For Hyde Park student, a life rerouted by school busing
When busing polarized Hyde Park High School, student Marsha-Joan Galvin found herself in a lonely place: the middle.
By Scott Helman | Globe Staff
Each school morning, Marsha-Joan Galvin followed the same routine. She met three neighborhood friends at 7:40 and they walked together to Hyde Park High School. First over the Neponset River, through the main square, and then up Central Avenue.
At the start of her senior year, in the fall of 1974, that final block on Central became a gantlet. School buses packed with black students arriving from Dorchester and Mattapan lined the street, a wall of yellow along the western edge of the building.
To the newcomers peering out of those bus windows, Galvin must have looked like any other neighborhood white girl — one more adversary in the us-versus-them climate that had set in at Hyde Park High and other newly integrated Boston schools. Walking the last block of sidewalk, jeers and insults flew.
"Honky." "White trash." "White bitch."
"It's not a nice way to go to school every day," said Galvin, whose maiden name was Aylward. The best response, she found, was to grit her teeth and keep walking. After all, this was her neighborhood, her school. She wasn't about to change her route.
One morning, the heckling was worse than usual. Then she heard an unsettling noise. She felt something hit her back. She turned her head and confirmed it: A student had spit on her from an open bus window.
Galvin was incensed. Yes, lots of people had suffered worse. But, for her, this crossed a line.
"There's no way you're going to get away with that," she thought. She marched toward the open bus door. Her friends tried to stop her.
"What are you doing!" they yelled. "Are you crazy!"
The yelling from the bus grew louder as she approached, the black students no doubt amused by her moxie. What was she really going to do?
At the last moment, Galvin heeded her friends' pleas. She halted at the steps, turned and stomped inside the school to clean herself off.
Had a photographer captured the scene, the image would have suited the era's assumptions perfectly: race against race, violence a hair trigger away — a fitting snapshot of the fraught environment that was Hyde Park High in 1974.
But here's what that photograph wouldn't say. While Galvin, 17 years old and proud of her seven-eighths Irish Catholic heritage, wasn't one to shrink from provocation, she wanted no part of the hardening black-and-white divide.
She was angry as anyone at US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity for pushing busing down their throats, but hating someone for who they were and what they looked like appalled her. That wasn't how she'd been raised. The black students on that bus knew nothing of that. "I was so the opposite of a 'white bitch' and 'white trash' and 'get out of my neighborhood,' " she said.
She was equally bothered by the abuse some white neighbors and fellow students directed toward the buses. "They made such huge assumptions," she said. "And it was so wrong."
Galvin's rejection of both extremes left her feeling caught in the middle, seemingly without much company. Her sense of confusion and relative isolation, together with a horribly disrupted senior year of high school, would set her adrift. Just how much she wouldn't know for a long time.
Prior to desegregation, she'd had some black friends. She was cool with different cultures. When busing hit, racial politics largely pushed people to opposing sides. Between them, a river of animosity flowed.
"I was on the bridge," she said. "And that's when it broke."
Almost suburban, for Boston
"Welcome to the country club."
Those were the headmaster's words to Ruth O'Day when she took a job teaching science at Hyde Park High School in 1966. Nestled between Dedham and Milton, Hyde Park — Boston's southernmost neighborhood — felt almost suburban, with trees, space, and single-family homes.
It was also, by Boston standards, relatively heterogeneous. Hyde Park had Italian and Irish families, as well as some black ones. Students from nearby Mattapan, a neighborhood in transition from heavily Jewish to largely African-American, came to Hyde Park for high school, too.
By 1970, black teenagers composed around 7.5 percent of the student body. Thepercentage would more than double by the time of Garrity's desegregation order. (South Boston High School, by comparison, was nearly 100 percent white before the buses rolled.)
Black and white students did not always coexist peacefully at Hyde Park High, however. Racial violence closed the school early on one day in January 1970, for example. Unrest persisted into the next year.
Then busing began in September 1974, bringing in hundreds of new black students from Dorchester and Mattapan. Smoldering resentments flared. Things got ugly fast, even though Hyde Park would never become quite the tinderbox South Boston was.
"When it came, it came with such force," said Adelaide Williams, a white physical education and health teacher at Hyde Park at the time. (Williams would later suffer a career-ending injury when struck by a black student in the locker room.)
On Sept. 19, just a week into that historic school year, violence cut classes short. The city's incident report from that day is a catalog of aggression: buses stoned all around the school, ambulances ferrying students to Carney Hospital, racial jibes, an arrest warrant for a black male accused of assaulting a white girl, and so on.
Less than a month later, on Oct. 15, a 15-year-old white student, Joseph Crowley, was stabbed in the abdomen during a melee in the school's main corridor. At least six other students and one teacher went to the hospital. Students recall being locked in their classrooms. "I remember being scared to death," said Stephanie Damata, a Hyde Park senior that fall.
Boston's entire 125-member Tactical Police Force flooded the neighborhood. Governor Francis Sargent called up 450 National Guardsmen, over Mayor Kevin White's objection. That night, some 1,500 people gathered at a Hyde Park municipal building to hear speakers demand an end to busing.
The Boston School Department soon installed a magnetometer, borrowed from United Airlines, to scan all students coming into school. An 18-year-old black youth from Dorchester was ultimately arrested in Crowley's stabbing.
Inside the classrooms, peace usually held. Trouble often started in the day's seams — before and after school, at lunch, and between classes. You kept your coat with you, in case you had to flee. You wore sneakers for speed. You avoided the bathrooms, even if it meant limiting your liquids at breakfast. After school — often the day ended early — black and white students went their separate ways.
Several teachers said they don't remember white Hyde Park parents being as openly hostile as those in South Boston. But there were protests, threats, and rocks thrown, including, on at least one occasion, by the parent of a white football player — a sight that left the biracial team badly shaken. "One of those things you'll never forget," said Anthony Lamar, a black senior on the squad.
There was also the nearby house where an effigy of a black ape hung from the front porch, said Lena Taylor, a youth worker for the city stationed at Hyde Park High. The black students got upset when they saw it, Taylor said, and so did she. "I just couldn't show it."
Gail O'Reilly, who taught English, remembers going outside one day and being exasperated by a TV reporter's question: Who had started that day's fight — the white kids or the black kids? She found such accounting foolish. "There was plenty of blame to go around."
In this charged environment, relationships among white and black people — the sort that Marsha-Joan Galvin and others had known before busing — became unsustainable.
Times had changed. Whose side were you on?
Family set tone of acceptance
It was their sweet evening ritual, a dad and his middle daughter stealing a few minutes together at the end of the workday.
Al Aylward, Marsha-Joan's father, would pull up to the house in his Pontiac Bonneville. She'd hop in and they would drive around the corner to Hy-Way Spa, the local convenience store. She would eagerly run inside to fill dad's order: one copy of the Boston Evening Globe, four packs of Camels. Then they'd drive back home for dinner.
Her father was a tool and die man, first for United-Carr and then TRW when the companies merged. Working at factories in Cambridge and Newton, he retired as a plant manager. Earlier in his life, he had helped care for younger siblings after his own dad died young.
Now, as a father himself, he was loving but quiet. He read the newspaper cover to cover, and prized cars. Galvin held the flashlight while he tinkered in the carport. "He was a gear-head," she said. She learned to how change a car's oil.
The second of four, Galvin had an older sister, a younger sister, and a younger brother. Their mother, Mary, enforced homework rules and kept the house. On frenetic nights, Mary Aylward established a dinner-time rule she called 20 Minutes of Silence. She'd set the oven timer, and no one could talk until the bell.
For the first seven years of Galvin's life, the family rented in Mattapan, where her mother had grown up. (She and her siblings had attended Hyde Park High.) The family bought a house up on Fairmount Hill in Hyde Park in the mid-1960s, where Mary Aylward still lives with Galvin's younger sister, Michele.
As Galvin got older, her neighborhood crew included a black friend, David, and an Asian friend, Peter. David and Peter were at the birthday parties, too. David and Peter kissed whomever the bottle landed on during Spin the Bottle. Nobody's parents seemed to have an issue, Galvin said.
But she started to become aware of prejudice and racism. White flight from Mattapan troubled her. "If everybody kept running," she said, "it wasn't going to cause people to understand each other better."
To Galvin, you could be both proud of your own heritage and accepting of others'. It wasn't either-or. Any racial epithet, in any direction, was contemptible. "We didn't grow up like that," said Michele Aylward, 52, now a teacher in West Roxbury.
In high school, Galvin was studious and heavily involved in the Catholic Youth Organization, going to pie-eating contests and dances. Neighborhood families hosted parties where she and her friends played Bobby Sherman 45's and had soda and popcorn. She worked at a grocery store and later at a bank.
Galvin later began running with a faster crowd. They'd use their Boston Public Library cards to get into clubs. She told her mother they were bowling.
The summer of 1974 would be her last as a high-schooler. She had just turned 17. A driver's license had given her a taste of freedom. She wanted to enjoy her senior year, to soak up the final rays of youth. Real life would arrive soon enough.
Then real life showed up early.
Willing herself into action
The yelling, the irate neighbors lining Metropolitan Avenue, the rancor — it shocked Galvin as she arrived at school as a senior. Busing was turning her world upside-down. How had she failed to see it coming?
The busing plan wasn't exactly a surprise. Parents had known its contours for months. Classmates had gone up to the State House with their families that spring to protest.
While other Hyde Park parents actively fought desegregation, though, Galvin's did not. That may explain why she was caught off guard. "My parents didn't prepare us for that, because they didn't feel there was a reason to," she said.
Indeed, Galvin remembers her mother promoting conciliation. She joined a biracial parents group, driving to Mattapan for meetings. She would later sign the Covenant for Justice, Equity, and Harmony, part of a controversial interfaith push in 1979 for peace and tolerance.
But Galvin was angry at Garrity, too. How could he order all of these high school students together without proper preparation? Why not start with younger grades and integrate gradually? Plus, busing had taken friends away from Hyde Park High.
"I remember thinking, like, 'What the hell? How can you do this?' " Galvin said.
If someone had asked her to sign a petition to stop busing, she said, she would have. That didn't mean she was in league with the antibusing crowd, however. She didn't blame or target black students, as some did. When white classmates shot racial epithets, Galvin said, she did not. When they started trouble, she steered clear, privately disgusted.
She wasn't one to lecture others about injustice. It was more her way to walk away quietly.
On one occasion, however, she willed herself to act more forcefully. It was one of the bad days. School had let out early — again. Galvin was walking home with a friend on River Street when they saw a black woman, maybe in her 30s, driving alone in a sedan.
Galvin worried the woman would turn toward the high school — maybe she was picking someone up? Galvin feared what might happen to her. Do something, Galvin told herself.
So Galvin and her friend stepped off the curb. They walked toward the woman's car, waving their arms.
"Stop!" they yelled. "Don't go up there!"
The woman looked over with alarm. She saw two white girls coming at her and misunderstood. She rolled up her window with urgency, hit the gas, and was gone. Their good intentions had backfired.
Galvin may have been sensitive and shy, but she was not meek. She had a stubborn pride. The day after she was spit on, she insisted on walking the very same route to school.
Her nerve nearly got her hurt on one tense day in the hallways, when she accidentally opened her locker door into the open locker of a black classmate. The other girl threw the door back and Galvin's locker closed. The two slammed their doors back and forth. Their words grew heated.
Galvin thinks she probably called the girl a "stupid bitch." But not "black bitch." "If you hit me, I would hit you back," Galvin said. "It wasn't an issue of color."
The classmate had a soda bottle in her locker. She threatened to break it and cut Galvin with the glass. Galvin was steaming but scared. A senior boy whisked her away. The two girls avoided each other after that.
In search of a silver lining
In his year-end letter to seniors, headmaster John Best wrote of the many kinds of people they would encounter in their lives. "You will work with them, live near them, belong to the same groups or clubs or churches," he wrote. "Your children will play with their children and go to school with them."
If there were any silver lining to busing, Best suggested, it was that Hyde Park had prepared the class of 1975 to function in diversity.
That was true, to a degree. Galvin enjoyed a class trip to Bermuda that some black students went on too. They had their prom; she wore a green halter dress. Anthony Lamar found ways to bring black and white students together through football and the yearbook.
Still, the 1974-75 school year left lasting damage. Dom DiMare, a senior that year, said the busing strife derailed his college plans, costing him earning potential later in life. "My study habits were shot," he said.
A guidance counselor had suggested to Galvin that she pursue forestry at University of Massachusetts Amherst. The idea held some appeal. She liked the outdoors. She decided to do it.
What no one told her was that forestry required a heavy load of science classes, such as botany and chemistry. At Hyde Park, she'd been forced to drop chemistry to take typing, because administrators needed racial balance in the classes.
Once at UMass, she discovered how unprepared she was. She'd always considered herself a good student. She began questioning her high school education, even though she remained proud to be from Hyde Park, stigma and all. For the first time in her life, she was getting D's and F's.
Busing had broken her arc. Lost on the massive campus, she felt a world apart from other students, who couldn't understand what she'd been through. Any sense of direction or momentum she'd once had — that was gone now. She hated the idea of being labeled stupid. "That was a bad hit for me," she said.
Galvin largely kept her struggles quiet. She was paying for her education anyway, so it wasn't exactly her parents' business. She lasted two semesters before UMass put her on academic suspension. In a letter appealing the decision, she argued that the violence and tension at Hyde Park had robbed her of so much. UMass denied the appeal.
She moved home for the summer and fall of 1976. She told people she was taking time off to make money to pay for college. She went backto UMass in January 1977. After one more semester, the university kicked her out for good.
Galvin felt humiliated. She was reeling, her self-confidence gone. She couldn't blame her poor grades entirely on busing. She had partied, too. Plus she was working a lot. But the shock waves of desegregation had buckled the ground beneath her feet.
Difficult road before finding her way
When busing began, Galvin quickly understood its significance in the history of her city. She started cutting out newspaper articles, just like she'd done five years earlier when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
What she hadn't anticipated was how deeply busing would affect her, and how long it would take to recover. That confusion she'd felt at 17 still hovered, a few years later, like a dark cloud.
After leaving UMass Amherst, she got a job cooking for a sorority, her first taste of working in food service.
She took a few months to travel and then returned to the kitchen, finding work at a Brookline hospital. She discovered that not only was she passionate about food, she was good at it.
The smart, hard-working kid began to reemerge. "All the sudden, there was this awakening," she said. "Like, 'I'm not an idiot.' "
She soon felt limited by not having a college degree. "I got frustrated that I only had hands," she said. In her 20s, she enrolled in a chef training program at Bunker Hill Community College, also earning an associate's degree in hospitality. At graduation, she learned she had the highest grade point average in the program. She was back on track.
Galvin grew hungry for bigger, supervisory roles. While working at Milton Hospital, she started taking classes at Northeastern University. When she made the dean's list, she would frame the certificates and hang them in her living room.
At age 37, that elusive bachelor's degree — now in business administration — was finally hers.
"I didn't need to prove it to anyone else, because nobody else knew I flunked out of college," she said. "I needed to prove it to myself."
She would go on to beat cancer at age 40, leave Milton Hospital, and eventually find the job she has today, as food service manager at a residential school for children with special needs. It's her way of giving back.
These days, Galvin, now 57 and living with her husband, Dan, in Needham, still thinks about the busing years sometimes, especially when she's back in Hyde Park. The fear, the strain, the flaws in Garrity's plan — it's all fresh in her memory. She, like many others who suffered quietly, paid a price that's never been fully tallied.
When Galvin looks back on it, she sometimes regrets not being more outspoken about what was right, and what was wrong. "I felt that I observed for too long," she said.
In the 40 years since, she's grown more comfortable speaking her mind. Not always about racial equality. About anything that demands more than quiet protest. She found her voice.