September 18, 2014
Forty years after Boston was ordered to desegregate its schools in 1974, the Union of Minority Neighborhoods has released a report addressing why it has been hard to move on from that time.
In the report, released Friday by the organization, the introduction explains the issue came up while the Union of Minority Neighborhoods was conducting interviews for its work on Criminal Offender Records Information reform.
“Stories and feelings about that era kept coming up,” the introduction reads. “We weren’t Historians. We just wanted to understand why this history seemed to be keeping so many stuck and what we could all do about it.”
Donna Bivens, project director for the Boston Busing/Desegregation Project with the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, led a discussion about the findings Friday.
“I never understood the complexity until I started listening to people’s stories,” Bivens said Friday, speaking to about a dozen participants.
The report does not have specific recommendations for moving forward, but rather posed a number of questions and layed out how those interviewed as part of the report felt about them then and now.
The questions posed were: “Why do we need to look back?” “Why don’t people just get over it?” “Whose city is it?” “Was it about racism or was it about class?” Whose story is it?” “What is excellence?” “Isn’t Boston different now?”
For City Life executive director Curdina Hill, the most important question posed was “Whose city is it?”
Hill told those assembled that the pattern she has observed contains consistent moves to push out lower income people and replace them with the wealthy, and that many of the lower income individuals are minorities.
Hill linked the issue to the busing crisis by speaking about education. The privileged had access while the others were pushed out, she said.
The report addressed not only the violent opposition to desegregation that children experienced at the time – including rocks and racial epithets alike being hurled at them – but also the way in which the same issues of racism and classism persist today.
Christine Boseman remembers the time of busing and desegregation well.
“I’m still bitter about it,” Boseman said, remembering how she and other black students had to band together for protection. “I got cheated out of an education.”
However, she said problems within the Boston Public Schools still have yet to be addressed. The quality of education remains poor, she said.
Yvonne Long, a part of the METCO (Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunities), was bused to Lexington High School from her home in Roxbury.
That environment made her feel very different, Long said. There were no black teachers and she was the only African American in most of her classes, she said.
“I had no friends,” Long said, adding that she graduated in 1980. “That is a traumatic environment for a child that is going to school.”
The title of the report is “Unfinished Business,” and Union of Minority Neighborhoods executive director Horace Small underscored that in his wrap up at the event on Friday.
Small called on city leadership to begin addressing race issues through housing, economic development, and education.
“The lesson is 40 years later and people are still stuck,” Small said. “I think it is our fundamental responsibility to free some minds and help people understand it is one Boston and we need to make this work.”
No specific recommendations came out of the discussion, but Small was pleased the conversation would continue.
“We have no idea where the hell we’re going, but we’ll know when we get there,” Small said.
For more information on the project, visit unionofminorityneighborhoods.org/boston-busingdesegregation-project.