The Decision (1954–1974)
On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional.
On May 31, 1955, the U.S. Supreme Court raised the urgency of desegregation in the Brown II ruling by ordering that it must proceed with “all deliberate speed.”
On November 15, 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bradley v. Richmond School Board that “delays in desegregating school systems are no longer tolerable.” This ruling affected Boston’s desegregation case in 1974 by requiring the Phase 1 busing plan to start immediately, instead of waiting until the 1975–1976 school year.
On April 20, 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education that busing was an appropriate means to desegregate schools. It was the only remedy to segregation identified by the high court.
In March 1972, the NAACP filed the lawsuit Morgan v. Hennigan, alleging discriminatory practices by the Boston School Committee. The lawsuit claimed black school children faced deliberate discrimination through the open enrollment policy, controlling access to transfers, being forced to attend inferior schools, restricting faculty transfers and virtually exclusive hiring of white administrators and faculty.
On February 15, 1973, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the Boston School Committee violated the Racial Imbalance Act and ordered the state Department of Education to draw a desegregation plan that could be implemented for the 1974–1975 school year.
On June 21, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Keys v. School District Number 1 that if one section of a school district was found to be intentionally segregated, all other areas of the school system could be found in violation of the 14th Amendment. This ruling gave clear direction that Boston Schools could be ordered to be desegregated because it administered a discriminatory system, even though legal segregation never existed.
On June 21, 1974, the Federal District Court ruled in Morgan v. Hennigan that “racial segregation permeates schools in all areas of the city, all grade levels and all types of schools.” The court agreed with the NAACP’s brief that the School Committee had systematically disadvantaged black school children.
On June 25, 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Milliken v. Bradley that desegregation plans had to be restricted to the school system where segregation had been found. This prevented Judge Arthur Garrity from ordering a busing system that would have included suburban school districts.
Phase 1 & 2 (1974–1987)
The Phase 1 plan was adapted from the Board of Education desegregation plan. It only included neighborhoods where blacks and whites lived closed to each other. Only 80 schools were affected.
Desegregation in Boston started with a court order to racially balance faculty and administrative hiring. On July 31, 1974, Judge Garrity ordered that 280 new teachers be hired for September 1974. A black teacher would be hired for every white teacher who was offered employment.
Mayor White held coffee meetings with parents to help encourage the acceptance of the busing plan. But, most political leaders refused to take a position. (( The Bus Itself is Unimportant, Boston Globe August 5, 1974.))
The Catholic Archdiocese recognized that many parents would want to pull their children out of Boston Schools and place them in Catholic schools. The archdiocese heavily restricted transfers to its schools, resulting in the boycott of Catholic charities in South Boston and Hyde Park. Many Bostonians believe that the Catholic Church harbored middle class “refugee” students who wanted to escape Boston Schools. But, data shows that enrollment in Catholic schools continued to decline through the decade and 22 schools were closed in the archdiocese between 1974–1980. ((The Catholic Church and the Desegregation of Boston’s Public Schools by Glinski, James E. New England Journal of Public Policy June 21, 1988.))
On September 12, 1974, schools opened generally peacefully without a heavy police presence. But in South Boston, nine black students were injured by rocks thrown at buses. Violence soon spread to Hide Park High School, affecting attendance in both neighborhoods. ((Boston Schools Desegregated, Opening Day Generally Peaceful, Boston Globe September 13, 1972.))
Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR) called for a two week boycott of schools. It is the first of a series of walkouts during Phase 1 and Phase 2 busing.
On October 7, 1974, Mayor White was denied the use of federal marshals to maintain order in the school system. White told Judge Garrity that enforcement of Phase 1 desegregation had cost the city more than $2 million in its first 18 days. As many as 350 state police secured South Boston High School and 500 National Guard troops were put on alert.
On October 31, 1974, Judge Garrity ordered the School Committee to prepare a Phase 2 desegregation plan to be implemented in September 1975. It voted on Dec. 16, 1974, to refuse to submit a plan. The School Committee was charged with being in contempt of court and Judge Garrity threatened to remove three committee members. The committee submitted an incomplete plan on Jan. 27, 1975, allowing an end to the standoff.
On Dec. 11, 1974, a white student was stabbed by a black student at South Boston High School. Parents barricaded the school and state police rescued the black teens who were trapped inside. The school was closed until the end of winter break. It reopened with police officers inside the hallways. Boston police overtime between September 1974–January 1975 cost $4,623,828.16.
On December 17, 1974, Judge Garrity ordered a quiet zone around all Boston school buildings. He also forbade racial slurs. He ordered a plan to close South Boston High School and disperse its students.
On January 31, 1975, Judge Garrity hired two consultants to write the Phase 2 desegregation plan. He later appointed four masters to hold hearings on the Phase 2 plan. The School Committee tried to get a consultant and a master removed.
On April 17, 1974, the masters presented the Phase 2 plan after numerous hearings. The Phase 2 plan affected all neighborhoods except East Boston. It divided the city into eight geographic zones and a citywide zone. Each district had to be racially balanced. The citywide zone contained 22 magnet schools. Half of Boston students would be bused. Students could request a school within their district, but there were no guarantees of assignment. The Phase 2 plan also paired 20 schools with corporations and universities.
The Boston Globe received the Pulitzer Prize Public Service Medal on May 7, 1974, for its coverage of the busing crisis during 1974. ((Reflections on a Pulitzer, Boston Globe May 8, 1975.))
White student enrollment fell so sharply in the first year of busing that the 1975–1976 school year opened with more minority students than white students.
On April 5, 1976, Attorney Theodore Landsmark was beaten on City Hall Plaza by a group of white students. A photographer captured Landsmark being held while a student lunged with the American flag. ((Black Man Beaten by Young Busing Protesters, Boston Globe April 6, 1976.))
Jerome Winegar took over South Boston High School as headmaster on April 19,1976. He was recommended by a group of parents whose children attended schools in South Boston. Judge Garrity put the high school under court receivership in December 1975 and fired the school administration. ((Can This Man Get South Boston High to Run Smoothly? Boston Globe April 25, 1976.)) A city record of 1,600 suspensions were issued at Southie High in the previous school year.
Winegar scolded Mayor White and other city politicians for not condemning an attack on school buses on September 19, 1979.
On October 19, 1979, State Sen. Joseph Timilty and City Councilman Raymond Flynn rescued a black couple who were being harassed by a group of white students. It was a turning point in Flynn’s political career.
Darryl Williams, a Jamaica Plain High School football player was shot during halftime at a game at Charlestown High School on Sept. 28, 1979. ((Player Shot on Field in Charlestown, Boston Globe September 29, 1979.))
Raymond Flynn was elected Boston Mayor on Nov. 15, 1983.
On Sept. 28, 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals released Boston Public Schools from court supervision, ruling that the School Committee had “a commitment to eliminating racial discrimination.” ((Court Finds Schools Desegregated, Boston Globe September 29, 1987.))
The Unraveling (1987–2014)
On August 10, 1988, Mayor Flynn hired Charles Willie and Michael Alves to design a new busing plan. They conducted more than a dozen hearings with parents. The plan would become known as Controlled Choice. A similar plan was successfully implemented in Cambridge.
On Sept. 26, 1988, Flynn appointed a committee to examine school reform.
Controlled Choice divided the city into three large zones where schools needed to be racially balanced. Another citywide zone contained magnet schools like Boston Latin. The zones were large enough so that parents would be discouraged from moving to another neighborhood to avoid a school.
The Controlled Choice plan was sharply criticized by School Superintendent Laval Wilson, city politicians and black leaders for being devised without community input.
On Dec. 6, 1990, the city council voted to end the elected school board system. The schools would be managed by a committee appointed by the mayor. Theodore Landsmark, a Flynn aide, was asked to recommend the city’s first appointed school committee.
In May, 1993, Landsmark proposed an end to the METCO program.
In 1996, a white student challenged her rejection from the Boston Latin School.
On August 5, 1999, the Boston School Committee voted 5/2 to end race as a basis for school assignment. Boston schools were now 85% minority.
On Dec.15, 2003 Landsmark headed a task force to revise the controlled choice plan. There was no consensus. However, two thirds voted for a neighborhood system for elementary school children.
On March 12, 2012, Mayor Menino appointed a new task force. Hardin Coleman, dean of Boston University’s teaching school, chaired the task force. This led to the end of the zoned system, the last remaining artifact of the Morgan v. Hennigan ruling.