Forty years ago: Desegregation in Boston Public Schools

Boston, Massachusetts, has long been a crucible for social, cultural, and political change. But Boston is also a city of contradictions.

Forty years ago, a group of parents filed a formal complaint in the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts.  The case beings with this simple sentence: “This is a class action brought by black children attending the Boston public schools and their parents.”

Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al., United States District Court Civil Action Case File No. 72-911-G—known as the Boston schools desegregation case—occupies 54 large storage boxes in the National Archives at Boston.  The case was presented over a period of two years, and on June 21, 1974, Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled that the School Committee of the City of Boston had “intentionally brought about and maintained racial segregation” in the Boston public schools.

The response to the implementation was protest, at times violent, but eventually the Boston Public Schools would change.

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During the summer of 2014, a group of educators from across the country—elementary through college—spent a week at the National Archives at Boston and Chicago studying issues of civil rights.

They scanned documents like the above letter from Mrs. Sumner Bernstein. She wrote to Boston Public Schools Superintendent Leary explaining how, though she initially “went along with the plan,” she became angry and fearful after her daughter’s experiences at her new school (10/22/1974, from the Records of District Courts of the United States). All of the newly digitized documents are available online by entering “Primarily Teaching 2014” in the documents search box.

They also used these newly digitized primary sources to create online teaching activities related to education equality:

You can create your own activities on this subject with the tools available on DocsTeach!

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2 Responses to Forty years ago: Desegregation in Boston Public Schools

  1. Stephanie says:

    This document was featured on the Today’s Document Tumblr Blog, with daily featured documents from today in history from the holdings of the U.S. National Archives.

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  2. Stephanie says:

    The National Archives usually makes access happen for federal records, since those make up our holdings. But we have an interesting connection to Boston’s city records regarding school desegregation as well! Starting in the mid-1980s, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC)—the grant-making arm of the National Archives—awarded grants to the City of Boston to help establish and develop a citywide archives and records management program. In 2003 and 2005, the NHPRC awarded two grants to the City of Boston for its Public Schools Desegregation-Era Records Project to arrange, describe, and publish a Web-based finding aid. Read more about the project on the NHPRC’s blog.

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