Tag Archives: Restore Our Alienated Rights

Roaring for Rights: Women & Boston’s Anti-Busing Movement

Clipping of a newspaper article about ROAR's "March on Washington" in March 1975. The article states that ROAR marched to demand a constitutional amendment to block school busing. Clipping part of the Louise Day Hicks Papers, Boston City Archives.
Clipping of a newspaper article about ROAR’s “March on Washington,” March 19, 1975. Louise Day Hicks stands in the front of the crowd, wearing sunglasses. Clipping from the Louise Day Hicks Papers, Boston City Archives.

On March 19, 1975, roughly 1200 Bostonians trudged through torrential rains and howling winds from the Washington Monument to the Capitol building. The group, members of “Restore Our Alienated Rights”–ROAR for short–marched to generate national support for a constitutional amendment. The determined marchers–mainly mothers–alternated singsong shouts of “No! No! No! We won’t go!” with the chorus of “God Bless America” as they slogged through the deluge with the movement’s founding leader, Louise Day Hicks.

At the time, many women across the nation gathered in public demonstrations to support the ERA, a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal rights for women. But the demonstrators of ROAR had a different goal that blustery March day. They intended to galvanize support for a different constitutional amendment–one that would end court-ordered busing as a means of integrating public schools in Boston.

Logo of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), depicting a lion holding a school bus in its claws. Image from the Louise Day Hicks papers, courtesy of Boston City Archives.
Logo of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), depicting a lion grasping a school bus in its claws. Image from the Louise Day Hicks papers, courtesy of Boston City Archives.

On the steps of the Capitol, Louise Day Hicks, dubbed “the Joan of Arc of Boston,” rallied the sodden crowd. The day before, leaders from fourteen states formed a national anti-busing coalition and appointed Hicks as chairperson. Like its Boston counterpart, the national ROAR coalition’s logo featured a fierce lion menacingly clutching a school bus in its paws.  1)Robinson, Walter. “National Antibusing Coalition Formed with Hicks as Leader.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 19 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017 As Hicks announced the national coalition, its goal, and her role as leader, she dramatically compared the heavy rain to the tears “of Boston’s oppressed parents.”2)Robinson, Walter. “Hub Busing Foes Get Drenching, some Support.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 20 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. Gatherers roared their approval.

Louise Day Hicks, ca.1969.
Louise Day Hicks, ca.1969, prior to her leadership of ROAR. Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the most widely recognized leader of Boston’s anti-busing movement, the controversial Hicks provoked mixed reactions. To some, especially those from predominantly white neighborhoods like South Boston, Hicks became a paragon of virtue who championed the rights of working-class whites. To others, she epitomized a conservative racist on par with white supremacist “Bull” Connor, who ordered attacks on civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, Alabama.

Hicks was raised in the predominantly Irish working-class neighborhood of South Boston. Known for her political and social conservatism, she embodied virtues associated with traditional femininity. Observers noted that she always styled her hair precisely, wore blue, pink, or green dresses, and frequently wore dainty white gloves. Although she conceived of the acronym ROAR, she spoke in a cultured, genteel voice and emphasized her role as a mother in her political campaigns.3)Feeney, Mark. “LOUISE DAY HICKS, ICON OF TUMULT, DIES.” Boston Globe. Oct 22 2003. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Before she became a champion of the anti-busing movement, as a young wife and mother, Hicks earned a law degree from Boston University Law School. In 1955, she was one of only nine women graduated from a class of 232. She built a successful, if short, career in politics after winning election to the Boston School Committee with the slogan “the only mother on the ballot.” 4)Lukas, J. AnthonyCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (New York: Vintage Books), 1986, 123. Despite her hearty endorsement of social conservatism, Hicks held a membership in the the National Organization for Women. Reportedly, her father had taught her that  gender should not limit options or curtail opportunities; thus Hicks had lobbied for passage of the ERA while she served as a Massachusetts Representative in Congress (1971-1973).5)Feeney, Mark. “LOUISE DAY HICKS, ICON OF TUMULT, DIES.” Boston Globe. Oct 22 2003. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

Hicks’ advocacy of equal rights did not extend to all. While serving on the School Committee in the 1960s, Hicks faced accusations that Boston Public Schools (BPS) suffered from racial imbalance. Like others on the Committee, she adamantly denied the accusation and clashed repeatedly with the NAACP on the issue.

Button of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR), depicting a lion sitting on a school bus with the words, "STOP FORCED BUSING."
Button of Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR) with logo and words, “STOP FORCED BUSING.” Courtesy of John Joseph Moakley Archive & Institute, Suffolk University.

In 1974, when a federal judge ruled that BPS were segregated and mandated public school integration by busing students away from neighborhoods, many protested vehemently. Hicks became a spokesperson for the outrage many Bostonians felt towards “forced busing.” To some working-class Bostonians, Hicks and ROAR, the group she founded, symbolized key tenets of inalienable rights: individual liberty, the right of parents to make the best life choices for their children’s well-being and happiness.

Flyer of the Jamaica Plain Concerned Citizen's League. Image courtesy of Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.
Flyer of the Jamaica Plain Concerned Citizen’s League. Image courtesy of Northeastern University Archives & Special Collections.

Under the guidance of Hicks, who had built a solid reputation as a conservative mother, ROAR began as an informal group of local women–white mothers with young children–expressing concern about busing. Excepting Hicks, most lacked any background in political organizing. But within a short time, ROAR members orchestrated numerous demonstrations, coordinated widespread boycotts, and initiated letter-writing campaigns, publicity stunts, and political appeals. Often, Hicks and other women justified even the group’s most violent activities in gendered terms, claiming a responsibility as mothers protecting neighborhood children.

Researching the topic of Boston Public School desegregation, graduate student Rachel Sherman became intrigued by ROAR, its controversial but little-researched leader, Louise Day Hicks, and the other women active in the anti-busing movement. Want to learn more about Hicks and ROAR? Sherman designed an online exhibit, “ROAR: THE ANTI-BUSING GROUP WITH THE LOUDEST VOICE,” that explores the group’s main characters, their motivations, local activity and national support. Peruse documents, ROAR’s publications, and photographs that Sherman unearthed at the Boston City Archives and Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections and learn about the women of ROAR and their legacy by visiting her full exhibit here.

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References   [ + ]

1. Robinson, Walter. “National Antibusing Coalition Formed with Hicks as Leader.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 19 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017
2. Robinson, Walter. “Hub Busing Foes Get Drenching, some Support.” Boston Globe (1960-1985): 1. Mar 20 1975. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar. 2017.
3, 5. Feeney, Mark. “LOUISE DAY HICKS, ICON OF TUMULT, DIES.” Boston Globe. Oct 22 2003. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
4. Lukas, J. AnthonyCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (New York: Vintage Books), 1986, 123.