Phase II In Action

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In the early 1800s, Irish immigrant laborers had been drawn to Charlestown, in the northern part of Boston, because of its shipyard operated by the U.S. Navy. After the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, Irish immigrants had poured into "the Town." The more wealthy residents had soon moved out to the suburbs, making the Town into a poorer, working-class neighborhood. Yet the remaining residents, or "Townies," were fiercely loyal to Charlestown, prepared to protect it from any intruders. The Townies were also protective of Charlestown High, despite its crumbling building and its declining academic repuation.

So when Garrity's Phase II plan called for the busing of blacks and Latinos into Charlestown High and of Townie children into Roxbury, Charlestown resisted. Like other white parents around the city, parents who were able to pulled their children out of the city's public schools, opting instead for private or parochial schools. During the first week of school, Townie students boycotted the schools while their parents staged protests against forced busing.

Inside Charlestown High, blacks faced taunts and physical attacks from white students. They fought back by creating a Minority Students' Council, which presented headmaster Frank Power with a list of demands, such as:

Mr. Power meet with this council regularly . . . .
All racial profanities be removed from school property.
White students stop referring to minorities as niggers, chinks, etc. [18]

Power agreed to try to implement the demands as best he could. The next day, 175 white students boycotted school to protest Power's meeting with the Minority Student's Council, coming up with their own list of grievances:

All the vulgarity by the blacks in the classroom and nothing done about it.
Obscene gestures and acts against the white girls from black boys. Shoving of white girls in the corridors . . . .
Persecuting the whites before the blacks. [19]

A few days later, a fight broke out after several white boys attacked a black named Eddie Malloy. Police arrested four whites, but five blacks were suspended for three days under a school policy "penalizing both parties to any fight." [20] The next day, outraged minority students refused to leave the buses when the pulled up to Charlestown High in the morning.

As the school year wore on, racial tensions remained just as strong. An exhausted Frank Power, suffering from severe hypertension made even worse by the racial struggles, left on sick leave in mid October. In January, white students staged a sit-in on the school's main staircase, forcing school officials to lock black students in upstairs classrooms for their own safety. The black students barely made it safely out of the school. Yet despite the daily harassment and dangerous situations like this, the black students remained at Charlestown High. A handful of blacks who were exceptional athletes even found themselves accepted to some extent by white students.

What made the Townies protest the arrival of blacks at Charlestown High so vigorously? Obviously, this is not an easy question to answer. Some Townie parents were motivated by racism, plain and simple. Others were opposed to forced busing in general. They felt that parents, not government, had the power to decide where and with whom a child attended school. Many whites also opposed busing in part because of misconceptions they held about blacks. "Much of the resistance to busing was rooted in a fear of [black] crime, a conviction that young blacks were bent on mayhem and pillage against any whites who crossed their paths." [21] And the Townies' intense pride in their town and their school made them loathe to welcome any outsider, black or otherwise. Italian students from East Boston had also encountered racial hostilities when they had chosen to attend Charlestown High in the years before the Garrity plans. It is easy to paint the Townies who resisted integration as racists, but in reality they were simply people who were very proud of their town and of their children. They would do anything to protect both against what they saw as an onslaught of hostile blacks.

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Last modified: Sun Jul 12, 1998