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City Council measure on busing issue stirs acrimony

Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey.
Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey.Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe/File

The measure arrived at the last minute. Councilor Charles Yancey wanted his colleagues at their weekly meeting to commemorate the landmark US Supreme Court ruling that declared the unconstitutionality of separate public schools for black and white students.

But Yancey’s move to mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling touched a raw nerve.

When the votes were counted, all but three members of the 13 council members backed Yancey’s resolution, prompting speculation about why Councilors Bill Linehan, Salvatore LaMattina, and Stephen J. Murphy voted present instead.

“It was a late file, and maybe they didn’t have enough time to understand what it was about,’’ Yancey said. “I hope that is why they voted present.”

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Yancey said he felt compelled to reaffirm the city’s commitment to the May 17, 1954, decision.

Linehan, the council president from South Boston, and Murphy, the longest serving at-large member from Hyde Park, said Yancey submitted the resolution just before the noon meeting. Regular items are filed two days before a meeting, allowing the councilors ample time to read the proposal.

While “late files” occur often, they are usually added to what is known as a consent agenda, which is passed with little scrutiny by a voice vote.

But Yancey requested a roll call vote, which required each councilor to say whether he or she supports the measure.

Linehan said he was uncomfortable because he did not know what was in the resolution.

“The reason I voted present is because I never read it,” he said. “When there is a roll call vote, you have to read the item.”

Murphy said he and 10 other council members had not read the resolution. He faulted Yancey for trying to stir “up trouble and controversy” by bringing the resolution forward at the last minute.

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Murphy said he had other issues with the resolution, too. While he said he supports the 1954 ruling, he expressed strong concerns about the law’s implementation, saying it led to forced busing in Boston.

“We’ve never recovered from it,’’ he said. “We’ve spent tens of billions of dollars on the impact it made on thousands of lives. . . . And Councilor Yancey wants to whitewash all of that.”

Murphy emphasized repeatedly in a brief phone interview that he has “no quarrel” with what the ruling attempted to do, but said he grew up in Boston and saw how application of the law divided communities.

He said if he had known the details of the late filing, he would have objected and pressed Yancey to bring up the matter next week so councilors would have time to review it.

“We do a lot of substantive work on the council that never gets the kind of circus attention that this is getting,’’ Murphy said. “It’s a shame for the city.”


Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com.