Category Archives: Black History Month


By: Corinne Zaczek Bermon

In 1974, a young boy named Kevin Tyler stepped off his bus on the first day of school.1)Name changed as request of former METCO student. As the Kevin looked out at the area surrounding his new school, he could only think that everything was foreign and weird. Although he was only ten miles from home, the Roxbury native thought that suburbia was another world. Gone were the noises from the street and common spaces and in their place were fences, private backyards, and white faces. Although it smelled cleaner, it wasn’t exactly pleasant to Kevin as the fresher air “felt weird to [his] nose.”  The white students around him sounded strange and bland when they spoke, not in the expressive style he were used to in Roxbury. But even on his first day of school, Kevin could see that life in the suburbs was easier, charmed even.2)Susan Eaton, The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 218-219.

Cover of the METCO information pamphlet.
Pamphlet for parents about the METCO program. Image courtesy Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

Many METCO students experienced a disconnect after they disembarked the buses that brought them to their suburban schools. Perhaps more profoundly than anyone, these young students saw the consequences of the deep racial and class divide that characterized Boston. The suburbs may be close geographically to the metropolitan area, but as Robert observed, they were worlds apart.

So how did students of color end up at schools in the suburbs? As we have passed the fortieth anniversary of busing for school desegregation, it is important to note, that voluntary busing existed before Morgan v. Hennigan mandated it, and still exists today as the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity or, as it is commonly know, METCO.

Even after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, which determined that segregated education was inherently unequal and in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, de facto segregation remained prevalent in both the northern and southern US schools. In 1967 the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a pamphlet titled “Schools Can Be Desegregated,” which made several statements regarding segregated schools in the US:

  1. Racial isolation in the public schools is intense and is growing worse.
  2. Negro children suffer serious harm when they are educated in racially segregated schools, whatever the origin of that segregation. They do not achieve as well as other children; their aspirations are more restricted than those of other children; and they do not have as much confidence that they can influence their own futures.
  3. White children in all-white schools are also harmed and frequently are ill prepared to live in a world of people from diverse social, economic, and cultural background.3)U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Schools Can be Desegregated” (Washington, D.C.: Clearinghouse Publication No. 8, June 1967) 1.
A Bird's Eye View from Within-As We See It by the staff and board of Operation Exodus
“A Bird’s Eye View from Within – As We See It,” report on Operation Exodus, 1965. Image courtesy Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections. Full report online.

Faced with the unresponsive and all-white Boston School Committee’s stance towards de facto segregation in Boston schools, concerned parents and activists founded “Operation Exodus” through Roxbury’s Freedom House in 1965 as a voluntary way to desegregate Boston Public Schools. In its first year, 400 African American students from Roxbury and Dorchester were bused to the predominantly white, but under enrolled, Faneuil School in Back Bay. In 1966, Operation Exodus was renamed the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO). Immediately, Black students faced the problem of how to address race while part of an expressly integration-based program. As Susan Eaton, Ed.D., expert in racial and economic inequality in public education, discovered, “neither [black nor white students] talked to the other about race – the very thing that appeared to be separating them. As a result, race frequently felt to the black students like a family secret. To keep life going smoothly, everyone compliantly locked the race subject away. It was too potent to open, to delicate to touch.”4)Eaton, 81. The attitude towards race as a subject to be avoided in some ways reflected the outcry against METCO in the city.

The Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity, Inc. program created controversy in nearly every town to which it bused black urban students.

Photograph of black and white students sitting together in a classroom in Boston, circa 1973. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.

While some suburbanites welcomed the program as a way to expose their children to a more diverse group of classmates while also assisting underprivileged urban students, others did not focus on the ideological mission of METCO. Instead, they considered the financial costs of the program, the potential negative impact on schools, and the needs of their own children to be more important than minimally integrating their school systems. Others accused METCO of reverse racism for primarily busing African American students rather than poor white students. During the 1970s busing crisis within Boston, the program exposed divisions and resentments between suburbs and the city and within the suburbs themselves. Many began to question the value of integration as well as its effectiveness. With the potential costs to each town and to each taxpayer, residents of both the city and suburbs wondered, was the ideological goal of integration a worthwhile endeavor?

The online exhibit, “Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO): Solving Racial Imbalance in Boston Public Schools,” created by graduate students Kristin Harris (MA American Studies, 2015) and Corinne Zaczek Bermon (MA American Studies, 2015; MA History Archives Track, 2017) explores the founding of the organization and the effects it had as a voluntary busing program rather than the controversial “forced busing.”

Using the METCO collection at Northeastern University, Harris and Bermon combed through nearly 144 boxes to find the story of METCO. They hand selected documents that highlighted the difficulties METCO had in funding despite support from the Board of Education and how parents stayed involved in the program through parent councils to keep their children safe and in the program.

This exhibit tells the story of the other side of the busing crisis in 1974-1975. Despite the ongoing violence and intimidation happening in city schools such as South Boston High School and Charlestown High School, METCO students had been quietly and determinedly attended suburban schools through their own busing program. Their stories counteract the narrative that all student busing for desegregation was fraught with protests and violence. The METCO program today still serves as a model for the country as to how to racially balance schools.

Visit the full exhibit to read more about METCO’s beginning and see how parent councils were involved closely with the host schools.

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References   [ + ]

1. Name changed as request of former METCO student.
2. Susan Eaton, The Other Boston Busing Story: What’s Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), 218-219.
3. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “Schools Can be Desegregated” (Washington, D.C.: Clearinghouse Publication No. 8, June 1967) 1.
4. Eaton, 81.

“A Great Woman, Great Leader & Great Bostonian:” Melnea Cass

Though she was born in Richmond, Virginia, in 1896, Melnea A. Cass devoted her life to making the city of Boston a better, more equitable place to live.

Melnea Cass speaking at the Boston Massacre Commemoration, March 5, 1976. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. See digitized photos from Boston City Archives here.


“She was a great person–a great woman. . . . A great leader of her community. . . and a great Bostonian.”                                                                                        ~ Mayor Kevin H. White, 1978

The Cass family moved to Boston’s South End when Cass was five years old and, three years later, when her mother died, Melnea Cass moved to Newburyport, a small suburb north of Boston, where she was raised by her aunt. After attending  a parochial high school in Virginia, Cass returned to Boston where she spent the remainder of her life striving to promote social justice and civil rights in the city.

Throughout the 1920s, when Cass was in her early twenties, she helped black women register to vote in Massachusetts. In her thirties, Cass became a community advocate and leader. She helped found the Boston chapter of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first labor organization led by African Americans.

Because Cass was especially active in community-based activism in the South End and Roxbury, she was affectionately nicknamed the “First Lady of Roxbury.” Working alongside social workers Muriel and Otto Snowden, Cass helped establish Freedom House in 1949. The nonprofit organization began a community-based group advocating for the African American community in Roxbury. Today, Freedom House continues to improve education and relations between racial, ethnic, and religious groups in the city.

Cass championed social justice and rights of African Americans in Boston and served as a leader of several local institutions and causes including the Mayor’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Minority Housing and the Harriet Tubman House. When Cass was in her early fifties, John Collins, then Mayor of Boston, appointed her to the Action for Boston Community Development, making her its only female charter member. She served as the Boston president of the NAACP from 1962 until 1964, and in the mid-1970s she was appointed chairperson for the Massachusetts Advisory Committee.

Melnea Cass receiving an honorary doctorate from Northeastern University in 1969. Image courtesy of Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

In 1969, when she was 72 years of age, Northeastern University awarded Cass an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree, in recognition for her community-based activism.

Melnea Cass played an active role in community leadership until the end of her life. When she died in December 1978, Boston’s mayor, Kevin H. White, wrote a poignant eulogy that highlighted her tireless, life-long devotion to social justice and healing “the rift between the races and provide for a better life for black Americans.” He noted, “her life was so connected with the life of this city… it is difficult to imagine Boston without her.”

Eulogy for Melnea A. Cass, written by Mayor Kevin White, December, 1978. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Eulogy for Melnea A. Cass, written by Mayor Kevin White, December, 1978. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives.

Interested in learning more about Cass and her work? Check out local archives! Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections houses the Melnea A. Cass papers. The collection contains biographical information and awards, and photographs documenting her work with community improvement and civil rights organizations. Northeastern University also houses the Freedom House Photographs, which are digitized, as well as the Freedom House, Inc. records.

Boston City Archives also holds records related to Melnea Cass’s life and work. In fall 2016, graduate student Monica Haberny completed an internship at Boston City Archives where she discovered  materials about Cass in the “Boston 200” collection and Mayor Kevin H. White records. The latter have recently been digitized and are available online. Check out the fully searchable, newly digitized collections at Boston City Archives.

Cass’s legacy lives on in Boston; in Roxbury, Melnea Cass Boulevard was named in her honor and she is commemorated on the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail.


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Caught in the Crossfire: Students’ Reactions to Busing in Boston

On December 11, 1974, Michael Faith, a 17-year old student at South Boston High School, was stabbed by an 18-year old African American student while walking in the corridor to his second period class.

Excerpt of police log on October 8, 1974, documenting violence reported at Boston Public Schools between 10:30 am and 12:35 pm.
Excerpt of police log on October 8, 1974, documenting violence reported at Boston Public Schools between 10:30 am and 12:35 pm. The report for the two-hour period totaled 8 pages. Image courtesy Boston City Archives.

Violence erupted and race-related attacks escalated in Boston’s public schools from the first week of court-ordered busing that September.

On a daily basis many African American students, teacher’s aids, and bus drivers were pelted with rocks and bottles, struck with bats, beaten with fists, and threatened, as this excerpt of a police log for a 2-hour period indicates.

All students In Boston Public Schools (BPS) were affected by the violent reactions to busing on some level. Those who weren’t assaulted physically often witnessed or heard about brutal attacks that occurred in their, or nearby, schools. Student absenteeism skyrocketed in many schools as a result. How did students react to the atmosphere of violence and fear during the years busing was used to desegregate BPS?

Letter from 3rd grade student to Mayor Kevin White, telling him he wants the violence between blacks and whites to stop. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.
Letter from 3rd grade student to Mayor Kevin White, telling him he wants the violence between blacks and whites to stop. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.

The online exhibit, “What About the Kids? A Look Into the Students’ Perspectives on School Desegregation,” created by Krystle Beaubrun (History, 2015) and Lauren Prescott* (Public History and Archives, 2016) explores opinions and reactions students had to what was commonly dubbed “forced busing” in Boston.

Using collections at Boston City Archives and UMass Boston’s Archives & Special Collections, Beaubrun and Prescott scoured hundreds of letters written to Kevin White–then mayor of Boston–and W. Arthur Garrity–the federal judge who ordered that schools be integrated through busing–by students.

Poem by young student to Mayor Kevin White. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.
Poem written by elementary school student to Mayor Kevin White in December, 1974–four months after Phase I (busing) of desegregating BPS was implemented. Image courtesy of Boston City Archives. Rights status is not evaluated.

They selected a sampling of letters written by students–in elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools  in Boston and across on the country–sharing their unique reactions to busing as a way to desegregate BPS. Many younger students expressed confusion about the violence and prayed for its end. Some offered the adults suggestions on how to improve the situation.

Their exhibit captures the unique reasons high school juniors and seniors opposed “forced busing.” In heartfelt letters to officials, students described how busing about disrupted their place on sports teams, prevented them from partaking in traditions like senior prom, severed relationships they’d built with teachers, and prohibited them from graduating from the school system they’d attended their whole lives.

Despite the violence that erupted in schools during the early years of busing, Beaubrun and Prescott’s exhibit also documents how some black and white students joined together to counteract negativity. Responding to media coverage that generalized South Boston High School students as racists during the 1970s, students Michael Tierney and Danis Terris founded and launched MOSAIC in 1980.

An exhibit annoucement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of UMass Boston, University Archives & Special Collections.
An exhibit announcement for MOSAIC. Image courtesy of UMass Boston, University Archives & Special Collections. Search or browse full-text issues here.

MOSAIC, a publication produced from 1980-1988, contained  autobiographical stories, photographs and poetry from students at South Boston High School. The University Archives & Special Collections at UMass Boston has digitized the full 11-issue run of MOSAIC. Search or browse full-text issues here.

Visit the full exhibit to read more reactions students had to busing.  Learn about how officials, clergy, and individuals around the  around the world reacted to Boston’s busing crisis in future posts.

*Shortly after graduating with her MA in history, Lauren became the Executive Director of the South End Historical Society. Congratulations, Lauren!


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Mapping Divisions & Historic Decisions: The Road to Desegregating Boston Public Schools

Political cartoon, 1954. Image courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Reproduction not permitted without prior permission, in writing, from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Political cartoon, 1954. Image courtesy of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Reproduction not permitted without prior permission, in writing, from the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

On Valentine’s Day, 1974, the Boston School Committee received a crushing rejection. Its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal the Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act was denied on two grounds: the deadline to file had expired and the Committee’s appeal had “no substantial basis.”(1)

Established in 1965, the act empowered the state Board of Education to investigate and reduce racial inequality in public schools. Perhaps the strictest racial balance legislation among the states, the act defined racial imbalance as any school in which the number of nonwhites exceeded 50% of the total population. For nearly a decade, the Boston School Committee and the state Board of Education argued bitterly over the definition of racial imbalance and the means of implementing a more integrated public school system.

In 1972, the Massachusetts Board of Education accused the Boston School Committee of repeatedly refusing to institute any measures to integrate its schools, many of which were heavily segregated according to the act’s definition. After the state suspended funding to Boston Public Schools, the School Committee launched a series of legal battles to repeal the Racial Imbalance Act and recover state funding for city schools.

The NAACP also initiated legal action in the federal court system. It charged that, by not complying with the Racial Imbalance Act, the Boston School Committee violated the Fourteenth Amendment and the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In the digital exhibit, “Busing Boston Bound: Phase I of Desegregation in Boston, Massachusetts,” Rebecca Carpenter, a graduate student in the Archives program,  explores the impact of the Morgan v. Hennigan decision.

Cover of booklet, "Make Congress Stop Bussing," [sic], by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the John Joseph Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.
Cover of booklet, “Make Congress Stop Bussing” [sic] by Lawrence P. MacDonald, April 1976. Reproduced courtesy of the Moakley Archive & Institute at Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. Rights status is not evaluated. Written permission from the copyright holders is required for reproduction.
 Using documents, maps, reports, and photographs from special collections and archives including Boston City Archives, the Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, the National Archives, Boston, the Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University, and other repositories, Carpenter evaluates Phase I of desegregation. Beginning in September, 1974, the plan, which required that students in the most racially imbalanced schools be bused into schools where the number whites exceeded 50%, provoked heated and hostile reactions in some neighborhoods. The exhibit explores the motivations behind Garrity’s decision and assesses the initial plans for busing.

How did students react to Garrity’s decision to bus them away from their neighborhood schools? How did the decision, and the fear and violence it provoked in some schools, affect teachers? Learn more about the the impact busing had on public education in the next posts. For more background and details on the Racial Imbalance Act, see Connor Anderson’s digital exhibit, highlighted in the last post.


[1] Muriel Cohen, “Court Denies Balance Appeal Request.” Boston Globe (1960-1985) Feb 15 1974: 3. ProQuest. 13 Feb. 2017

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Divided Schools & Neighborhoods: Students Explore De Facto Segregation In Boston

“Turned Away from School,” Anti-Slavery Almanac, Boston, 1839.
“Turned Away from School,” Anti-Slavery Almanac, Boston, 1839. Similar to the black child in this image, Sarah Roberts was rejected from an all-white school in Boston in 1848.

On February 15, 1848, Sarah Roberts, a five-year-old African American girl, attempted to enter an all-white grammar school near her home. A white teacher rejected Sarah, based on the color of her skin. Sarah’s father, Benjamin F. Roberts, tried to enroll his daughter in four different schools attended by whites. All were close to their home while the schools designated for black children were located over a half mile away—a long walk for a young child, especially during the bitterly cold, snowy month.

Robert Morris, Esq. may have been the first black male lawyer to file a lawsuit in the U.S. He was also the first black lawyer to win a lawsuit
Robert Morris, Esq., was admitted into the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Two years later, he co-defended Sarah Roberts’ right to attend a public school closer to her home than the schools designated for blacks.

The General School Committee, the group responsible for administering the city’s public schools, rejected each request that Sarah attend a white school. That December, Benjamin Roberts sued the city for damages, on grounds that his daughter was unlawfully denied admission to a public school. Robert Morris, one of the first black lawyers in the US, worked with abolitionist lawyer and politician, Charles Sumner, to represent Sarah in Roberts v. City of Boston. The two argued that Massachusetts law guaranteed equal education regardless of race and that requiring black children to attend separate schools was unconstitutional.

Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts
Read the full text of Sumner’s, “Equality Before the Law: Unconstitutionality of Separate Colored Schools in Massachusetts,” 1849 (above) courtesy of the Internet Archive.

Despite their impassioned arguments, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw found in favor of the city. Defending the actions of the General School Committee, Shaw ruled that a segregated school system did not violate the principle of equality before the law. His decision laid a foundation for the federal doctrine, “separate but equal,” that held that racial segregation did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

Five years after the Roberts’ decision, the state of Massachusetts made it illegal to segregate the city’s public schools according to race. Despite that decision, city schools remained heavily segregated through the twentieth century. “Back To Square One: Racial Imbalance in the Boston Public Schools,” an online exhibit designed and curated by Connor Anderson (Archives, 2017), highlights Boston’s long history of de facto segregation in public schools and the role the School Committee played in supported de facto segregation. In this type of system, blacks and whites were separated due to facts or circumstance. But, as the School Committee pointed out to critics, racial separation was not created or imposed by law.

Protest Flier from a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Louise Day Hicks, circa 1974.
Protest Flier from a resident of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Louise Day Hicks, circa 1974. Courtesy Boston City Archives.

Using a sampling of correspondence, reports, and images from Boston City Archives and Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections, he traces divided opinions surrounding the efforts to achieve racial balance in public schools in the 1960s.  Anderson illustrates how reactions to the Racial Imbalance Act split the city.

Boston Neighborhoods,” an exhibit created by Vini Maranan (General History, 2016) and Paul Fuller (Public History, 2015), explores the unique cultures, communities, and stereotypes surrounding six of Boston’s twelve neighborhoods. In the 1960s and 1970s, economic fluctuations, settlement patterns, and urban renewal programs in Boston reinforced ethnic associations and strengthened a separation of races in many working-class neighborhoods. The de facto segregation of neighborhoods affected the makeup of schools which had become heavily segregated. Maranan and Fuller’s exhibit uses letters and interviews of ordinary citizens to document conditions in schools by neighborhood. Their exhibit also traces neighborhood reactions to Judge W. Arthur Garrity’s ruling that de facto segregation was discriminatory. It examines a sampling of neighborhood reactions to the 1974 order that students be bused away from local schools to achieve a better integration of white and black students.

Learn more about about the implementation of “Phase I” to desegregate Boston Public Schools by busing students away from neighborhoods in the next post.



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Beyond Black & White: Exploring Black History Month

Poster publicizing Black History Month.
Poster publicizing Black History Month.

In 1976, former President Gerald Ford  officially designated February as Black History Month in the U.S. Part of its purpose involved expanding the national public school curriculum to include the history of black Americans who were omitted from traditional narratives. Despite that noble intent, sometimes, the tendency to showcase important individuals and events during Black History Month can oversimplify  complex historical figures and situations, diminish complicated struggles, and lead to a type of segregated history. In 2005, Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman called the idea of relegating black history to one month “ridiculous,” stating, in a TV news interview, “Black history is American history.” 

The narrative of African Americans’ experiences throughout Boston’s history is diverse and highly complicated. Graduate students in “Transforming Digital Archives and History”  have been exploring a critical and controversial time for African Americans and people of all colors and ethnicities in Boston: the desegregation of Boston Public Schools in 1974.

That year, federal judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that Boston’s public schools suffered from de facto (by fact) segregation and he mandated their immediate integration. Many citizens supported the idea of school integration, but protested the manner in which desegregation was implemented–by busing over 18,000 black and white students away from neighborhoods.  Leaders from both the black and white communities challenged the wisdom of busing students between overcrowded, similarly impoverished areas, like the predominantly black neighborhood of Roxbury and the Irish Catholic neighborhood of South Boston, and predicted the pairing would provoke intense fear, hostility, and violence. The decision unleashed a flood of rage and organized protests from both black and white parents for years. Some equated Boston to a war zone during this period, and both blacks and whites committed violent acts.

A number of compelling book and memoirs, including J.Anthony Lukas’s award-winning, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Familiesand videos have been published on the topic. Each sheds insight into how race, class, ethnic pride, the neighborhood loyalty affected the situation.

But what about the unpublished voices of everyday people? Working within various archives in the city, students are unearthing and reviewing thousands of emotionally-charged letters written to local, state, and federal officials by parents, students, teachers, clergy, activists, and community groups reacting to the decision.

Letter to Mayor Kevin White from an 11-year old student writing to Judge Arthur Garrity to criticize the judge's decision to implement busing as the means of desegregating Boston Public Schools.
Letter to Mayor Kevin White from an 11-year old student writing to Judge Arthur Garrity to criticize the judge’s decision to implement busing as the means of desegregating Boston Public Schools.  Courtesy Boston City Archives.

Despite the widespread protests and violent responses to busing, archived letters reveal that the reactions to busing defy easy categorization. Some letters, like that written to Boston’s mayor, Kevin White, by 11-year old student, favored integrated schools but criticized the decision to bus students to schools outside of their neighborhoods. To minimize turmoil, this child (whose name has been redacted) proposed that teachers be bused so kids could remain in their local schools; “maybe then there wouldn’t be any more stabing [sic] & fights.”

Others who opposed busing engaged in violent attacks.  In 1976–the same year Black History Month was instituted in the US–Joseph Rakes, a white teenager, lunged at Ted Landsmark, an African American lawyer and civil-rights activist, swinging a pole bearing an American flag. The attack, which occurred outside of Boston’s City Hall, was captured by Boston Herald photographer Stanley Forman.

"The Soiling of Old Glory," by Stanley Forman, 1976.
“The Soiling of Old Glory,” by Stanley Forman, 1976 (Copyright © Stanley Forman, 1976). Image reproduced here courtesy of Stanley Forman, as part of an exhibit in “Stark & Subtle Divisions: A Collaborative History of Segregation in Boston.” Further reproduction is prohibited without prior permission in writing from Stanley Forman.

Rakes’s attack on Landsmark escalated racial violence. Weeks later, two African American teenagers dragged Richard Poleet, a 34-year old white auto mechanic, from his car in Roxbury and beat him to death with paving stones. Community leaders of black and white neighborhoods alike accused the local media of biased and inaccurate reporting. Some criticized that media provoked retaliatory violence by broadcasting incidents of severe beatings and stabbings; at the same time, the local papers downplayed the terror many children faced in school each day.

Interested in learning more about the complicated reaction the decision to integrate Boston Public Schools? Each week over the course of Black History Month, we’ll share findings from online exhibits that graduate students in History at UMass Boston created about this tumultuous era. To learn more about the history of de facto segregation in Boston Public Schools, the link between adulterated meat products and civil rights in Boston, how students and teachers felt about busing, and how this issue transformed local mothers into outspoken activists and politicians, stay tuned!


Ronald P. Formisano. Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s. University of North Carolina Press (2nd Revised edition), 2004.

J. Anthony Lukas. Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. Vintage Books, 1986.

Michael Patrick MacDonald. All Souls:A Family Story from Southie. Beacon Press, 2007.

Ione Malloy. Southie Won’t Go: A Teacher’s Diary of the Desegregation of South Boston High School. University of Illinois Press, 1986.

Jim Vrabel. A People’s History of the New Boston. University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.

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#BlackHistoryMonth: My Outreach Internship in Archives

By Monica Haberny

In fall 2016, I completed internship early at the Boston City Archives (BCA). My project combined research, access and outreach. My goal was to identify and digitize interesting material related to African American history and women’s history in Boston, then create a few compelling posts for Black History Month (February)  and Women’s History Month (March). I loved this project so much I ended up writing one post for every day of each month (read my posts on BCA’s blog every day!) To read more about my experiences each week, check out the class blog for internships: Archives In Turn: Interns in Archives.

On my first day, Marta Crilly, the Archivist for Reference and Outreach, gave me a tour of the BCA and introduced me to the collections. During that first month, I began making connections and “discoveries.” I unearthed the story of Julia Harrington Duff–a teacher who fought for the rights of Irish-American, female teachers–in the teacher qualification records. But I also found info about Julia in the city documents, as she served on the Boston School Committee in the early 1900s.

In September, I encountered a few research dead ends. I’d hoped to write an in-depth post on Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first African-American woman to become a physician in the United States. Crumpler lived in and operated an office in Beacon Hill in 1869, and moved, with her husband, to Hyde Park in 1880. Searches for her tax records (using her maiden name, her husband’s name, a mention of a black doctor, female doctor, or any combination) returned no information. But by the end of the month, I’d made progress in other areas. I wrote a compelling post on William Monroe Trotter, a newspaper editor and civil rights activist, listed in Hyde Park’s graduation exercises from 1860. I wrote posts on seven other African Americans who shaped Boston’s history.

Closing Exercises of the Boston Girls’ High School, 1918, Graduation Programs, Collection 0400.004, Boston City Archives.

In October, I utilized three tricks to help me track down people of interest in Boston’s past.

First, I searched for alumni of Boston Public Schools. I found well-known individuals from the high schools of South Boston, Girls’, and Hyde Park.  Some graduation records were missing, but it was helpful to know who attended which school. I used photos and documents from the schools’ records to enhance blog posts about alumni who went to those schools, like community and civil rights activist Melnea Cass who attended Girls’ High School. Cass remained remained active in many community projects and volunteer groups in the South End and Roxbury and helped found the Boston local of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters.

Second, I used digitized photographs on BCA’s Flickr page as documents or sources of valuable information. The John F. Collins album  provided a wealth of rich material and allowed me to write about Bobbi Gibb and Katherine Switzer, the first women to run the Boston marathon, and many more topics and persons of interest.

The third trick I learned entailed using records of city officials to uncover material about individuals or topics. In November, Marta and I found folders in the John Collins’ papers that documented key events from the civil rights movement. These documents included Collin’s reaction to violent attacks on civil-rights demonstrators by state police outside of Selma, Alabama; letters from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) about housing inequality in Roxbury, and documents from the NAACP.  I learned that, in some cases, searching records from mayors uncovered far more information than looking for topics directly.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Mayor Raymond L. Flynn. circa 1984-1986. Mayor Raymond L. Flynn records, Collection #0246.001 Boston City Archives.

There were some surprises in my research. For instance, I found the eulogy for Melnea Cass and documents from Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Special Olympics in Mayor Kevin H. White’s records. I also found significant material pertinent to women’s issues in White’s records.

Application from the Housekeepers League, January 7, 1913, Box 1, Petitions to use Faneuil Hall 1912-1914, Applications to use Faneuil Hall 4320.001, Boston City Archives.

My favorite aspect of my internship was the sleuthing it allowed me to do. For instance, I found the name, “Ida M. Hebbard” on an application to use Faneuil Hall from the Housekeepers League, a group for which she served as president. I discovered that the league consisted of wives and mothers who were concerned about the prices of household goods in the 1910s. Hebbard was an early advocate of consumer rights and led the group in boycotting goods to protest unfair pricing. Their potato boycott helped lower the cost of of potatoes from 70 cents to 35 cents a peck. The League advocated for the Bob Veal Bill, which prohibited the sale of calves weighing less than sixty pounds. Hebbard also called attention to violations in the way cold food was stored in Boston. Though extremely influential in Boston at the time, Hebbard is, today, barely remembered by Bostonians. The fact that I brought back her memory is something I’m extremely proud of.*

Grace Lorch(left) with Elizabeth Eckford (right), one of the Little Rock Nine. From clipping, Max Brantley, “Lee Lorch, a figure in Little Rock’s ‘57 crisis, dies at 98.” Arkansas Times, March 02, 2014, in Mayor Kevin H White records, Boston City Archives.

I  found inspiration in my research into the men and women of color in Boston’s history. I learned about the creator of the Drop-a-Dime hotline, Georgette Watson and the first Black female firefighter, Karen Miller. I also discovered the teaching record of Grace Lorch who was a white escort for the Little Rock Nine.

One of my favorite items and most interesting discoveries came from the Town of Dorchester records: the military enlistments from the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry during the Civil War.

Massachusetts had three African American regiments during the Civil War: the 54th Infantry Regiment, 55th Infantry Regiment, and the 5th Colored Volunteer Cavalry Regiment.  The 1989 movie Glory starring Mathew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman documents 54th Infantry Regiment–a Massachusetts military unit that was one of the first units in the Union Army composed entirely of African-Americans.  The records for the 5th Colored Cavalry are lesser-known but fascinating! Included among the enlistees from Dorchester were Stephen Jacobs and Betsey Smith. Jacobs and Smith enlisted together but his form said he had originally come from Virginia, whereas Smith’s listed her home as Africa. I found out that she went into the war as a private and left with the rank of private.

A list of some of the recruits for the 5th Regiment Massachusetts Colored Volunteer Cavalry. Lists of Recruits, March 1864, Box 18, Folder 118, Town of Dorchester records 1100.001, Boston City Archives

Marta told me that she had expected me to write two or three blogs per week for Black History Month and Women’s History Month, but by the end of my internship I had written a post for every day in February and March to honor the admirable men and women of our city in Black History and Women’s History Months.

While working at BCA, I monitored the research room, so I gained experience watching researchers and making sure everyone handled documents correctly. I also had the chance to answer some reference queries. I realized while doing these tasks that I really enjoyed acting as a bit of a detective for the public.

By working at the Boston City Archives, I learned how to become a better writer, what working in an archive entailed, and how to serve the public. I began to see myself there and enjoyed going there. While the idea of what career I want is still foggy, I do know that wherever I end up working needs to involve archives or some aspect of it.


* These are some published articles about Hebbard:

“Coal Dealers Put the Blame on Mine Men.” Boston Evening Globe, May 29, 1917.

“15,000 Women Banded in Fight Against H.C.L.” The Boston Globe,  May 12, 1917.

“Potato Boycott by Housekeepers.” The Boston Globe, January 27, 1917.

“To Start Probe of Cold Storage Foods.” Boston Post, December 5, 1916.

“Watch on Legislators.” Boston Post, March 17, 1917.

“Women Who Let Fight For ‘Bob Veal’ Bill” The Boston Globe, February 22, 1917.



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