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  • Writer's pictureMolly Brown

Putting history in people's hands

The year 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1974 decision by Judge Garrity that found the Boston Public Schools unconstitutionally segregated. A cohort of historians, activists, teachers, former students, civic leaders, and community members have gathered together as the “Boston Desegregation and Busing Initiative to observe this significant anniversary and the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections has been working alongside this group to support their work.

On Thursday, September 7th, at the Massachusetts State House, the Boston Desegregation and Busing Initiative announced their efforts toward increasing conversation, commemoration, and coalition building around the history of school desegregation in Boston’s public schools. Surrounding the press and attendees gathered at the State House were reproductions of records from the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections’s many collections documenting the long history of school desegregation and the fight against racial imbalance in the Boston Public Schools.

1963 Flier about the “Stay Out for Freedom Day,” Proposal to the Boston School Committee by Ruth Batson, Freedom School Diploma.

I had the honor of working with members of the initiative to select photographs and records that were emblematic of the key events and stories of school desegregation, busing, and early education activism. Selected records included fliers advertising Freedom Schools as an opportunity for civil protest, Ruth Batson’s demands issued on behalf of the NAACP to the Boston School Committee, records of the pre-1974 busing organization run by Ellen Jackson Operation Exodus, photos of the many pro-busing and anti-busing protests that took place across the city of Boston, as well as photos of the first days and weeks of busing in 1974 and 1975.

These records were selected to spark memory in those that participated and witnessed the long history of school desegregation in Boston. Many of the records selected were made available years earlier in 2018 as part of a citywide effort by archives in the area to digitize and make available significant records documenting school desegregation and busing history in the city of Boston. Digitization funding and support of this project was provided by the Boston Library Consortium and included the Boston City Archives, UMass Boston, Suffolk University, Boston College, among other collaborators with the Northeastern Archives.

The reproductions’ use at the press conference is only the beginning of their journey, as they will continue to travel with the Boston Desegregation and Busing Initiative to future forums and facilitations. A couple weeks following the press conferences the archival reproductions were arranged across several tables that lined the stage where the first forum took place. At this forum, former Mayor Kim Janey moderated presentations and conversations from Boston luminaries and activists Jean McGuire and Hubie Jones, educators Myra Peters and Gloria Lee, community activist Charles Glenn, Vernita Carter-Weller, the daughter of Reverend Vernon Carter, and historian Zebulon Miletsky.

Photo of Vernita Carter-Weller, Jean McGuire, and myself.

Many panelists at the first forum observed how important these records are to telling the story of school desegregation, Vernita Carter-Weller has been using them to evidence the work and advocacy of her father Reverend Vernon Carter in his 114-day vigil at the Boston School Committee Headquarters.

Archives and special collections have an opportunity to take an active role in supporting memory work and meaning making when it comes to commemorating significant events and situating them in modern contexts, and providing reproductions for the Boston Desegregation and Busing Initiative is one example of this work.

More forums will take place in 2024, and the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections are collaborating with other area archives and historians to collaboratively exhibit works on desegregation history in September of 2024.

To follow the Boston Desegregation and Busing Initiative and their upcoming events, you can visit their Facebook page:

To browse historic Boston school desegregation records from the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections as well as other Boston archives visit:

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