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"People of color are not safe to come here to Boston" - A Brief Reflection

Currently, civil rights are a Massachusetts hot button, with gay marriage and Jimmy Kelly penatrating the headlines and blog fodder.

Today being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day of reflection on civil rights, I present two brief snapshots from Boston's voluminous civil rights history:

First, many people don't know that Dr. King first met Coretta Scott, a New England Conservatory student, during his time pursing a doctorate at BU. While here, he rented a room at 397 Mass Ave, where a small plaque still stands to commemorate his time in the Hub.

Dr. King was assassinated April 4, 1968; eight years and one day later, Boston was drenched in busing-induced racial turmoil, and from a rally at city hall was born an iconic, Pulitzer Prize winning photo: Joseph Rakes, a white student spearing black attorney Ted Landsmark with an American flag.

State Senator William Owens (D-Boston) stated on the WGBH 10 O'Clock News, April 6, 1976:

"People of color are not safe to come here to Boston and we are asking people across the country, of color, to stay away'.

WGBH has archival news casts from that day:

Click here to watch the original report on the vicious Landsmark assault and Senator Owens statements.
Also: Ted Landsmark's press conference.
[Quicktime]

[Note: The WGBH archive contains a treasure trove of old news clips from 1976-1991. I know there are a few people here that will, like myself, get lost for hours there.]

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Comments

This is the first time I've seen so much footage on the bus riots. Reading up on it is one thing, but watching the angry crowds, listening to parents vowing to emulate Martin Luther King in their anti-busing campaign and viewing the other pictures of Ted Landsmark being beaten while crowds looked on just chills me to the marrow. And to think this was just 30 years ago.

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...I hadn't seen that one. It is amazing to see busing through the lens of the times versus the lens of today. Here are two others I found utterly compelling.

Ted and Ed, I wish you were dead! Ted Kennedy gets harrased going into the JFK federal building, window gets broken.

A clip from an hour long restrospective on busing 1974-1975.

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More to the point, it was clear that politicians such as Louise Day Hicks, John Kerrigan and Dapper O'Neil definitely created the kind of atmosphere that lent itself to things like that. That being said, I also believe that, had Louise Day Hicks and her cronies on the Boston School Committee been more flexible and adhered to the Racial Imbalance law instead of engaging in all that political posturing (which, btw, the racial stuff was tied into), there would've been more workable solution(s) for desegregation, and the schools would've been more integrated and in better shape, educationally, too, for both white and nonwhite students alike.

However, the above-mentioned politicians just kept on with their dirty work of resisting, the Federal Courts were compelled to intervene and implement a much tougher measure than would've been implemented otherwise, which, in turn, sent age-old, pre-existing racial/ethnic tensions and hostilities in Boston soaring way, way up
above the boiling point.

All that aside, however, I'll add one other thing: That particular photo, in which Joseph Rakes had supposedly speared Ted Landsmark with a long mast with the American flag on it is a tad or so misleading. Here's why: Sometime ago, I read about an interview with Ted Landsmark in the Boston Globe, in which Ted Landsmark himself stated that Joseph Rakes had swung the American flag at him, and he'd leaned away from the flag just in time to avoid being hit. Another white kid involved in the attack punched Landsmark in the face, breaking his nose and his glasses, and it was this other kid who ended up doing the damage. In any case, the attack was a terrible and vicious thing. Joseph Rakes, who'd been working as a laborer helping with the Big Dig at the time, and who lived roughly 100 miles from Boston, declined an interview.

When I watched an "Inside Edition" episode on busing, one of the kids invoilved in the attack on Ted Landsmark, came on and said: "I punched Landsmark in the face and broke his nose and his glasses, and I don't mind admitting that I'm ashamed of what I did.".

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We all know busing is one of your pet causes, but was it necessary to dredge up a three-month-old post to say this?

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One minor correction: as I understand it, Rakes did not "spear" or stab Landsmark with the flagpole, but struck him with it. That's why Landsmark had a broken nose during his press conference after the incident, not a stab wound. I don't think that this makes the attack any less scary or unacceptable, but it's a common misperception.

along with those great archives, J Anthony Lukas' _Common Ground_ is still an incredible and simnal book on that period.

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It's one of my favorite books, which I've read a number of times, btw.

Back to the subject at hand, regarding the interview by Ted Landsmark that I read in the paper some time ago, Ted Landsmark did say that Joseph Rakes had swung the American flag at him, and Landsmark leaned away from the flag just in time.

The other white kid, who'd punched Landsmark in the face, breaking his nose and glasses actually admitted to doing that--publicly, on TV, and to the fact that he was ashamed of having done that. In any case, I agree that whatever did happen certainly doesn't make the attack any less vicious or scary.

If busing seems to be one of my pet causes, it's because it took place in an area that I reside in and love, because it was an interesting and complex, albeit a turbulent period of tiime, because I myself, would like to have seen a more workable solution to the whole thing come about, because busing didn't really get to the root of the problems, which are rooted much more deeply and are very complex, and,, because, unfortunately, Boston has never really completely recovered from busing--the city seems somewhat scarred by the whole experience, especially since busing came close in on the heels of urban renewal, airport and highway expansion programs which hurt many Boston neighborhoods, and many neighborhoods were still reeling--and seething from the affects of all that when busing came in.

That being said, busing was sort of a "band-aid" solution, and an emergency measure to fall back on as a very last resort, due to the extreme recalcitrance of the all-white Boston School Committee back then, who, rife with politics, patronage, and no small amount of opportunism, fought against integrating Boston's schools tooth and nail.

Had the Boston School Committee back then been more flexible back then and complied with the Racial Imbalance law instead of engaging in all the political posturing, things would've been way, way different.

Boston probably wouldn't have needed busing--kids could've gotten to school via public transportation, or even walked to the schools to which they'd been assigned. Boston's a small enough city so that would've been possible.

Amother way, of course, which would be even more ideal, would've been to work at changing the housing patterns, thereby creating integrated neighborhoods, and therefore having integrated schools.

Had the B-BURG program (Boston banks Urban Renewal Group) been administered so that black homebuyers were allowed access to housing throughout the city, instead of that stupid, vicious "redlining" programing that was done, things' would've also been different.

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