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News :: Race
Court Ordered Integration Through Busing Left Deep Scars On Boston, Its Students
by Bruce Gellerman
06 Sep 2014
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‘It Was Like A War Zone’: Busing In Boston
BOSTON — Recall a very different start to school 40 years ago. Then, classes began a week late to give students, schools and the police extra time to prepare for the first day of court-ordered desegregation.
Earlier that summer of 1974, federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that the Boston School Committee had deliberately segregated the city’s schools, creating one system for blacks and another for whites — separate, unequal and unconstitutional. The remedy to achieve racial balance and desegregate schools was busing. Some 18,000 black and white students were ordered to take buses to schools outside of their neighborhoods.
‘The Words. The Spit.’
Here’s how The Boston Globe headlined that first day of court-ordered busing: “Boston Schools Desegregated, Opening Day Generally Peaceful”. The headline was reassuring, if not exactly accurate. It was only Phase 1 of the federal desegregation plan. Just 59 of 201 schools were desegregated that day, and it was far from peaceful at South Boston High School.
Southie was ground zero for racist anti-busing rage. Hundreds of white demonstrators — children and their parents — pelted a caravan of 20 school buses carrying students from nearly all-black Roxbury to all-white South Boston. The police wore riot gear. Glass windows were smashed on the yellow school buses as horrified school children cowered from the crowds of street toughs.
“I remember riding the buses to protect the kids going up to South Boston High School,” Jean McGuire, who was a bus safety monitor, recalled recently. “And the bricks through the window. Signs hanging out those buildings, ‘Nigger Go Home.’ Pictures of monkeys. The words. The spit. People just felt it was all right to attack children.”
One of those children was Regina Williams.
“I had no idea what to expect [with] this busing thing,” Williams said. “I didn’t know anything about South Boston. I didn’t know anything about, you know, they didn’t like us. I didn’t know anything that was in store for us. But when we got there, it was like a war zone.
“I came back and I told my mom, and I’ll never forget, I said, ‘Ma, I am not going back to that school unless I have a gun.’ At 14 years old. I am not going back to that school.”
And Williams didn’t. And neither did many other students assigned to the five schools affected by busing in Roxbury and South Boston. Just 20 white students attended Roxbury High that first day, and no whites showed up at South Boston High.
On the second day of school, South Boston High headmaster William Reid reported that things hadn’t improved much at the five schools.
“The attendance today was 321 blacks, 50 whites and 11 of other minorities, out of an estimated enrollment of 4,000,” Reid said to reporters then.
‘I Don’t Want Nothing To Do With It’
South Boston parents who were most opposed to busing formed the group Restore Our Alienated Rights. They wanted to keep their children in neighborhood schools, and issued a call for whites to boycott classes. The group made up lyrics to the tune “My Way,” sung by Frank Sinatra. “Tonight, let us unite, and do it ROAR’s way,” the song said in part. As school buses left South Boston high with blacks students on board, the racist crowds sang "Bye, Bye Black Bird." A Burger King jingle about "Have it You're Way" was adapted to "Solve it Our Way."
"Stop the buses, save the Nation, we don't want your integration, all we ask is that you let us solve it our way, Solve it our way!"
The songs may have been hokey, but the white student boycott was devastatingly effective.
At the time a reporter for WGBH-TV interviewed a student named Mike. Here it is:
Mike: “Why am I not going to school? I’m boycotting.”
Reporter: “How come?”
Mike: “How come? Why do you think? The cops are up there, they’re locking up the schools from the outside. Plus there’s busing. I don’t want nothing to do with it.”
Reporter: “How long are you going to stay out?”
Mike: “All year.”
Reporter: “If you stay out all year, what are you going to do next year? You’re going to lose a whole year.”
Mike: “Then I guess I’ll have to lose it. That’s all there is to it.”
Reporter: “Do you think this is going to stop it?”
Mike: “I think if we get a total boycott it’ll stop it.”
The year busing began, there were 86,000 students enrolled in Boston public schools, more than half of them white. Today there are 54,000 students, and less than 14 percent are white. Many parents who could afford it moved to the suburbs or sent their children to private or parochial schools, despite a plea by the city’s Catholic leader, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, not to disrupt desegregation efforts. Catholic schools never the less let all the students fleeing integration in.
Among those who took his child out of public school was the president of the Boston School Committee, John Kerrigan, an opponent of busing. He said the schools were unsafe.
‘Boston Has Gotten Out Of Control’
From the start of busing, police at South Boston High outnumbered students. Yet the violence continued. Then-Mayor Kevin White, making a rare TV appeal, declared a curfew and banned crowds near the school, but said there was only so much he could do to protect students and enforce the federal mandate.
“The court has ruled that busing is the law in Boston,” White said then, “and this city is under a federal court order. The Boston police cannot implement the law alone.” Law enforcement tactics toughened, and what had started out as an anti-busing problem soon included anti-police sentiment. Many of the police officers were Irish from Southie.
“I had never seen that kind of anger in my life. It was so ugly,” said patrolman Francis Mickey Roache (South Boston High Class of 1954), who was on duty at the school that first day of desegregation, when protesters turned on him.
“These are women, and people who were probably my mother’s age, and they were just screaming, ‘Mickey, you gotta quit, you gotta quit!’ They picked me out because they knew me. I was a South Boston boy, I grew up in Southie,” he remembered. “And I said, ‘I’m just standing there.’ I said, ‘I’m assigned to this. I have five children. I love my profession. I don’t wish you any harm but I’m here to make sure that nobody gets hurt.’ And in the police department I wasn’t too popular.”
A decade later Roache became Boston police commissioner. But as the 1974 school year wore on, there was no peace. By October The Boston Globe wrote: “What we prayed wouldn’t happen has happened. The city of Boston has gotten out of control.”
A group of whites in South Boston brutally beat a Haitian resident of Roxbury who had driven into their neighborhood. A month later some black students stabbed a white student at South Boston High. The school was shut down for a month.
The legal arm of the anti-busing movement, Ray Flynn and Billy Bulger had ties to armed opponents of integration. Billy Bulger spoke publicly and legally. Whitey Bulger, and FBI connected underworld figure, carried out the firebombing of a school in Dorchester, the Gilbert Stuart, and also set fire to a school in Judge Garrity's suburban town. FBI agents 'handling' Whitey Bulger knew about his activities and looked the other way.
Then-Gov. Francis Sargent put the National Guard on alert. State police were called in and w remained on duty on the streets of South Boston for the next three years. But President Gerald Ford refused to mobilize U.S. marshals, saying it was up to federal court judges to enforce the desegregation order. “The court decision in that case, in my judgment, was not the best solution to quality education in Boston,” Ford said then. “I have consistently opposed forced busing to achieve racial balance as a solution to quality education.”
The disagreement among city, state and federal officials took its toll on the very students the leaders were supposed to be helping. These white high schoolers were documented in the civil rights series “Eyes on the Prize“:
“Right now I’m just so confused, between Mayor White and the rest of them, I really just feel like dropping out of society. Really, that’s the way I feel.”
“The seniors really feel bad. You have your school ring and there won’t be no prom, there’s nothing going on. I mean it affects everybody, but the seniors really hurt.”
Four decades have passed since these students voiced their frustrations and fears for the future, but Ray Flynn — South Boston’s state representative during the busing crisis on the streets daily with the stone throwing racists, later mayor of the city and now 75 and retired — says they still have not been heard.
“That story of those people most affected, most negatively impacted, that affected their education and their quality of life, has never, ever been really told in a significant way,” Flynn said on the steps of South Boston High recently. “I hate to die and this story never be told.”
..............Part 2 ................
Forty years ago this week, federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s decision to undo decades of discrimination in Boston’s public schools was put into action. It was called court-ordered desegregation, but critics called it “forced busing.” For those who were here and old enough to remember, Sept. 12 1974, is one of those defining dates in history, like the day JFK was shot. It was the day desegregation went into effect.
Hundreds of enraged white residents — parents and their kids — hurled bricks and stones as buses arrived at South Boston High School, carrying black students from Roxbury. Police in riot gear refused to control the demonstrators. Eight black students on buses were injured. And the racism was raw. “They let the niggers in,” one man said to a reporter then. Another said the same: “Then the buses came, and they let the niggers in.”
Riding on one of the buses that first day was Jean McGuire, a volunteer bus monitor. “Those kids were unprotected and what they saw was an ugly part of South Boston,” she said in a recent interview. “They didn’t see the really great people of South Boston.” McGuire later became the first black candidate elected to the Boston School Committee in the 20th century.
And Garrity’s decision to use school buses to carry out his desegregation order became a potent symbol for opponents and supporters of the judge’s ruling — supporters like McGuire “It isn’t the bus you’re talking about,” she said. “You have to be really honest, it hasn’t a thing to do with transportation. Everybody in the suburbs rides a bus to school if they’re not driving their cars. It isn’t the bus, it’s us, it’s who you live next to. It’s who you think your kids are going to marry.” McGuire says we’re better off after Garrity’s decision. “Absolutely, you had to break the mold,” she said. But McGuire acknowledges there were mistakes in the judge’s order.
“We would have never, ever paired South Boston with Roxbury as a start,” she said. “It didn’t make sense. There was too much enmity there. You’d start somewhere [where] there’s a history of either the churches or businesses, sport teams, you know, things which people aren’t suspicious [of], because there’s a friendship there. You got something to base it on.”
South Boston High School is four miles, and a world apart, from where Roxbury High once stood. Nearly all the students at Roxbury High were black. South Boston High was entirely white. And even sports couldn’t bridge that gap.
“It was a textbook case of how not to implement public policy without community input,” Ray Flynn said recently on the steps of South Boston High. Flynn, who would later become mayor of Boston, was a state representative from Southie when busing began. “I remember it very well,” he said. “I was here every day during that whole ordeal.”
When Flynn spoke, you could hear the sounds of hammers and saws as contractors were turning modest triple-deckers into 'upscale' condos. Today longtime residents complain of gentrification and a lack of affordable housing and parking. Now 75 and semi-retired, Flynn has lived his whole life in Southie, still an insular, tight-knit Irish Catholic enclave.
“To know South Boston, you really have to know the history of sports and that great tradition and pride that we have in this community, and neighborhood and sense of belonging, a special tradition and a special pride and sports was a major part of it.”
And Flynn was a major part of sports there. High school class of ’58, he was captain of three varsity teams. As a young probation officer in Dorchester he founded the city’s first interracial sports league. He was a ballboy for the Harlem Globetrotters and drafted by the Celtics. But teamplay didn’t trump deep racial prejudices in Southie, which Flynn now downplays.
“There are racists and haters everywhere you go,” he said. “You’ll find them in any community and we had our handful of them over here in South Boston. They were the people that were most reported by the press, interviewed by the press. They were the most vocal.”
But Flynn says their voices weren’t heard by Judge Garrity or the appointed masters who carried out his court order. The divisions over desegregation were more than skin deep. “They didn’t understand the people or the neighborhoods of Boston,” Flynn said.
The fundamental issues, Flynn says, were economic and class. Schools in poor, working-class Roxbury and Southie were deplorable. In Southie they lacked textbooks. In Roxbury some didn’t have toilet seats. Students back then discussed who had it worse. “If the court-appointed masters had only listened to the people in the black area, the white area, the Hispanic area, they would have gotten a different picture [of] what the parents wanted,” Flynn said. “They wanted these windows fixed, they wanted these gyms repaired, they wanted a different curriculum. That’s the kind of changes that they were looking for.
“You know, they have their most important possessions on the line,” he added. “What is that? That’s their children — their children’s education and their future. Imagine some outsiders making decisions about somebody’s children and their education and their future. You can walk around Roxbury, you can walk around South Boston, you’ll still see many victims of the busing decision that didn’t allow them to go to the school or get the education that they needed and deserved.”
Forty years ago, Regina Williams of Roxbury rode the bus to South Boston High that first day of desegregation. In a recent interview, she said it was “like a war zone.” Then she said:
"I said, ‘Ma, I am not going back to that school unless I have a gun.’ At 14 years old. ‘I am not going back to that school.’ I just quit. I quit school. I had all this time on my hands. And what happened from there, you end up doing drugs, you end up getting pregnant out of wedlock, because there was nothing to do. You didn’t have to go to school, they didn’t have attendance, they didn’t monitor you if you went to school. It was your choice. Either you go to school and get your education and fight for it, or you stay home and be safe and just make wrong decisions or right decisions. All these things that affected me goes back to busing. Lack of education. Lack of basic training and reading. Lack of basic writing. It’s embarrassing, it’s pathetic. You feel cheated. You don’t want to tell anyone you never learned how to write because no one taught you."
Williams eventually got her GED, graduated from college, dropped out of grad school to care for her disabled grandchild, and now is studying for her real estate broker’s license. She lives in Roxbury.
To the north, across Boston Harbor in a different neighborhood, there’s a different perspective on court-ordered desegregation. “It totally tipped the way of life in the city, and not to the good,” said Moe Gillen, a lifelong Charlestown resident.
Charlestown was part of Phase 2 of Judge Garrity’s desegregation plan. In 1975, in an attempt to avoid the violence of South Boston a year earlier, Garrity named Gillen to a community council. Gillen was the only one out of 40 council members to oppose busing. “I never felt it was a racial issue,” he said in a recent interview. “I always felt and still feel that it’s an economic issue. To interview someone like myself that’s from the town, lifelong, and they wonder why my kids don’t go to public school, and yet the yuppies that come in with families, their kids don’t go to public school and there’s no question about it.”
Down the street from Gillen’s home is the Grasshopper Cafe. He’s a regular of customer and he jokes around with waitress Zaida Sanchez. She wasn’t here 40 years ago to see the buses roll. She came here from Peru. “I love Charlestown,” Sanchez said. “I like the people from Charlestown, but I don’t feel like a townie yet. But my kids are townie. They were born in Charlestown.”
Once almost totally white, Charlestown is now nearly 20 percent Hispanic and 20 percent black. Still more than half the population is white, but white children make up less than 8 percent of the public school students.
Busing tables at the Grasshopper Cafe was Meaghan Dougherty. She’s a townie but goes to a Catholic high school in Cambridge. “I’ve attended Catholic school my whole life so my parents wanted me to continue it,” Dougherty said. “They wanted the best education for me so they sent me to private school.”
When asked about public school, she said: “I think it would make more sense for me to go in my town. Then I wouldn’t have to drive to school, waste gas every day. But I want it to be a safer environment so I think they need to work on making it a safer place to be in.”
The use of buses to desegregate Boston Public Schools lasted a quarter of a century. Yet, the effects are still with us.
In the first five years of desegregation, the parents of 30,000 children, mostly middle class, took their kids out of the city school system and left Boston. Today, half the population of Boston is white, but only 14 percent of students are white.
McGuire, the former bus monitor, is still a supporter of the 1974 desegregation order, and Ray Flynn is still an opponent. They don’t agree on much, except the unexpected consequences 40 years later.
“We’re going back to resegregation,” McGuire said. “We have more all-black and all-Latino schools now than we had before desegregation.”
“Boston has become a city of the wealthy and the poor,” Flynn said. “And the school system has not improved as a result of busing in Boston all these years.”
And a question can be asked: Where will we be 40 years from now?
Copyright by the author. All rights reserved.
Boston: 1970s Fight for School Integration
by Workers Vanguard
(No verified email address)
08 Sep 2014
Modified: 06:26:11 AM
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As Racist Mobs Rampaged, Liberals and Reformists Knifed Busing ( 2008) Young Spartacus
Today, 30 years after busing was defeated in Boston, the school system is more segregated than before the civil rights movement, and impoverished inner-city schools serve as holding pens for mostly black and Latino youth, barely providing even the pretense of education. This makes all the more clear the need to mobilize the social power of the multiracial working class to fight for free, quality, integrated education for all, as part of the struggle for socialist revolution to end the system of wage slavery as a whole. Our fight in the 1970s for labor/black defense of bused schoolchildren, of busing and of integration pointed the way forward for this struggle. For more on the fight for black freedom, see Marxist Bulletin No. 5 (Revised), “What Strategy for Black Liberation? Trotskyism vs. Black Nationalism” (September 1978).
* * *
One of the readings for this class was the article “Reactionaries Oppose Boston School Busing” from Young Spartacus in May-June of 1974, before the Boston busing plan was implemented. At that time we didn’t anticipate the virulent racist frenzy and violence that was going to take place that fall, but we did take a clear stand in defense of busing from the beginning. We supported busing as a minimal application of the basic democratic right of black people to equality in education, a minimal step toward integration, although busing alone could not solve either the problem of quality education or of racial integration. We sought to mobilize the working class to defend desegregation through school busing as a means of breaking down sharp racial divisions and strengthening the basis for united class struggle.
In 1954 in the landmark court case Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine of racial segregation that had been the formal law of the land since the 1890s. However, the later Brown decision of 1955 called for desegregation with “all deliberate speed,” which meant at a snail’s pace. It took nearly ten years for a desegregation plan to be enacted in Boston after the 1965 Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act was passed, because the issue was tossed like a hot potato from the State Department of Education to the federal courts to the racist Boston School Committee. Every conceivable legal and political obstacle was thrown in its path.
Boston was a quintessential Democratic Party stronghold. Busing was killed in Boston, foreshadowing its defeat nationwide, by an alliance of racist mobs in the streets of Boston along with liberals in Congress who made sure that nobody was bused out to the relatively privileged schools of suburban Boston. There was a landmark case in Detroit where the court ruled specifically not to allow busing to the suburbs, and that was used as a precedent. Busing of black students was purposefully limited to neighborhoods like South Boston, known as Southie, one of the poorest white areas outside of Appalachia, with the aim of pitting poor and working-class whites against blacks. Demagogic politicians inflamed racist sentiments in these white ethnic enclaves under the watchwords of “neighborhood schools” and “stop forced busing.”
Just a couple examples of Boston Democrats: you know the Kennedys. The racist Boston City Council president Louise Day Hicks, who made herself famous by throwing herself in front of the buses carrying black students, ended up with a seat in Congress. State Representative Ray Flynn was a co-founder of ROAR—that stood for “Restore Our Alienated Rights.” This was the reactionary umbrella group that organized racist mobs throughout the city. He became the “liberal” mayor of Boston and, later, Clinton’s ambassador to the Vatican.
When the Boston busing plan began to be implemented in the fall of 1974, the desegregation order was immediately met with a white boycott of South Boston High School. This rapidly escalated into citywide racist mobilizations and lynch mob terror. It exploded the minute the buses started to roll. You had racial slurs and rocks being hurled at the buses carrying black schoolchildren. You had frenzied mobs roaming the streets intimidating and assaulting blacks. The NAACP office was firebombed. A predominantly black housing project called Columbia Point was assaulted by night-riding vigilantes. And then you had this group called the South Boston Marshals, which was basically a racist paramilitary grouping that patrolled the area against “outside agitation.” This meant blacks as well as the anti-racist militants throughout the city.
The book Common Ground by J.Anthony Lukas gives a good flavor of what happened in that period. At the time, a lot of our comrades were living in Dorchester, which is in the southern section of Boston. There’s a whole chapter in Common Ground about the neighborhood and even the street I lived on. Black families were getting firebombed. A number of us had to move very quickly out of Dorchester because the local grocery store turned into an anti-busing recruiting center. Very quickly, the city had polarized. We had a number of black comrades visiting the city to help with our intervention, and they couldn’t come to some of our homes. This was the kind of polarization that was going on—the pitched battles over school integration.
The Fight to Implement Busing
This raged on from 1974 to 1976. We fought to defend school busing and called on the integrated labor movement—including the teachers, the bus drivers, the meatpackers unions—to organize labor/black defense of the bused black schoolchildren. By the way, the black members of the meatpackers union had a union hall on the edge of South Boston. When they were coming out of union meetings their car windows were getting smashed. But the meatpackers union leadership did nothing to help in organizing labor/black defense. In a lot of cases, the trade-union leaderships didn’t want their membership to have anything to do with labor/black defense. They played a very craven role. In some cases they even came out against busing.
Against the narrow limits set by the federal judges, we called to extend busing to the suburbs so poor kids, black and white, could have a shot at a better education. We advocated transitional demands: jobs for all; low-rent, integrated, quality public housing; and quality education for all. In this racist society, it will take a socialist revolution to secure quality education, housing and jobs for all black, Latino and working-class youth, just as only after the revolutionary Civil War smashed the slave system was the way opened for public education in this country. We called Boston a “referendum on racism.” The attempt to stop busing, whether by constitutional amendment, court action or mob attacks on school buses, was the opening salvo in a dangerous, right-wing campaign to strip black people of modest gains made through the civil rights movement’s previous two decades of struggle for democratic rights.
We issued a united-front call for a broad mobilization around the slogan, “Stop the Racist Attacks Against Black School Children.” This call is printed in the Spartacus Youth League pamphlet The Fight to Implement Busing. We called on labor, black and socialist organizations to use their influence and resources to build a massive rally against racist anti-busing terror. Despite a huge amount of work—we got out thousands of leaflets all over the city, we went to labor groups and other organizations—we did not have the social weight to effect a principled united front with the black liberal establishment or the left groups or unions at the time. The integrated union movement in Boston was very weak, and the black liberals, backed up by the Workers World Party and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), soon jumped in to call for reliance on the state and bringing in federal troops who supposedly would defend black schoolchildren.
I want to talk a bit about why the labor movement in Boston was so weak—it has to do with the history of Boston. Before and during the Civil War, Boston was the heart of the anti-slavery abolitionist movement. Following the huge influx of Irish and Italian immigrants around the turn of the century, Boston’s blue-blooded Brahmins placed ethnic white ward heelers, people like “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald—that was John F. Kennedy’s grandfather—in charge of the city administration. There was a lot of patronage. The city’s ruling class retarded industrial development and suppressed attempts to organize trade unions in Boston. The Association of Catholic Trade Unionists was an organization formed to counteract the role of communists in the unions. It was organized in the 1930s, and it was very prominent in Boston and New York.
By the time of the CIO organizing drives in the 1930s, there was predominantly only light industry in Boston. In the 1800s the rich Boston merchants had refused to allow heavy industry into Boston proper. They wanted to maintain the “serenity” of the city. After the decline of textiles and shoemaking, major industry was restricted to outlying areas: General Electric in Lynn, General Motors in Framingham, General Dynamics in Quincy. (We had supporters working in auto in Framingham for a while.) The city basically was not touched by the CIO organizing drives of the 1930s.
The CIO industrial unions were being built around the country, in mining and especially in large industries like steel and auto. Many of the organizers were members of the Communist Party or Trotskyists. The industrial unionism pushed by the Reds meant organizing both skilled and unskilled workers in the same union. That’s how a lot of blacks got organized into the unions—they were locked out of the skilled trades traditionally organized by the AFL. It was very significant that this did not happen in Boston. Unlike Detroit and the Midwest generally, there also was no mass migration of black people from the South into Boston.
The black liberal petty bourgeoisie had a long history in Boston. In 1850 Boston had significant numbers of black artisans, attracted by the abolitionist sentiment and religious liberalism of the “Boston Brahmins.” A lot of blacks settled there to open up small businesses. Over the decades, the black petty bourgeoisie grew with the conscious help of the white liberal establishment. In the ’70s, black businesses were bankrolled by the banking/insurance giants. White, liberal bourgeois establishments helped to create black liberal political coalitions that were dependent on City Hall handouts, Ford Foundation grants, etc. There was relative quiescence in places like Roxbury, in the black community in Boston. In fact, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and Louis Farrakhan all lived in Boston at various times, but they weren’t prominent when they lived there. Over time the black nationalists were unable to make any serious inroads in Boston, although there were some small black nationalist groups like De Mau Mau.
Not Federal Troops, but Labor/Black Defense!
When we fought for labor/black defense of busing in Boston, we pointed to an example that occurred in Chicago at that time. Members of the United Auto Workers Local 6 in Chicago organized a Civil Rights Defense Committee of the union to protect the house of a black union member, C.B. Dennis (see “Black Family Firebombed in Chicago—UAW Local Sets Up Labor/Black Defense Guard,” WV No. 67, 25 April 1975). Dennis had recently moved into a white neighborhood and his house was being attacked by racists. As a result of a motion put forward in the union by the Labor Struggle Caucus, a caucus we supported based on a class-struggle program, the union voted to have a union defense guard around-the-clock to protect his house and his family from the racists. When they heard about the UAW-organized labor defense, the racists didn’t mess with him anymore. Other groups, reformists like the SWP, called labor/black defense pie in the sky. Well, we showed them a picture of the C.B. Dennis defense guard.
The SWP initially opposed busing. They put forward the slogan of “community control.” This was in keeping with their tailing of black nationalist politicos since the mid 1960s—the call for “black control of the black community” had often been raised by the nationalists. Opportunistically, the SWP dropped this call when they saw that it wasn’t the way things were going, in order to tail the black liberals, preachers and the NAACP who begged the racist rulers to enforce school integration. Instead, they adopted the liberals’ call for “federal troops to Boston.”
Looking desperately for a new angle to mount yet another of their class-collaborationist “mass movements,” the SWP poured scores of activists into Boston. They built a coalition, the National Student Coalition Against Racism, patterned after the National Peace Action Coalition (see “The Vietnam Antiwar Movement and the National Peace Action Coalition,” WV No. 920, 12 September). They would have coalition meetings on the campuses and bring in a lot of the bourgeois politicians and the NAACP. We intervened heavily into these conferences, counterposing our class-struggle politics and helping to polarize these meetings.
The SWP’s call for federal troops to Boston meant relying on the forces of the capitalist state to defend black rights, calling on the same repressive apparatus that gunned down Black Panthers. In fact, after weeks of racist terror at the Columbia Point housing project, in response to demands for police “protection,” the cops occupied (and vandalized) the housing project, beating and arresting blacks. The arch-racist Louise Day Hicks actually demonstrated a better understanding of the role of the capitalist state than the supposed “socialists” of the SWP, because she called for federal troops to put down black Roxbury, which is what federal troops do.
In Boston the labor movement was weak, but there was a labor movement and there was a possibility of mobilizing labor/black defense. By pushing forward the call for federal troops to Boston, the SWP shared responsibility for making sure that labor/black defense didn’t happen. They shared responsibility for the fact that busing was defeated. Who killed busing? It was the liberals in Congress who played the major role, but the left shared responsibility.
Jim Crow “Socialists”
Perhaps the most grotesque position on the left was taken by the Maoist Revolutionary Union (RU), soon to become the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who we aptly called “Jim Crow ‘Socialists’.” They openly sided with the racists who were fighting street battles against the oppressed black masses. It was pretty incredible when they came out with their October 1974 newspaper with the huge, front-page headline, “People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan.” I heard a story at the time that one of the main New Left bookstores in Cambridge, which catered to all sorts of Maoists, actually refused to carry that issue because of the headline. The RU’s position was the most despicable capitulation to white racism.
That article tried at length to explain the motivations of the anti-busing school boycotters. It denounced as “liberal” all talk of “backward, racist whites.” It denounced as “reactionary” the “absurd line that the ‘only issue’ in the white boycott in South Boston is racism.” It even denounced raising the question of racism as “defeatist and divisive.” They opposed busing as an “issue which heightens the contradictions of people of different nationalities,” in favor of “community control” of the schools. But the perfect example of “community control” is what the racists like Louise Day Hicks were fighting for: it was the “right” of whites to keep blacks out of their schools and neighborhoods.
Just as incredibly, a year later the RU/RCP described the Klan-led anti-busing riots in Kentucky: “When school opened in Louisville under a new court-imposed busing plan, the spontaneous fight back was tremendous” (Revolution, October 1975). The RCP refused to defend basic democratic rights such as busing for black children or the Equal Rights Amendment for women, which simply called for equality for women under the law. They blocked with the reactionary demagogue Anita Bryant in Florida to oust gays from teaching school. They tailed the most reactionary sectors of the petty bourgeoisie and backward workers. This is the same RCP, a leader-cult around Bob Avakian, that today initiates groups including the World Can’t Wait to tail the liberals.
At the time that the busing plan was implemented in Boston, the RU’s youth group, the Revolutionary Student Brigade (RSB), was quite active at Boston University, where I was a student. They would try their hardest to keep us out of meetings, and to shut us up when we tried to intervene. But they couldn’t escape the issue of busing. I was in a class of Howard Zinn’s with something like 300 students in one of these really large auditoriums. Howard Zinn was someone who had been involved in the civil rights movement. He challenged anybody in the room who opposed busing to explain their position. So these two RSBers had to get up in front of the room. And the Spartacus Youth League and the RSB had a debate on busing and our program in front of two or three hundred students. There was a lot of debate going on constantly in Boston about busing.
In June 1979, the RCP ran an article with so-called “self-criticism” on their position on busing (“Busing and the Fight Against National Oppression and for Revolution,” Revolution). It’s a lot of Mao-speak. They say they “committed serious errors” around Boston busing in 1974. But really, they did not change their line on busing. They wrote: “The plan itself was neither the outgrowth of mass struggle nor of any particular benefit to the Black masses. Ordered by the federal government with the excuse of a lawsuit by the NAACP, the busing plan aimed to accomplish exactly what it did accomplish—the intensification of national divisions among the people.”
They do waffle a little bit in that article, recognizing that they were too often siding with the racists against the fight for black equality. They explain that they set out to find “a middle ground,” and claim that busing in Boston wasn’t really the issue. But busing in Boston was not something there was a middle ground on—the racists in Boston were mobilized around the question of busing. And the RCP says very firmly in that article that busing cannot be supported! There was only one busing plan that they would support—in Chicago, Marquette Park. That’s where busing was “limited and voluntary”! Now we all know what voluntary busing means—voluntary busing doesn’t happen. It’s an open invitation for organized harassment and racial violence against the children whose families volunteer. “Voluntary busing” is what a lot of the racists were calling for.
The RCP describes in the article how they tried to go to anti-busing meetings and convince them about the divisions in the working class! I mean, these are the ROAR people. You know how the RCP always says the people united will never be defeated? The racists in the anti-busing movement actually came out with the slogan, ROAR united will never be defeated.
Reformists and Renegades
The International Socialists, the predecessor to the International Socialist Organization, also capitulated to the racist anti-busing backlash, though not as flagrantly as the RCP. They sought to carve out a non-existent “third camp” with the line that “socialists oppose both the ‘pro’-busing and the ‘anti’-busing forces, both of whom use racism to further their own ends” (Workers’ Power, 10 November 1972). This grotesque argument amnestied the lynch mobs who were daily attacking black people on the streets! The League for the Revolutionary Party, then the Revolutionary Socialist League, was not really active in Boston. But we know from our work here in New York and other places that they’re still pushing this anti-busing line. They’re a splinter from the family tree of the International Socialists. They scurrilously stated that busing was a “vicious ruling class attack on blacks and cannot be supported” (Socialist Voice, Spring 1977).
Progressive Labor (PL) resorted to a lot of moralistic, “put your body on the line” bravado to give a militant cover to a reformist program. They did an ultra-adventurist May Day march through South Boston where they called for “death to the racists.” They followed up with a “Freedom Summer” campaign confined to a reformist petition campaign. That zigzag between mindless militancy and tepid liberalism is pretty typical of PL.
Any time there’s a major event going on in the world, it puts a lot of pressure on a small Leninist vanguard. So I want to go over some of the political internal struggle going on in the party at the time. In 1974 Bob Pearlman was the party organizer; I was the new youth organizer. We had thrown our forces in Boston into pushing a united-front call to defend busing. Counterposed to the do-nothing liberals, we advocated labor/black defense and extending busing to the wealthy suburbs, and opposed the call for federal troops to Boston. We stood out as the group that was pushing the way forward in the face of the racist assault. But the liberals and the bourgeois politicians and their lackeys in the Workers World Party and the SWP were working overtime to try to channel all the frustration into these calls for federal troops and for state intervention.
There was a black Democrat, Bill Owens, in Boston who was pushing for a December 14 “National March and Rally Against Racism.” The organizational initiative and impetus came from Workers World and the SWP. Early on, the populist demagogue Owens eyed the planned anti-racism demonstration, coming at a time when the busing crisis continued to be in the spotlight of national attention, as a vehicle for emerging as a self-styled militant black bourgeois politician. Workers World was enthralled with Owens’ militant image, cheap rhetoric and willingness to “unite” with them, i.e., use them. The SWP was obviously in the market for such a bourgeois politician to head up their sought-after new, liberal “civil rights movement.”
What Owens wanted with this demonstration was to organize his own committee where he would control everything: he would control the propaganda, he would control the march route, he wouldn’t allow any speakers other than the speakers he hand-picked. We could not endorse this demonstration, since Owens and his hangers-on had ensured that the only relationship any left organization could have with Owens’ committee was one of political liquidation. Owens had made it clear that the demo would be firmly tied to Democratic Party politics, not a rallying point for action by black people and their allies in the labor movement to turn back the racist offensive. Bob Pearlman wanted to endorse the demonstration, but Pearlman’s position was defeated in the local. We did not endorse the demo, instead we intervened with an impressive contingent, raising our class-struggle demands.
Part and parcel of Pearlman’s accommodation to Owens’ “Emergency Committee” was his attempt to do phony “mass work” all over the city. Pearlman wanted us to cut back on all the interventions we were doing in conferences on the campuses and at demonstrations, in order to do more mass leafleting “in the community.” Our small propaganda group could not substitute for the fact that the Boston trade-union movement was weak and highly craft-oriented, and that the trade-union bureaucratic leadership either opposed busing or did nothing in response to our call.
We had a very clarifying political fight before Pearlman’s resignation. But, leaving the party, he used the SWP—or the SWP used him, rather—to put out a scurrilous article about SL “abstention” in Boston, etc. We responded in a two-part article, “Alibis of a Social Democrat” (WV No. 168, 29 July 1977 and No. 170, 26 August 1977). Pearlman didn’t last long in the SWP.
The party perspective at the time was to intervene as a propaganda group with our Trotskyist program and win people over in counterposition to our reformist opponents. Our goal was to become the nucleus of a vanguard party that could intervene as a communist pole in major arenas of political struggle: the trade unions, the campuses, the black and women’s movements and internationally. The struggle over busing opened people up to our revolutionary politics, and our position for black liberation, the touchstone of the American revolution, was key to recruiting. We were debating people from the black student milieu at Harvard around the February First Movement, the fallout from the Pan-Africanists.
We had an East Coast Educational Conference in December 1974. Part of the conference was a forum titled, “The Leninist Party in Motion: Program and Conjuncture” by Central Committee member James Robertson. As reported in Young Spartacus:
“Turning to the SL/SYL’s campaign in Boston for a labor-black defense, the speaker noted the exacerbation of racial tensions in the U.S. arising from the deterioration of the living conditions of the working class and oppressed and the intensification of job competition. The core of the SL/SYL’s perspective in Boston and other cities like Detroit where the possibility of race riots is very real is to seek to deflect race riots into sharp manifestations of struggle against the capitalist class. The SL/SYL has an objective importance today, comrade Robertson noted, and we are under pressure to dissipate ourselves in our struggle to provide leadership in situations where our tasks are enormous.”
—“East Coast Educational a Success,” Young Spartacus No. 28, January 1975
Although we could not turn the tide in Boston, our intervention there was a crucial test for our party, and important in winning many new recruits.
New school year starts with educational funding crisis in US
by Nancy Hanover
(No verified email address)
09 Sep 2014
Modified: 07:18:49 AM
(From 'World Socialist Web Site' )
9 September 2014
As the new school year begins throughout the US, many school districts across the country are struggling with huge and systemic funding crises. The cuts have severely undermined conditions in the nation’s 99,000 public schools, which teach 50 million pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students.
The Obama administration’s policy of declining federal support to public education has been compounded by state-level tax cuts, austerity and budget cuts. Education is under siege from all quarters: states have never restored the massive cuts imposed from 2007 on, costs are rising, there are demands for round after round of standardized testing, more students are living in poverty and student populations are increasing.
Last week a judge declared Texas’s school finance system unconstitutional for the second time. In 2011, Texas cut public education by a whopping $5.4 billion, prompting 600 school districts to sue on the basis that they no longer had the resources to educate children.
Schools sought protection from the cuts under the state constitution’s mandate for a “fair and efficient” system to provide a “general diffusion of knowledge.”
In the course of the litigation process, the governor reinstated over $3 billion worth of the cuts last year, but as Texas is the fifth most unequal state in the nation, huge portions of the school system are drastically underfunded. The court ruling found that the state fails to provide adequate funding or distribute it fairly among wealthy and poor districts.
The issue now goes to the state legislature, which is tasked with designing a new system for the state’s 5 million K-12 students. Since 1993, Texas has been under a “Robin Hood” funding formula, which requires districts with high property values to turn over part of what they collect to poorer districts. The poorer districts argued that the funds are not sufficient and the court concurred that the system “cannot provide a constitutionally adequate education for all Texas schoolchildren.”
Earlier in the spring, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the state’s funding of public schools was also unconstitutional, demanding that two matching funding streams, which helped poorer school districts, be restored. The matching funds had been slashed after the recession.
News reports revealed that Kansas schools were eliminating teachers aides, school specialists and classroom teachers, cancelling textbook orders and even removing light bulbs from the school to cut utility bills. This year Tea Party proponent Republican Governor Sam Brownback has proposed K-12 cuts, which will put per-pupil general school aid at an unworkable level of 17 percent below pre-recession funding.
In response, the Kansas lawsuit demands the state adhere to the “adequacy” of education defined under the so-called “Rose standards.” Courts in Alabama, Arkansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas have also adopted this series of seven general competency requirements arising from a landmark 1989 Kentucky case. The Kansas decision may influence courts considering other similar cases including in New York and Connecticut.
In Ohio, the state’s constitutional standard itself, for “thorough and efficient” public schools throughout the state, is under attack by those seeking to profit from the proliferation of cheaper for-profit charter schools.
Across the board, the drastic increase in social inequality within public education has created terrible and apparent deprivation and lack of opportunity, mirroring the rising income disparity within the US as a whole. The egalitarian and democratic conceptions advanced by the early champions of American public education, including Thomas Jefferson and Horace Mann, have been repudiated by the political establishment. The “general diffusion of knowledge” to all young people, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds, is being replaced with a class-based system for the privileged few.
The sources of the crisis are both national and local. On the national level, state budgets are providing less per-pupil funding from kindergarten through 12th grade than they did six years ago—and often far less, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) study issued last March, the most recent statistics available. The organization points out that at least 35 states are providing less per-pupil funding than before the recession, and 14 states have cut this allocation by more than 10 percent. Additionally, 15 states made further cuts for the 2013-14 school year, when the supposed “recovery” was in full effect.
In the US, education is subject to an anarchic patchwork of funding, with 44 percent of total education resources coming from the states, subject to differing rules and regulations. In the wake of the 2008 financial collapse, this funding model was largely upended by unprecedented cuts. Localities, if they could, resorted to raising property taxes on homeowners or businesses or other levies to address these state shortfalls. Today, property taxes are also on the decline, down 2.1 percent in the 12-month period ending March 2013, according to the most recent figures.
In a few states, funding has been increased this fiscal year, but it is not sufficient to make up for the cuts over past years. For example, the Alliance for Quality Education found a $5.9 billion shortfall in state funding for the New York schools. Staffing levels in Pennsylvania are at a 10-year low. In North Carolina, education funding is $500 million less than before the recession despite a dramatic gain in student population.
This assault has been spearheaded nationally by the Obama administration, which has promoting competitive grants and business opportunities to secure the privatization of education and the enrichment of the financial sector. Educational inequality is clearly US policy.
Under conditions of rising poverty in 2013-14, Obama oversaw a cut in spending for Title 1, the major federal assistance program for high-poverty schools, to the tune of 12 percent. Title I is the largest federal program supporting elementary and secondary education in the US and was implemented in 1965 during the short-lived “War on Poverty” to improve the education of disadvantaged students.
In a parallel fashion, the net effect in 2013-14 on federal spending on disabled education was an 11 percent cut. Meanwhile there has been a huge increase in the number of students qualifying for special education.
According the Federal Education Budget Project, “The population of students served under IDEA [federal special education] has grown at nearly twice the rate of the general education population. During the 25-year period between 1980 and 2005, the IDEA population increased by 37 percent, while the general education population grew by only 20 percent. Moreover, students served under IDEA today account for about 13 percent of the total education population, up from about 10 percent in the 1980s.”
These cuts in Title 1 and IDEA, include the effects of the sequestration budget cuts, sold by Obama to the American people as a “fair and balanced,” while cutting billions of dollars from core government services.
This school year’s Title I and IDEA levels promise to be higher than last year, but are not restored to pre-sequestration levels.
However, while leaving the ever-growing numbers of poor and disabled children behind, the federal budget agreement found substantial funds to increase “school safety” programs to $140 million to facilitate the increased militarization of K-12 schools. It also provided $248 million to charter school grants—to further the privatization of education—$288 million for Teacher Incentive Funds (pay-for-performance)—to undermine teachers’ standards of living—and $378 million for standardized state assessment tests—to justify the assault on public education.
In the clearest single statistic demonstrating the unremitting assault on public education, the CBPP study pointed to the continued national trend of increasing class sizes. A survey of school administrators found that 54 percent of schools nationally increased class sizes for the 2011-12 school year and projected a growth of 57 percent for 2012-13.
Another measure of the same trajectory is per-student spending. This has declined in almost all US states over the period FY2008 to FY2014. This makes explicit the fact that the profit system no longer seeks to educate youth.
The biggest losers in per-student spending were: Alabama (declining a staggering $1,242 per student), Wisconsin (-$1,038), Kansas (-$950), Idaho (-$930), New Mexico (-$874) and California (-$873). Multiply these numbers by tens of thousands of students and it becomes apparent why cities are closing dozens of schools, after-school programs are drying up, and art, music and physical education are becoming a thing of the past.
Early childhood education was also been hard hit, with 27 of the 40 states that funded pre-K reducing the per-child funding amount for the 2011-12 school year. Among educators, early childhood education is often cited as the single most critical factor in a child’s future education development. Last year, 16 states cut enrollment in these pre-kindergarten programs.