GLORIA: I’m sitting with you and Anthony under each arm, babies, and I’m sitting there next to my father, next to Pop-pop who voted for Nixon, Fran, this entire country voted for someone didn’t want even so much as a traffic light to change red and I’m watching people throw rocks at little black kids on the TV in Pop-pop’s den; I’m watching people out in Roxbury setting fires, dragging people out of cars and I’m thinking no one’s looking, I mean really looking at anyone like they’re a real person. Your father and me looked at each other like we were real…real. Everything was so confused and the world got all mixed up and what kind of mother let’s all that happen to their kids if she can help it?
A SELECTED TIMELINE OF EVENTS
1954-5: The “separate but equal” doctrine is over-turned by Brown v. Board of Education, and a second Brown decision calls for school desegregation.
1957: Arkansas’ Governor calls on the National Guard to prevent nine black students from entering Little Rock High School. President Eisenhower sends 1,000 paratroopers to restore order and escort the black students to class.
1965: Massachusetts passes a law against de facto segregation, the Racial Imbalance Act. It is not enforced.
1971: In Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the Supreme Court decides courts can order school desegregation through forced busing.
Oct 2, 1973: three blacks accosted a woman in Roxbury, doused her with gasoline, and set her afire. Later that week, in revenge of the white women’s death, white youths in the Bunker Hill Project wreaked havoc on black families in an adjacent development
Oct 7, 1973: a gang of white youths broke the rear window of a car belonging to Ronald Resca (a white man married to a black women). When Resca ran from his apartment to confront the vandals he was severely beaten. The next morning Resca called the fire department to inform them that his car which had been previously vandalized was now on fire. Over the next days, several firebombs crashed through the windows of other black families in Charlestown.
June 21, 1974: Federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity rules that the school committee has consciously maintained two separate school systems. Garrity orders students to be bused city-wide to integrate the schools, starting that fall.
May 9, 1974: Congress begins impeachment proceedings against President Nixon stemming from the Watergate scandal.
August 9, 1974: Richard M. Nixon resigns the presidency as result of Watergate. Gerald R. Ford is sworn in as the 38th U.S. President, becoming the 6th President coping with Vietnam.
Sept 9, 1974: Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR) anti-busing rally.
Sept 12, 1974: First day of Phase I busing. Attacks on African-American students and communities begin. Riots and violence tear the social fabric of the city as a whole.
Oct 7, 1974: A white mob attacks Andre Yvon Jean-Louis, who is black, as he drives into South Boston to pick up his wife. Black students in Roxbury riot in violent protest.
Oct 15, 1974: A white student is stabbed at Hyde Park High School; Governor Francis W. Sargent alerts National Guard.
Dec 11, 1974: A white student is stabbed at South Boston High; African-American students become trapped inside by an angry mob.
Dec 15, 1974: A demonstration occurs on Boston Common to end the use of busing as a means of desegregation.
May 10, 1975: Judge Garrity issues a desegregation plan for Phase II, expanding busing in the fall.
Sept, 1975: Phase II of Boston’s busing program moves into Charlestown, and coincides with an economy in crisis and an uptick in the loss of manufacturing and factory jobs for Charlestown’s predominantly white, Irish Catholic working class community.
April 5, 1976: Ted Landsmark, a young African American lawyer, is on his way into City Hall Plaza when a gang of white youths – on the Plaza protesting forced busing – attack him. After beating and kicking him, they stab him with a pointed end of a flag pole strung with the American flag. The photo of the stabbing is seen around the country, cementing Boston’s reputation as a racist city. Here’s an excellent excerpt from a much longer accounting of the event, by Louis P. Masur:
The protesters he encountered were just leaving City Hall and headed toward the Federal Building. This was another in a series of marches conducted by students and parents ever since June 1974 when Federal Judge Arthur Garrity found that the Boston School Committee had deliberately maintained segregated schools in violation of the law, and ordered a program of busing to promote desegregation.
Some 200 white students from South Boston and Charlestown assembled for the march to City Hall Plaza. “We all wanted to belong to something big,” recalls one teenage protester, “and the feeling of being part of the anti-busing movement along with the rest of Southie had been the best feeling in the world.” Southie meant more than just the geographic place South Boston. It meant neighborhood and community and ethnic pride. Thinking of the long day ahead, some packed a snack. Some made signs that said “RESIST.” One student, before leaving his third-floor South Boston apartment, grabbed the family’s American flag.
From the start, the anti-busing movement identified itself with patriotism. The activists saw themselves as defending their liberty against the tyranny of a judge run amok. Boston’s celebration of Bicentennial events in 1975 and 1976 only reinforced the idea that they were carrying on in a tradition of American resistance: one anti-busing group had as its motto “Don’t tread on me.” At rallies and boycotts, protesters carried American flags and frequently sang “God Bless America.” Protesters against the Vietnam War often burned Old Glory, but not here, not among the mainly working-class Irish of Boston. […] As the students filed out of the chambers and headed outside, they passed a group of black students from a nearby magnet school going on a tour. Epithets flew, as did pieces of foodâ€”donuts, cookies, apples. Groups have moods, and the protesters, fueled with cocoa and patriotism, marched onto the plaza feeling righteous about their cause. At that moment, a black man turned the corner and headed in their direction.
“The photograph presents a sickening sight. Landsmark is being grabbed from behind. He seems to be struggling to free himself as a large crowd looks on. The flag bearer’s feet are planted, his hands firmly grasping the staff, his eyes focused on his target. His hair flows back as he prepares to lunge forward. Attacker and victim are forever frozen in time, and we feel trapped beside them. We can glance away, but we cannot escape the horror of what we imagine the next instant will bring.
The image served as a harsh reminder that the triumphs of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s had turned tragic. Progress had been made, but alongside it stood backlash and failure. Americans cherished stories of wrongs righted, of darkness yielding to light, but Forman’s picture provided a poisonous counter-narrative. The brotherhood of man was a worthy ideal, and it even seemed at times that a strong foundation had been laid for its realization. But in a claustrophobic courtyard, a white man turned the American flag against a black man, and the ideal crumbled.
More photos of the era:
Newspaper stories chronicling the stoning of students (click to enlarge):