Leola Hampton still remembers the sound of rocks and bricks crashing through the windows of her school bus in 1974.
“The quick swirling speed of shattered glass hurling across my face, missing by inches, the piercing, frightful screams of injured children frantically crying out for someone to rescue us,” Hampton recounted on Thursday at the Massachusetts State House, detailing the early scenes of desegregation in Boston. “Through the chaos I hear the unforgettable chanting of the angry protesters.”
At 14 years old, Hampton was among the 18,000 students who were bused to schools in other neighborhoods during the 1974-’75 school year as part of a court-mandated busing program to desegregate Boston Public Schools. That year, Hampton was bused from the predominantly Black neighborhood of Roxbury to attend a predominantly white school in South Boston for her freshman year of high school. The federal court ruling in 1974 rocked the city, spurring violent riots, but also initiating a period of significant political, social, and cultural change.
As the 50th anniversary of the historic ruling approaches, a group of local leaders and activists on Thursday joined Hampton to announce the start of an educational campaign surrounding the history and impact of desegregating Boston schools. Thursday’s press conference on Beacon Hill launched a series of events remembering Boston’s busing crisis in the 1970s.
Through five public forums beginning this month through fall of next year, The Boston Desegregation and Busing Initiative hopes to raise awareness about the years of advocacy by Black communities leading up to the lawsuit. The organizers of the campaign also hope to educate residents about what happened after the consequential court order, what lessons were learned during the busing movement and the controversy that ensued, and spark discussions on what future changes are necessary to improve access and equity in Boston Public Schools.
Exhibits showcasing photos and documents from that time period will be on display at events and sites across the city. The group is also partnering with multiple entities and organizations to develop curriculum about the busing and desegregation effort, to eventually be taught to BPS students.
The first forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Sept. 26 at Roxbury Community College, where a panel will discuss the advocacy and organizing efforts led by Black communities from 1960 to 1973 before the federal judge’s ruling. Panelists will also talk about the legal efforts to end segregation and get access to a quality education for Black students.
The following four forums are scheduled for the summer and fall of 2024, and will feature discussions on the Tallulah Morgan v. James Hennigan case that led to the court order on busing for BPS, the events that unfolded during the busing program and desegregation, and how the suburbs are still segregated today. All the panels will include speakers who either were personally involved or affected by the events during the busing and desegregation period. The fifth forum will also focus on how the METCO program, which buses students of color from Boston to 33 surrounding suburbs, works on desegregation and education equity in Boston today.
“These disparities that we continue to see come from decades of racism and injustices, and there is no quick fix,” said Milly Arbaje-Thomas, the current METCO director. “Not knowing that history causes us to continue to have blind spots, to miss the mark, and to continue to do harm.”
Bob Monahan, who participated in protests against busing in the 1970s, said educating the community about the events that surrounded the desegregation and busing efforts is critical.
“It’s really important to understand the history of the Black community in the advocacy, which as a 20-year-old in 1974 I had no idea or appreciation [for]. It’s really important to understand the School Committee and what happened in the court, because we had no idea the School Committee was that bad,” Monahan said. “This is an opportunity to educate and set the record straight.”
For Hampton, sharing her lived experience is important so people remember the stories of students like her, and don’t forget that there is more work to be done.
“I spent most of 1974 mastering the intersection of structural racism and one’s own right to be treated with basic humanity,” she said. “We’re here, my daughter is here, as an example that we do survive. We will find a way to educate our children.”