Birmingham to Boston

On May 17, 1954 the United States Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. Their ruling stated, “In the field of public education, the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” The ruling stated that both legally sanctioned desegregation in the South and de facto segregation in the North violated the 14th amendment of the United States Constitution. With this precedent in place, African Americans in Boston began a 20-year struggle that culminated in the 1974 decision by Federal District Court Judge Arthur Garrity, Jr. who found the Boston Public School Committee guilty of “knowingly carrying out a systematic program of segregation,” and “intentionally maintaining a dual school system” in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Boston residents, discouraged by the public school system and inspired by the spirit of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, began to organize. In May 1961, over 10,000 demonstrators marched on the State House to lend their support to the civil rights struggle in Birmingham, Alabama. A week later, Paul Parks of NAACP organized a meeting at Freedom House to air grievances to Louise Day Hicks, the new chair of the Boston School Committee. Hicks controlled the school committee and its refusal to acknowledge the existence of de facto segregation.

Angry at this stance, the Massachusetts Citizens for Human Rights Organization supported by Ruth Batson, chair of the NAACP Education Committee, organized the first “Stay Out for Freedom” boycott on June 18, 1963. Three thousand African American students attended “freedom schools” set up in churches and community centers throughout the city, where they studied African American history, the civil rights movement, and non-violent resistance.

Boston Freedom Schools
Massachusetts Freedom Movement
Picket line at the Boston School Committee offices.
The Boston Globe
Report on racial imbalance in the Boston Public Schools.
United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Massachusetts Advisory Committee
Otto Snowden and a Boston delegation headed by Lt. Gov. Elliot Richardson going to or coming from Selma, Alabama civil rights march, March 15, 1965.

A second stay-out, almost triple the size of the first, was held in February 1964 and led to the formation of the State Board of Education’s Advisory Committee on Racial Imbalance. On August 8, 1965 the Racial Imbalance Law was passed denying federal funding to schools having over 50 percent non-white students. The law, however, did not resolve the problem, and the number of racially imbalanced schools in Boston continued to increase.

After a series of lawsuits filed by the Boston School Committee contesting the Constitutionality of the Racial Imbalance plan, black parents were left with only one choice: to air their grievances in the federal court. In 1972, the NAACP and a coalition of parents filed suit in the federal courts demanding that it order the desegregation of the school system. On June 21, 1974, the case was decided when Judge Garrity ordered the mandatory busing.

Anticipating the court order, Freedom House formed the Institute on Schools and Education, headed by Ellen Jackson who founded Operation Exodus. The goal of the institute was to monitor the implementation of the state’s plan for desegregation.

Freedom House institute on schools and education
Jackson, Ellen
Snowden, Muriel S. (Muriel Sutherland)
Snowden, Otto Phillip
Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)
"What's going on?"
Cagle, Reggie
Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)
Boston School Committee "student desegregation plan"
Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)
Do you need help with desegregation problems?
Community Information Center

The primary concern of the institute was the safety of school children being bused to neighborhoods attempting to block the desegregation order. Community leaders, anticipating violence, formed the Freedom House Coalition to run a hotline and rumor control center.

Desegregation services unavailable from the city were provided by members of the Coordinated Social Services Council. The Council, along with the Institute, the Freedom House Coalition, and parents, expanded the community’s role from channeling information to working directly with the court as advocates and advisors.

Together they monitored court proceedings and participated in developing policy to foster quality integrated education for Boston’s school children.

Status report
Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)
Institute on Schools and Education
Status report
Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)
Institute on Schools and Education
Status report
Freedom House (Roxbury, Boston, Mass.)
Institute on Schools and Education