Today’s political scene is a contentious one. The phrase “fiscal cliff” has become ubiquitous in casual conversation as America watches political blustering and face-offs. As tense as this can be, Washington, D.C. can feel far removed from Boston and its environs. In the not-so-distant past, the city was home to a very tense and sometimes violent struggle over desegregation of the city’s public schools.
In 1965, the state of Massachusetts outlawed de facto segregation with the passage of the Racial Imbalance Act; if schools remained imbalanced, they faced the loss of necessary state educational funding. However, it took time for this legislation to become practice. In 1971, two-thirds of black students and 80 percent of white students attended schools suffering from de facto segregation, according to the 1985 J. Anthony Lukas book Common Ground.
So, in 1972, a group of fifteen black Boston parents and their children filed a class-action suit. The lead plaintiff was Tallulah Morgan. In response to the filing of Morgan v. Hennigan, the Massachusetts Board of Education submitted a plan to reduce imbalance; however, the local implementation of the state’s efforts failed. After these failures and protracted court battles, Federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity finally ruled in 1974 that de facto segregation existed in Boston Public Schools and set in motion a plan to desegregate. Garrity’s decision mandated forced busing to overcome the segregation, and also called for improved educational opportunities and physical maintenance in the school district.
It was Judge Garrity who created the Citywide Coordinating Council, an organization created to help the various factions and stakeholder groups within the city work together to carry out the court-issued desegregation and improved education plan. Though the CCC was meant to help the Boston School Committee, the CCC was at best unwelcome and at worst forcefully denied.
In addition to the CCC’s work on school desegregation, it worked alongside a head-swimming number of groups that were also invested in Boston’s schools in the 1970’s. Further complications arise because many of the organizations involved had deceptively similar names and served similar constituents. For example, the Citywide Parent Advisory Council, the Citywide Advisory Council, and Citywide Educational Coalition all were staffed by and supported parents in the school system.
Much of the material in the collection is aimed at one or more of these groups: packets for parents detailing the various supporting organizations; monitoring reports from local districts that detail the conditions in schools; letters and pleas from parents to various leaders; and internal communications that showcase both the friendships and the bickering of the era.
Segregation and desegregation in Boston schools and students’ school assignments, in fact, remain topics of interest. By the time Judge Garrity ruled in the first case regarding segregation in Boston schools, Morgan v. Hennigan, Boston had already been agitating over the issue for ten years. Only in 1988 did Judge Garrity’s oversight of Boston’s schools cease. Nearly fifty years after the Racial Imbalance Act, the records of the City Coordinating Council are a window into the challenges of race, class, and political power still manifesting around us today.
When the CCC was formally disbanded in 1978, its records were given to Boston College. These records are now fully processed and available to researchers. Please see the finding aid to learn more or contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment to see the records.
- Stephanie Bennett, Archives Assistant, Archives & Manuscripts, John J. Burns Library
Citywide Coordinating Council Records, MS.1990.031, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
Lukas, J. Anthony. Common Ground. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.
Massachusetts Historical Society, “Education: Morgan vs. Hennigan.” Long Road to Justice: The African American Experience in the Massachusetts Courts, 2000, accessed January 10, 2013. http://www.masshist.org/longroad/02education/morgan.htm.
Suffolk University Moakley Archive and Institute, “Garrity Decision Research Guide,” accessed January 10, 2013. http://www2.suffolk.edu/moakley/garrityguide.html.