Saturday is the 40th anniversary of the decision in Morgan v. Hennigan, better known as the landmark case that led to mandatory school-busing in Boston. On Thursday, a sizable crowd convened at City Hall for an event meant not just to commemorate, but to encourage dialogue about the history, traumatic and otherwise, of the city’s effort to desegregate schools in the ’70s.
“It was clear that in order for Boston to go forward, we needed to take a look at this issue,” said Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods which, along with Roxbury City Councilor Tito Jackson, organized the event as part of their Boston Busing/Desegregation Project. “We have, over the last four years, overcome people’s disbelief, people’s angst, people’s anxiety, their attitudes,” said Small, “to engage people in talking about this.”
There’s a lot to talk about. “The things that started 40 years ago on September 12th, which was the first day of school, stayed in the city of Boston for 15, 16, 17 years,” he added. “People got shot, people got killed, people got stabbed, people got beat up.”
Others stressed that while remembering the racist violence that accompanied busing is important, the mode of transportation used in the desegregation effort matters less than finding ways for folks to get along now.
“The bus is not what we should be talking about,” said Cambridge College Professor Lyda Peters, speaking on a panel at the event. “The experiences on the bus were real,” she said, but “the issue is us, not the bus.”
In May, three city councilors caused controversy by voting “present” on a resolution to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which set the precedent for Morgan v. Hennigan. Sal LaMattina, one of the councilors who did not support the resolution, attended Thursday’s talk, where he charged that school integration primarily inflamed racial tensions and, as a result, led to white flight and decreasingly efficient public schools.
Dennis Jackson, the most vocal foe of busing on hand, interrupted speakers near the end of Thursday’s meeting, complaining that he wasn’t given time to speak. But Jackson, who described himself as “African-American, Jewish, Irish, French Canadian, Spanish, Dutch, Wampanoag, Narragansett, and other,” also wasn’t surprised. “I’m politically incorrect,” he said. “I get thrown out of every meeting.”
Jackson said that while he may have opposed busing in the ’70s, he took a bus monitor job anyway for the money, and was harassed and attacked in South Boston. He also said that he predicted busing would cause air pollution and failed schools. A better alternative, according to Jackson, would have been to designate tax incentives for whites who remained in diverse neighborhoods. In 2014, his was a minority view. Nevertheless, his words were welcome.
“The challenge is to get stories heard, and that’s really what this is about,” said Small. “The reality is [that] this was the most significant event in Boston’s history in the twentieth century. This is it. And it still has an impact to this day.”