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Building a Constituency for School Desegregation: African-American Women in Boston, 1962-1972

by Polly Welts Kaufman - 1991

Examines Boston's school desegregation from 1962 to 1972, focusing on African-American women who demanded quality education for their children. The article discusses the constituency that supported a 1972 suit by Boston's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People claiming that Boston public schools denied equal education to African-American children. (Source: ERIC)

In March 1972, Boston’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed its now famous suit in the U.S. District Court charging that the Boston School Committee acted intentionally to segregate the Boston public schools. The suit, Morgan et al. v. Hennigan et al., claimed that all African-American children enrolled in the Boston public schools had been denied equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment. A little more than two years later, Judge Arthur Garrity handed down the decision ordering the desegregation of the Boston public schools.1

A decade earlier, during the school year of 1962-1963, a group of eight African-American mothers living in Roxbury, the center of Boston’s African- American community, decided to formalize their complaints about their children’s school and name themselves “The Higginson School District Parents,” bypassing the Home and School Association sponsored by the Boston public schools. In another part of Roxbury, one mother, Joan McCoy, became so angry because, among other things, there were forty-two seats for forty-seven children in her son’s classroom that she and her husband called a meeting in their house to which nearly thirty parents came.2

What is the connection between these spontaneous actions to demand quality education by separate groups of Roxbury parents and the NAACP case more than a decade later representing parents that these activist families of the early 1960s did not even know? Why is it important at this time to recapture their history?

When the history of school desegregation in Boston is portrayed in popular works and on television, the sensational parts of the active resistance to desegregation are put forth as the whole story, even though the large majority of the Boston schools were desegregated peacefully and militant resistance was centered around two neighborhoods. In addition, these popular accounts do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the African-American community’s active demands for quality education, which led to the NAACP suit. By omitting the African-American community’s story, that community is made to appear passive, without leadership, and the cause of the “troubles” following the court order. In fact, the desegregation order was necessary only because institutional racism prevented the school system from responding to the African-American community’s legitimate and vocal demands for quality education at an early stage.3

This study is a start toward recapturing the story of the development of the constituency that supported the NAACP suit in Boston. Only by documenting the development of the constituency of a social movement can its roots be examined and the power of “ordinary” people in determining its specific demands and ensuring its success be demonstrated.4 The study is partially based on interviews with twelve African-American women and one white woman in an interracial marriage who lived in Roxbury in the 1960s and who worked to improve their children’s chances for a good education. The interviews show how women in the African-American community, many of whom did not know each other until they became involved in efforts to change the schools, responded spontaneously to similar problems at the same time and demanded improvements. It also demonstrates how the civil rights movement was so often expressed in school politics.

Eight of the thirteen women organized the Higginson School District Parents. The other five took individual actions until they became part of the larger movement.5 Of the eight Higginson parents, five had lived in Roxbury most of their lives and had attended Boston schools themselves when they were integrated with a Jewish community; two others had attended integrated schools, one in Brighton (part of the Boston schools) and one in Cambridge. Of the other live women, three had attended integrated schools in Boston. Three of the group had moved to Boston in the late 1950s, two of them (one a Higginson parent) because they had heard about the excellence of the Boston schools. Two of the women had older children who had graduated from Boston schools earlier with some success.

Several of the women spoke of their personal successful experiences in the Boston schools and of the seven who had attended integrated schools in the area, two were college graduates. Erna Ballantine Bryant remembers her mother watching for her elementary teacher to walk by her house after school and give a personal report on how she did in school that day. There was racism in the Boston schools then, she stated, but it was more a kind of “benign neglect.” There was “an effort to teach,” she said, “even though it was patronizing at times.“6 All of the parents believed that education was a key to their children’s futures because so many other avenues were closed to black people.

What had changed to make these parents become aware that the schools were not serving their children as well as the schools had served them? What made them have a “panic/concern” as one mother said, that the “[school] system was interfering with the dreams, hopes and aspirations for our children?“7

First, they were empowered to act by the civil rights movement. Many of their actions were fueled by specific incidents in the South well covered in the national press. Second, conditions were changing in Roxbury. Because of red-lining by real estate agents, Roxbury was beginning to lose its racially mixed housing. Two of the women from outside of the Boston area, Eva Jaynes (who moved to Boston from Western Massachusetts so her husband could attend Northeastern University) and Gaunzetta Mitchell (who came with her husband from Nashville by way of Washington, D.C., in search of quality education for their children), were shown houses only in Roxbury because they were black.8 For this reason, the pressure for housing in Roxbury was increasing faster than it would have if open housing throughout the city had been the policy. By 1960 the African-American population in the city had expanded by one third of the 1950 figure. By 1970, the city’s African- American population was more than double the 1950 figure, becoming 16.3 percent of the city population.9 The pressure on the schools in Roxbury was exacerbated by school system policies to keep black children out of nearby white schools, the specific practices later cited by Judge Garrity.

In the late 1950s, a few Roxbury families experienced some success in having the school system meet their demands. Muriel Snowden, who, with her husband, Otto, was a founder of Freedom House (a community center in Roxbury), succeeded in forcing the principal of the David A. Ellis elementary school to take early retirement. At issue was the Home and School Association, the parent group authorized and run by the school system. When the parents met in the school to demand free elections instead of continuing with appointed officers, the principal dismissed them and had the police escort them out. One of those parents was Gaunzetta Mitchell, whose family had recently come to Boston looking for good schools. Snowden, whose daughter also attended the Ellis School, invited Mitchell to Freedom House to discuss the situation and within the year their protests were successful. In the nearby Garrison School, Erna Ballantine Bryant brought about the removal of a nontenured teacher who harassed her son. When the teacher complained about his behavior, Bryant had him tested privately and found he had an IQ of 140 and that any behavior problems stemmed from his boredom in the classroom.10

By the school year of 1962-1963, when the eight Higginson District mothers decided they must formalize their complaints about their children’s school by forming a group outside the Home and School Association, real change seemed out of reach. During the two years before, the mothers organized the Concerned Higginson Parents, as their organization came to be known. They all had children enter Ellis School in the Higginson district, the same one in which Muriel Snowden had earlier tried to open up the parent organization. They had the usual high hopes that parents have when their children enter the first grade. Snowden’s daughter had already graduated from the school and a new principal was in-place, but the parents soon found that any changes were superficial.11

Referring to the community woman who, like Snowden, was already publicly complaining about the schools, Marianne Freeman remembers that she was not involved at first. “Ruth Batson was out there. And I don’t think people really knew what she was talking about. I think you have to get into it a little bit, and feel the brunt of it. She’d been out there for years, talking about schools.” Batson was in charge of the Education Committee of the NAACP, which would eventually file the desegregation suit. Marianne Frecman’s oldest child, a son, had graduated from the Boston schools as she had herself. In her day, she said, students who failed either went to summer school or repeated a grade. By the time her second child, a daughter, was in the eighth grade in Roxbury, she had an experience that made her realize that her daughter was not receiving an education equal to that offered in other parts of the city. Her daughter was bright and had learned to read before she went to school. She even helped her older brother with reading. Freeman said:

All through her school life—perfect. From kindergarten right on up, an “A” student. So this was in the eighth grade. Miss Sullivan, who was an excellent teacher in the Lewis School . . . wanted to send her to Latin. [After she got there] we had to take her out of the Girl Scouts, piano lessons . . . it just got to be terrible, because they just present the work, and it was very difficult. So I finally took her back to the Lewis School. . . . [Even though] she had missed all those first three or four months . . . she went [back] and she . . . got the same “A’s”.

When Freeman’s younger daughter entered the first grade at the Ellis School, she decided to get involved. Because the teachers told her that they were short of help, she and some of the other mothers formed a Home Room Mothers’ Association to help the teachers. She said:

So in that way we had got a little insight. Because we knew we were not professional people, we weren’t political people or anything. But just looking, we could see that there were no pens and pencils. You’d have to send in the pencils and crayons for the children to work. And the books! When you took them to read, some of the pages were missing, full of food. It was terrible. Those were the books that the city of Boston used to burn when they got in that condition. But here they were, all in the Roxbury schools.12

The homeroom mothers began to visit other schools including a Boston school a few miles south, and found that they had books like those in suburban Newton (they knew what Newton had for materials because they had already begun to visit schools in the suburbs). Although the Boston school they visited “needed paint and things,” Freeman said, “you knew the child was just engrossed in reading. They hardly even noticed you were in the room, they were too busy. But [our] kids—they didn’t have anything.“13

When several of the mothers began to take their children to a tutoring program offered by the Northern Student Movement at the Eliot Congregational Church in Roxbury, they found their children were “far below [the percentile for Massachusetts] in reading, and . . . didn’t have enough math to test them on.“14

By then several parents were so alarmed they began to knock on doors to “talk with anyone, and try to get them interested in what’s happening.” Marie Allen, who immediately responded, was also a graduate of the Boston schools. She noticed that her son was getting all A’s. “Every mother likes to think their darling is smart, but he didn’t indicate [it] to me - I mean, when I went to school and you got all A’s, you were really exceptional.” Kay Wilson responded in much the same way. Her daughter was getting A’s and B’s and she knew something was wrong. When she asked the teacher why, the answer was ‘Well, she’s good in class."15

During the fall of 1962, the second year of the homeroom mother’s group, Freeman and Barbara Elam, a first-grade mother who had become very active after observing the overcrowding in her son’s room, and a core of the concerned mothers decided to bring their complaints to the attention of the principal. That same fall, James Meredith integrated the University of Mississippi, escorted by federal marshals. Unsatisfied with the principal’s response, the parents requested a meeting of the Home and School Association to bring the problems into the open. They were not allowed to meet with the Home and School group but only as homeroom mothers. It was after the principal turned away from the meeting twenty concerned parents who were not homeroom mothers that they decided to organize as an independent parent group with Freeman and Elam as co-chairs. Becoming alarmed, the principal asked for a visit from the assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools, Marguerite Sullivan. On the day following her visit, each homeroom mother received a note from the teacher she had assisted telling her she was no longer needed. “Dear Mrs. Elam,” one of the, notes said, “I wish to thank you for your wonderful help during the past months. I have been told by my supervisor that I cannot have you help me any longer.” The notes revealed that many of the teachers were caught in the middle, willing to accept the help of the parents in alleviating the overcrowded classrooms but having to obey their superiors.16

The organized parents immediately requested a meeting with Sullivan. In that meeting their hopes for help from the school administration were dashed. "We were not prepared for the racism that was really deep,” Barbara Elam remembered. Sullivan told them that their children needed “drill, drill, drill, and routine mastery work.” When they asked what the plans were for “able, mature, bright” students, the response was an angry, “Will you let me do what is best for this district!” Although Sullivan did develop a pilot plan in the Higginson district called “Operation Counterpoise,” it stressed remedial work and did not address the essential issue of low expectations for student achievement; nor did it meet the parents’ demands for relief of overcrowded schools and lack of permanent teachers and materials throughout the black community.17

By then the parents knew, as one of them said later, that the ‘School Committee had no dreams, no thoughts about improving conditions. . . . If parents wanted to do something about it they had to do it themselves.“18 The meeting with Sullivan galvanized them. They organized a formal petition to the principal and the Home and School Association listing demands for school improvement. They sent their grievances to Mayor John F. Collins, who answered that he had referred the letter to Louise Day Hicks, chairperson of the Boston School Committee. She did not respond. Only Joseph Lee, one of the committee members, responded to a letter the parents sent to each member. They held meetings to alert other parents and the community about the need for change. “Literally hours were put into doing this,” Kay Wilson remembered. “We kept pounding and pounding. Pretty soon the whole place . . . was getting involved.“19

On April 9, 1963, only two months after their meeting with the assistant superintendent, the Concerned Higginson Parents succeeded in assembling more than one hundred parents and community leaders at a community-wide meeting at the St. Mark’s Social Center in Roxbury. The flyer that drew the crowd read: “Do You Know Your Child Is Not Getting a Good Education?” Erna Ballantine read the petition drawn up by the Higginson parents group to the audience with explanations, and several community leaders who served as resource persons answered questions about the Boston schools. Follow-up letters to those who attended the meeting urged parents to hold “round-robin” meetings with other parents and a resource person to continue making demands for quality education. They wrote officials in many Boston organizations. The broader community was aroused; a constituency demanding equal education opportunity for black children was being built.20

Meanwhile the group that joined Joan McCoy in another part of Roxbury (when she complained about the forty-two semats for forty-seven students) also went to the Boston newspapers to bring the condition of their school to the attention of the public. Soon the Boston papers were running regular stories about the condition of the schools. McCoy became convinced that her child’s school would not improve in time for him and began to search for other solutions. In 1961 the School Committee had enacted an open-enrollment policy. The policy stated that if parents could find an empty seat in a school outside their own district, they could enroll their child in that school, but they would have to provide their own transportation. Open enrollment was widely believed to be a method originally designed to help white parents leave schools that were perceived to be becoming black. McCoy organized her neighbors in a self-help busing system:

Several of us arranged to take groups of kids, rain or shine, snow or hail; every morning at eight A.M. I can remember it very vividly in the snowy times. . . . We daren’t let the kids be late, because they would hold that over our heads; “your kids can’t get here in time, they can’t come” . . . I mean we had a lot of pressure on us, and the kids were small. And crossing the six lanes of 8 A.M. traffic on Blue Hill Avenue, with baby on hip and these little third and fourth graders running every which away . . . to catch the bus down to Jewish Mattapan.21

Although the Concerned Higginson Parents as a group continued to press for public awareness of “the school situation,” they each began to take actions to save their own children. Four of them tried the open-enrollment system. When Marie Allen tried to enroll her son in a school with empty seats, the principal resisted her until she reminded him she was a taxpayer. He relented saying, “All right, but I don’t want you to tell anyone that he’s coming up here. And when the floodgates open, I’m closing my doors.” Allen’s suspicions about her son’s easy A’s were soon confirmed: “It was . . . revealed that he didn’t have any foundation at all in arithmetic and reading.” It was not until the seventh grade that her son made honor grades again. After attending a private high school and college, he became a physician.22

Through the actions of these and other parents, the Roxbury community had become concerned at the grass-roots level about the unequal treatment of African-American students in the Boston public schools. Now when the leaders acted publicly they knew that a common experience shared by individual parents had built a strong constituency. In June 1963, just two months after the Higginson parents had aroused the black community at their public meeting, and coinciding with the integration of the University of Alabama, the NAACP led by Ruth Batson of the organization’s Education Committee presented fourteen demands to the Boston School Committee, including admission of de facto segregation as a detriment to quality education. When no action was forthcoming, the NAACP picketed the School Committee. Ruth Batson explained later that black leaders were not as concerned with integration as they were with the lack of resources. They reasoned that integrated schools would not be deprived of resources or be as overcrowded as black schools were.23

A week after the School Committee denied the charge of de facto segregation, the first Freedom Schools were held. Eight thousand junior and senior high school students boycotted the public schools. The March on Washington was held that summer. In February 1964 a second one-day boycott involved twenty thousand black students. Inspired by the Freedom Schools in the South, churches and neighborhood houses offered a curriculum that in eluded African-American history. Some students were bused to the suburbs, where support came from suburban churches and fair-housing groups. Among the organizers were the Concerned Higginson Parents. Erna Ballantine Bryant ran the school at St. Mark’s Social Center. In March Barbara Elam represented the Higginson parents before the Massachusetts Advisory Commission of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, testifying that the segregated schools had “slipped far below standards of other districts in the Boston system” and noted that Operation Counterpoise was not successful because it was based on the “false assumption that Negro children are inferior and culturally deprived.” In June parents were encouraged by the passage of the Civil Rights Act.24

By then the whole Boston metropolitan area was involved. The state board of education set up the Kiernan Commission to investigate racial imbalance. Its report, issued a year later, not only confirmed intentional segregation by the Boston School Committee but concluded that racial imbalance was harmful to both black and white students. Within months, in August 1965, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Racial Imbalance Act, the first in the country. This act required that each year school committees in the state file racial statistics concerning students in their schools with the state board. If the board determined that racial imbalance existed in any school, that school system was required to file a plan designed to eliminate the imbalance.25

Meanwhile the School Committee continued to refuse to use school funds to bus black children from overcrowded schools to schools with vacant seats. In response, the informal system used by individual parents or groups of parents to take advantage of the open-enrollment policy was formalized and greatly expanded through Operation Exodus, founded by Ellen Jackson, a young African-American mother of five children. Active in the Northern Student Movement, Ellen Jackson had organized the Roxbury-North Dorchester Parents’ Council to demand improvements in the schools in her neighborhood, especially asking for an end to overcrowding. The summer before school opened in 1965, they met night after night trying to decide how to respond to the School Committee’s refusal to take any action. The day before school opened, the school system announced double sessions for Roxbury schools. The five hundred parents who attended a meeting at a settlement house in Roxbury that night were all fully aware that there were empty seats in other schools. Parents signed up two hundred and fifty students for transportation and Operation Exodus was born. All night long Ellen Jackson and her committee worked to find and organize the buses, using suburban contacts. The next morning the children were transported to fourteen selected schools with empty seats. By January Exodus bused more than four hundred black students every day, and at its peak transported nearly one thousand black students to more than twenty-five schools. The organization was funded first by private contributions and community fund raisers and eventually by a grant from the Ford Foundation.26

The African-American community was now united and taking charge of its own quest for equal educational opportunity. Many black parents had given up on the Boston schools and in November 1965, the first talks began that would establish METCO, a state-funded program still in existence to bus black children to vacant seats, not in Boston this time, but in the suburbs. The constituency building for equal schools that had begun in Roxbury in the late 1950s and the early 1960s now included the whole metropolitan community. In September 1966, METCO bused 220 students to classrooms in seven suburban school districts. On its twentieth birthday a few years ago, METCO was serving 3,250 students in thirty-five suburbs, approximately the same number it serves today.27

Meanwhile, what about the thirteen parents who were so concerned about their children’s education in the early 1960s? Only one of the families in the Concerned Higginson Parents group moved to the suburbs, and that family was the one that had come from Western Massachusetts in the first place. All the others stayed in Roxbury or North Dorchester and worked out a variety of solutions for their children’s education, sometimes trying as many different avenues as they had children. Although only two of the Higginson parents had college degrees, the majority of their children did graduate from college. Among those children are teachers, a fireman, a public transportation supervisor, an editor, an executive secretary, a day care center owner, a college professor, a college administrator, a physician, and a lawyer.28

Six of the eight Higginson parents and two of the other live interviewed took advantage of METCO for at least one of their children and five of the Higginson parents and three others chose private schools for at least one of their children. One private school was the New School for Children, one of three opened in Roxbury at that time with community support as a response to the crisis. Two of the Higginson parents paid tuition for their children to attend the nearby Brookline schools.

Although only three of the Higginson parents kept at least one child in the Boston schools, two others have daughters who attended private schools currently teaching in the Boston schools. Gaunzetta and Marcus Mitchell, who had come to Boston in search of quality education, kept their children in the school system. They became active in organizing the Model Subsystem in Roxbury, funded with the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) monies that became available in 1965.29 The subsystem allowed a certain amount of community control and offered expanded resources housed in three schools covering grades K-12, including the first new school to be built in Roxbury in decades, the William Monroe Trotter School, which opened as an integrated elementary school in 1969. Four of their children attended Boston Latin School and one Boston Technical High School, both public high schools that require examinations for admittance. Two of their daughters graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two sons from Boston University, and one from Brandeis. When the Mitchells found that Girls’ Latin did not offer chemistry, they got that changed too.

Queen Powell helped organize the King-Timilty coalition, which received an ESEA Title III grant to improve two Boston middle schools and their ten feeder elementary schools. Her daughter is now a principal in a large Boston elementary school. Along with Joyce King, she also worked with the Boston Archdiocese to convert St. Joseph’s, a Roxbury parochial school, into a model school for black children. They both also took advantage of METCO. Joan McCoy used both private and public schools for her children and pioneered the development of several libraries in the Boston elementary and middle schools. Barbara Elam, a member of the Higginson parent group who became a librarian in a new Boston elementary school, later was appointed director of libraries for the Boston schools.30

By the time court-ordered desegregation began in the Boston schools in the school year 1974-1975, the children of the mothers interviewed had mostly completed their schooling. When asked to state the main accomplishment of their efforts to improve the schools in the early 1960s, Marie Allen, one of the Higginson District parents, said: “Oh, it woke up the whole city. . . . It stopped a process that was going on in the schools that was unfair, and was demeaning and prejudicial. And I think that all of those issues, all of those meetings, and all of the trauma, it was for a good reason. . . . It was a time for black families to be very strong.” When asked for her response to the court order, she replied with a story:

I remember having a meeting up at the Freedom House, and Louise Day Hicks was at that meeting. I can see the faces of some of the people who were at the meeting. And I remember Rheable Edwards stood up and she asked Mrs. Hicks about de facto segregation. And, of course, I remember Mrs. Hicks saying that there was no such thing. And you know, it was so frustrating because no one would admit there was anything wrong. So that when Judge Garrity announced there was, it was like a validation of all our concerns.31


1 For the desegregation orders see John F. Adkins, James R. McHugh, Katherine Seay, Desegregation: The Boston Orders and Their Origin (Boston: Bar Association, August 1975). The suit instituted by the Boston NAACP charged that all African-American children enrolled in the Boston public schools had been denied equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment.

2 Barbara C. Elam interview by Polly Kaufman, 11 October 1988; Joan McCoy interview by Mary Wallace, April 1988.

3 See in particular a popular version of the history of the desegregation of the Boston public schools in Anthony Lukas, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (New York: Knopf, 1985), which won a Pulitzer prize and was aired on CBS television on 25 and 27 March 1990. The paperbound edition published by Vintage Press in 1986 contained quotes from reviews on the back cover lauding it as “an American classic,” “challenging in its conclusions.” Local reviews, however, showed that his story was a distorted one. By taking only three families, Lukas did not portray the variety of reactions to the desegregation orders. Lukas’s thesis that class issues were more important than racism ignores the reason the desegregation orders were issued in the first place as well as the leadership exerted by the middle-class members of Boston’s African-American community. For a full discussion of these issues see James Green, “Searching for ‘Common Ground’: A Review Essay,” Radical America 20 (September-October 1988): 41-60.

4 For a discussion of these issues, see Kim Lacy Rogers, “Oral History and the History of the Civil Rights Movement,“Joumal of American History 75 (September 1988): 567-76. For the example of the development of a constituency by women that led to the success of the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott and the rise to leadership of Martin Luther King, Jr., see Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987).

5 The interviews were conducted by Jean Humez and members of her class in Oral History at the University of Massachusetts/Boston in the spring of 1988. The author conducted one interview in the fall of 1988 and one in February 1990. The persons interviewed from the Concerned Higginson Parents were Marie Allen, Erna Ballantine Bryant, Martha Coats, Barbara C. Elam, Marianne Freeman, Eva Jaynes, Naomi Jones, and Kay Wilson. The other five are Joyce King, Jean Maguire, Joan McCoy, Gaunzetta Mitchell, and Queen Powell. The audiotapes and their transcriptions are now in the Archives of the Boston Museum of Afro- American History. In addition, use was made of two interviews in the Black Women Oral History Project at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College: Ellen Swepson Jackson, 26 June and 24 August 1978; 19 April and 26 J une 1979; and Muriel S. Snowden, 21 January, 30 October, and 20 November 1979 (hereafter referred to by surname of interviewee). All interviewees have agreed to be quoted as I quoted them.

6 Bryant interview by Polly Kaufman, 20 February 1990. For a similar story in the same period in Boston’s South End, see Amanda V. Houston, “Beneath the El,” Boston College Magazine 47 (Summer 1988): 20-25.

7 Allen interview by Margie Ellis, 25 April 1988.

8 Jaynes interview by Cheryl Baacke, 3 May 1988; Mitchell interview by Linda Morrison, 26 April 1988. See also Peter S. Canellos, “A Lingering Urban Folly,” Boston Globe, 11 October 1988.

9 Robert Hayden, “Boston’s Black History: Population Roots,” Bay State Banner, 23 September 1976.

10 Snowden interview, Black Women’s Oral History Project, pp. 53-56; Mitchell interview; Bryant interview; Jones interview by Linda Morrison, 25 May 1988. Muriel Snowden made the point that it was the “system” and “not the teachers” who failed African-American parents. A Boston high school was named for her in 1987.

11 Barbara C. Elam and Marianne Freeman, Higginson School District Parents, “History of Operation Counter-poise” and “Outline of a Program for Progress,” circa 1963, mimeographed summaries in Concerned Higginson Parents Collection, Boston Museum of Afro- American History, hereafter cited as Higginson Parents Collection.

12 Freeman interview by Jean Humez, 7 April 1988.

13 “Minutes of Meeting [Home Room Mothers],” 16 January 1962; “Dear First Grade Home Room Mothers,” 12 March 1962; “Dear Parent or Guardian,” 16 October 1962, Higginson Parents Collection; Freeman interview.

14 Freeman and Jones interviews.

15 Freeman and Allen interviews; Wilson interview by Cheryl Baacke, 18 April 1988.

16 Elam interview; “History of Operation Counterpoise”; William J. McCarthy to Marguerite Sullivan 19 November 1962; “Outline of a Program for Progress,” 24 January to 13 February 1963; Mary Howard to Mrs. Elam, 6 February 1963, Higginson Parents Collection. A full account of James Meredith’s struggle to integrate the University of Mississippi is included in Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), pp. 633-72.

17 Eva Jaynes to Marguerite Sullivan, 7 February 1963, confirming a February 8 meeting, Higginson Parents Collection; Elam interview.

18 Mitchell interview.

19 Petition to William McCarthy, principal, and Executive Board, Home and School Association, 13 February 1963; Higginson School District Parents (signed by Barbara C. Elam, Erna Ballantine, and Eva Jaynes) to Mayor John F. Collins, 5 April 1963; to Louise Day Hicks, chairman, Boston School Committee, and members: Thomas S. Eisenstadt, Arthur J. Gartland, Joseph Lee, William E. O’Connor, 4 April 1963, Higginson Parents Collection; Elam and Wilson interviews.

20 “History of Operation Counterpoise”; “Do You Know . . . Your Child Is Not Getting a Good Education?” flyer; “Mothers Crusade for Better Schools,” Boston-Roxbury City News, 11 April 1963; minutes of meeting, St. Marks Social Center, 9 April 1963; “Suggestions for ‘Round Robin’ of ‘Coffee Klatsch’ Meetings,” 19 April 1963; Higginson District Parents to Erwin B. Canham, Editor, Christian Science Monitor; to Dean Erwin Griswold; Harvard Law School; to Kenneth Guscott, president, Boston NAACP, 15 May 1963, Higginson Parents Collection.

21 McCoy interview. For examples of support from newspapers, see “Time for a Radical Change,” Boston Herald, 15 April 1963; and “And in Boston,-the Right?” Boston Herald, 20 June 1963, clippings in Higginson Parents Collection.

22 Allen interview.

23 Robert Hayden, “An Historical Sketch of the NAACP in Boston, 1910-1977,” in Boston Branch NAACP Eighteenth Annual Awards Banquet, 18 September 1977, pp. 52-55; “Proposals Made to Boston School Committee,” 15 June 1963, Higginson Parents Collection. For the events that occurred in the South during the same week that the NAACP met with the Boston School Committee, including the integration of the University of Alabama and the murder of Medgar Evers, see Branch, Parting the Waters, pp. 821-33. During the controversy over de facto segregation, “de facto” came to be interpreted as meaning that deliberate Boston School Committee policies created segregated schools.

24 “NAACP Backs Boycott of Schools,” Boston Globe, 30 January 1964; “Roxbury Students Board Buses to Attend Freedom School Classes in Wellesley,” Roxbury-Boston City News, 27 February 1964; “School Is a Lonely Place,” Boston Record American, 27 February 1964; “Pupils Find They Can Learn Much in 1 Day,” Boston Traveler, 26 February 1964; “Negro Mothers Cite Bias Perils,” Boston Sunday American, 22 March 1964; “Harvard Expert Raps School Committee,” Boston Sunday Globe, 22 March 1964, clippings in Higginson Parents Collection; Bryant and Elam interviews. A positive model for the education of African-American children in Roxbury was the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts, where Lewis developed the self-esteem of hundreds of black children by presenting strong black role models and introducing them to the discipline and values of the line and performing arts. Elam interview.

25 Barbara L. Jackson, “Dropout: The School System That Quit Its Own Children,” Boston Magazine 61 (March 1969): 62-63, 93; Ruth M. Batson and Robert C. Hayden, A History of METCO (Boston: Select Publications, 1987), pp. iii-viii. While the Racial Imbalance Act was being considered, the Rev. Vernon Carter from the black community kept a vigil at the Massachusetts State House, night and day, until the law was passed.

26 Jackson, Black Women’s Oral History Project; James E. Teele, Ellen Jackson, and Clara Mayo, “Family Experiences in Operation Exodus,” testimony at the education hearings before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Boston, 4 and 5 October 1966, from a privately published edition; Elizabeth Weymouth, “Ellen Jackson, Housewife-Crusader,” Boston Sunday Globe, 30 January 1966; and Walter Slavi and Burt Peretsky, “Exodus Flourishing,” Boston Traveler, 4 January 1967.

27 Batson and Hayden, A History of METCO, pp. l-7; Charles Peterson, “Advocates Explain Why METCO Works,” Buy State Banner, 5 October 1989, pp. 10, 14; and Muriel Cohen, “Officials Say METCO Students Suffer an Achievement Gap,” Boston Globe, 27 June 1989, PP. 1, 6.

28 The information about the children of the women interviewed is taken from Barbara Clark Elam, “Introduction of Participants,” part of a program to honor the women interviewed held at the African Meeting House, Boston, on June 15, 1989. It is included in the Higginson Parents Collection. -For information on how the Boston desegregation crisis produced opportunities for women as leaders, see Tahi Lani Mottl, “School Movements as Recruiters of Women Leaders,” Urban Education 12 (April 1977): 3-14.

29 The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed in April 1965 and offered federal money to improve public schools. Title I was earmarked for school improvement for disadvantaged children, Title II to provide materials for school libraries, and Title III for innovative community-controlled school programs.

30 The preceding four paragraphs were compiled from a chart constructed by the author taken from all thirteen interviews. Erna Ballantine Bryant earned an Ed.D. from Harvard in educational administration in 1974 and pioneered alternative schools within the Brookline and Cambridge school systems and the Boston School for Crippled Children. Because Jean Maguire, one of the women interviewed,’ was already teaching in the Boston schools and worked to bring change from both inside and outside the system, her story is not included in this section. During the 1960s she was a guidance counselor in the Boston public schools. She became director of METCO in 1972 and she has served as an elected member of the Boston School Committee since 1982. Maguire was’ an early member of the Massachusetts Negro Educators Association, a group that in the 1960s petitioned the State Board of Education to insist on black principals, school adjustment and guidance counselors, and custodians in the Boston schools (McGuire interview by Patricia C. Flaherty, 16 May 1988; “McGuire comes on so strong.” Boston Herald American, 30 May 1982).

31 Allen interview.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 92 Number 4, 1991, p. 619-631
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 305, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 8:33:36 PM

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  • Polly Kaufman
    University of Massachusetts, Boston

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