Governor Endicott Peabody swearing in Ruth M. Batson, likely as the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

She Had a Dream: Ruth Batson & Equal Education in Boston

In August 1963, Ruth Batson, a community leader and activist from Roxbury, Massachusetts, joined over 200,000 Americans to participate in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Ruth Batson's pennant from the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Image courtesy of Schlesinger LIbrary. Ruth Batson Papers, Schlesinger Library.
Ruth Batson’s pennant from the March on Washington, August 28, 1963. Image courtesy of Schlesinger Library. Ruth Batson Papers, Schlesinger Library.

The watershed moment, one of the greatest demonstrations for civil rights in the US, culminated with marchers walking peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered what became known as the “I Have a Dream” speech. Batson, who had turned 42 shortly before the March on Washington, shared King’s vision. She had a dream, too. An activist for civil rights in Boston, Batson dreamed of equal education for African Americans in Boston Public Schools. She began working to make that dream a reality years before the March on Washington.

Ruth M. Batson working as a student teacher at Lenox St Housing Project Pre-School.
Ruth M. Batson working as a student teacher at Lenox St Housing Project Pre-School, ca. 1948. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.

In the late 1940s, as a student teacher of the Nursery Training School of Boston and as a young mother, she witnessed disparity in the public school system firsthand. That experience led her to become active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Boston. A decade before the March on Washington, she was appointed chairperson of the newly-established Public Education Sub-Committee. The experience transformed her. She recalled:

“From that day on, my life changed profoundly.  I learned how to sharpen my observation skills.  I learned how to write reports.  I learned how to stand before a legislative body and state the NAACP’s case.  I lost all fear of ‘important’ people or organizations.” 1)Ruth M. Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (Boston, MA: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001), 9.

Documenting the physical condition of the city’s public schools, she noted widespread separation of black and white children. She challenged the Boston School Committee to address de facto segregation and the inadequate facilities of schools attended primarily by blacks.

Committed to her dream of equal education, Batson became a leading force of METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) and she became increasingly active in politics. She became the first black woman to serve on the Democratic National Committee and the first woman elected president of NAACP’s New England Regional Conference (1957-1960). During that time, she volunteered in John F. Kennedy’s civil rights office and worked tirelessly for democratic campaigns on both local and national levels.

Governor Endicott Peabody adminiters the oath to Ruth M. Batson for her new appointment at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 1963. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.
Governor Endicott Peabody administers the oath to Ruth M. Batson for her new appointment at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, 1963. Image reproduced for research and educational purposes, courtesy of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Rights status is not evaluated.

Recognized for her spirited nature and determination, in December 1963–just months after the March on Washington–Batson was appointed to serve as chairperson of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Ruth Batson advocated for civil rights and equal schooling for blacks in Boston for over thirty years. Committed to making her dream a reality, she helped reshape Boston’s public education system. Want to learn more about this extraordinary woman from Roxbury?

Graduate student Laurie Kearney created on online exhibit, “Ruth M. Batson, Mother, Educator, Civil Worker,” that provides a comprehensive overview of Batson’s life, volunteerism, and career. Using documents and photographs from the Boston City Archives, the National Archives at Boston, Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections, and the Schlesinger Library, Kearney explores how the personal and political intersected in this woman’s life.

Kearney’s narrative explores how Batson’s upbringing and experiences as a mother led to a career of community and political activism. Learn more about Batson’s actions in the movement to integrate Boston Public Schools and her and role as a leader of METCO (the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity) by visiting the full exhibit.

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References   [ + ]

1. Ruth M. Batson, The Black Educational Movement in Boston: A Sequence of Historical Events; A Chronology (Boston, MA: Northeastern University, School of Education, 2001), 9.

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