In the two years leading up to the ruling, protests and demonstrations revealed white resistance and racial tension in a city that had long considered race a southern issue.
Garrity ordered the desegregation of the schools by the following September. His ruling meant that thousands of white students would be bused to schools in black communities, and black students would be bused to white schools, some in hostile communities such as South Boston and Charlestown.
When school began in September 1974, most schools quietly complied with the new plan. But in South Boston, buses carrying black children were greeted by angry, violent mobs that threw rocks through the windows. Nine young black students were injured. Roxbury community center leader Ellen Jackson remembers, "The kids were crying. They had glass in their hair. They were scared... they wanted to go home.
Black parents organized escorts to see their children to school safely. The following year, the busing plan was revised. But the violence against Boston's black community continued, particularly in Charlestown and South Boston. Many white families boycotted the schools.
Boston's busing plan continued indefinitely. Eventually, the violence subsided as some white families complied, while others enrolled their children in private schools or moved out of the city altogether into predominantly white suburbs.
What were some similarities and differences between desegregation in Boston and desegregation in the South?
Why do you think desegregation in Boston did not occur until twenty years after the Brown decision?
Judge Garrity was criticized by some and praised by others for ordering immediate implementation of the busing plan. Do you agree with his ruling, and why?