Talk on busing overdue, Walsh says
Mayor Martin J. Walsh recalled the 40th anniversary of the start of school desegregation under a federal court order, saying Boston is still feeling the effects of what many still call “forced busing.”
“You can feel the tensions in the communities, the tensions in the schools,’’ Walsh said Friday afternoon on Boston Public Radio on WGBH-FM.
During the campaign for mayor last year, both Walsh and his rival John Connolly, then a city councilor, said that racism was still alive in the Hub. Walsh reiterated the point Friday to radio hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.
“At some point, we need to have a conversation about what busing did to Boston and [not] be afraid of the conversation,’’ the mayor said. “I know black people that are still angry about busing. I know white people that are still angry about busing . . . . They are angry on all sides.’’
The mayor made his remarks four decades after yellow school buses began rolling Sept. 12, 1974, carrying Boston school children of all races to schools under a ruling by US District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity to desegregate the city’s public schools.
The desegregation order was met with confusion, discord, and unrest, particularly in neighborhoods such as South Boston, Hyde Park, and Roxbury. Whites fled the school system and the city, and experts say education suffered. What many thought would have been a solution to the school system’s uneven education system in black and white communities has long raised questions about its achievements.
Walsh’s comments came Friday, hours after the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, a Jamaica Plain organization, released its long-awaited report on the effects of busing.
“Forty years on, fewer people in the city directly remember the crisis. Some want to remember and some try to forget,” said the report, titled “Unfinished Business: Seven Questions, Seven Answers.”
The group’s researchers and analysts spent the past four years interviewing hundreds of people for the Boston Busing Desegregation Project and concluded with a finding that links the city’s crisis in 1974 to broader struggles for equity and access for the underserved.
“There are major, deep questions that we need to answer with each other before we can interrupt the patterns of race and class inequities that keep repeating in our society,’’ the project manager Donna Bivens said. “We can’t hide from it. It’s not something we should be ashamed of because it is part of the history of the country.”
The Union of Minority Neighborhoods began looking into desegregation while pushing for reforms to public education and the state’s Criminal Offender Records Information system and talking with people in the city’s minority communities. Many of those Bostonians shared harrowing tales from the desegregation era.
“We weren’t historians,’’ the report said. “We just wanted to understand why this history seemed to be keeping so many stuck and what we could all do about it.”
The researchers said many people recall Boston’s school desegregation through the lens of the violent opposition, but that history was pivotal to Boston and has lessons that can help the city grow, they added.
The report suggests that to move forward, the city must acknowledge and address lingering trauma from that era, embrace the value of diversity and access, and understand, confront, and dismantle “unjust systems of racism.”