De-segregation History


Martin Walsh


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Your life in those years was built around the Boston school desegregation case. Maybe you want to comment on that.

Answer:
I think the Boston case was an anomaly in many ways. Most of the cities going through desegregation bought into the concept of avoiding violence as good and valid. CRS put out a publication, "Desegregation Without Turmoil" in the mid '70s. That was our approach. In the South we developed "Project 81." CRS did that in 1969 when we sent teams to communities throughout the South to assist them with the desegregation process when the Supreme Court said in 1969, "Desegregate now." We recruited a number of new staff members and sent a number of teams to the South. This infusion of new staff helped build our agency while CRS helped the desegregation process to take place with a minimum of resistance and violence. In the North, before I came up here to Boston, CRS had assisted Prince Georges County to implement the court-ordered desegregation of their schools without problems. There was a lot of political opposition, but we reached out to the opposition, reasoned with them, and said, "You may be against school desegregation; but if you resist, someone's going to get hurt. You don't want to have that." We helped build the environment around that common thread-avoid violence. The ideology might not have been there in that they didn't think it was the proper process. But most of the communities, like Prince Georges County, accepted CRS's approach of avoiding violence. They accepted CRS assistance and we helped them implement the desegregation process, by and large, without violence or turmoil. There were a number of school desegregation cases, similar to Prince Georges County that CRS worked on. Then Boston comes up and it was really anarchy here in Boston because the authorities walked away from carrying out the desegregation order.

Question:
You were working at the elbow of Judge Garrity, right?

Answer:
Yeah. When I was in Washington, we used the methodology that we had done in Prince Georges County, in the South, and elsewhere. Get the people involved, work it out, avoid violence. But in Boston there was a lot of resistance and the authorities, school officials and police, didn't do the proper planning. I remember Ed McClure went to see Judge Garrity in August of '74.

Question:
Ed McClure was on the Boston staff.

Answer:
Yes, he was a conciliation specialist here. He went over to meet with the judge, and talk with him about whether CRS could help him. There was a lot of controversy in the sense that the authorities in Boston weren't taking the desegregation order seriously. So the judge asked CRS to help him work through the desegregation process, similar to what CRS had done in other communities throughout the country. The judge issued his order and instructed the parties to cooperate with CRS. So, throughout the whole desegregation turmoil up here, we had two roles, our mandated conciliation/mediation of racial/ethnic conflicts and assisting the court which was a special type of relationship. In other cities we had some types of relationship with the courts, but it was a special one here on account of the active involvement of the court. Otherwise the whole city would have come apart. The mayor said, "It's not my problem. The federal courts have ordered desegregation, let them enforce it." So the judge had to make the city a party to the desegregation process. The School Committee was adamantly opposed to anything connected with desegregation. They would not put a plan together to desegregate the schools as the judge had ordered. Toward the middle of August when the judge had asked us to assist him and the city to implement the desegregation order, we sent more conciliators to Boston. Ed Cabell came up from our New York office to help with the public safety planning. After reviewing the plans, such as they were, he told the judge, "These guys aren't ready for desegregation." So the judge ordered the city to come up with a contingency plan. There was the lack of preparation, and the reason was that the city, school officials, and others really believed what some of the leaders were saying. In Boston, "Never" was their motto and the politicians were saying that. They honestly believed their motto, because they had confronted the Massachusetts State Department of Education when the state courts had ordered Boston to desegregate before. They said, "We can't do it." And they got away with it. They kept postponing, coming up with reasons, and they thought they could get away with avoiding any desegregation process. When the judge said, "You're going to do it," he imposed a plan on them which was developed by the State Department of Education. It was a bad plan. The judge knew it, but the court had no alternative. Regarding school desegregation after a finding of segregation, the Supreme Court said, "You have to desegregate now. You can't keep putting it off. There is a violation of peoples' rights." When the desegregation order came out, the judge told the school department to come up with a plan if they didn't like the state plan and the school committee refused. So the only plan out there was the State Department of Education plan. It was disaster in the way it transferred students, especially pairing South Boston and Roxbury.

Question:
Did Judge Garrity bring a master in the case like some cities did?

Answer:
Not at first. When CRS offered our assistance, the judge's basic concern, and our recommendations to him, was to deal with the turmoil in the streets, try to get the violence and turmoil under control. But in the subsequent year the full city would be under desegregation orders. So the judge developed a new desegregation plan. We were heavily involved with the judge in the process. He hired two desegregation experts and appointed four masters.

Question:
For the second year?

Answer:
Yes. The judge had no time before the first year of desegregation to develop a new plan. His order to desegregate the schools in September came out in June. The plan used in the first year of desegregation was the existing State Department of Education plan I mentioned above. So the planning for the subsequent year was part of a major process that CRS worked with the judge on. It was a good plan, but the opponents never accepted it.

Question:
In preparing for desegregation, did anybody involve the parents of the white kids?

Answer:
Oh yes. Part of CRS efforts in 1974, prior to the court-ordered desegregation process, was to work with the school system to develop a plan for implementing desegregation. But the school system did not really believe that it would ever have to desegregate. They had one guy, the associate superintendent, Charlie Leftwich, and an assistant who were ostensibly in charge of planning for desegregation. But the superintendent and school committee did not agree with them that they should be serious about the planning process. Our people were working with Charlie, but he had no authority. He was wasting his time developing ideas. He talked to CRS about all the important planning elements: information centers, rumor control, all the elements that should be done by the school department and city. The city didn't take it seriously either. He had some meetings with people, outreach to the white community, talking to them. He was met with a lot of hostility. "Never here, we're not going to go through with it." He tried, but the school committee said he didn't have any authority to do it. The school committee did not want to do any realistic planning and the superintendent said his hands were tied.As soon as school desegregation began under the court order, action started taking place. The judge ordered that there be bi-racial parent councils in all the schools that were undergoing desegregation. They would be composed of white, black, and Hispanics. After the school department refused to voluntarily implement a number of CRS's recommendations based on CRS experience in the South and other communities going through desegregation, CRS brought these recommendations to the court. During the course of CRS work with the court, the judge had to order the school department to implement a number of these measures which had been found to be effective in communities going through desegregation across the country. Boston did not voluntarily accept our recommendations even though in all the other communities, e.g., Denver and Prince Georges County, the school systems and communities accepted CRS recommendations. So that's why I say Boston was an anomaly. We basically were working with the court to reconstruct a governing system for the schools. That's what we basically were doing. Parent councils in the schools and the whole planning process, especially the role of the experts and court masters, were intended to signify an outreach, as much as possible, to the reasonable people in the city. For example, Eddie McCormick from South Boston was the former lieutenant governor and the judge chose him to be one of the masters. The people the judge selected as masters and court experts were of the highest caliber. It was a partnership process that the judge wanted to do right. In CRS's role with the court, CRS was basically the helper to keep the desegregation process moving as the judge had all the authority. In our other role, CRS was concentrating our efforts at first on trying to stem the violence at the schools in South Boston and then Hyde Park. We were holding the line and getting ready for the development of a plan where we could put into action some way of healing the city. We were tasked by the court to establish the city-wide coordinating council, a blue-ribbon body to help heal the racial strife brought about by the desegregation process. We reached out to the universities to partner with the schools and to the business community to partner with the schools. We reached out to the media. A number of good changes took place: excellent programs in the schools; magnet schools; partnerships with universities, businesses and cultural institutions; scholarships, etc. The judge was interested in what took place at the end of the bus ride. He didn't just want to move students. He was concerned with the education taking place. He made a number of major changes. For example, he ordered that there would be a principal at every school. Before his order there wasn't. There would be schools with several annexes. One principal supervising several schools. Segregation existed throughout the school system. The system was in chaos as was the city.







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