Boston’s busing crisis was sparked in 1974 with the ruling of Judge Arthur Garrity in the case of Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James Hennigan et al, known as the Garrity Decision. Judge Garrity ruled that the Boston School Committee had “intentionally brought about and maintained racial segregation” in the Boston Public Schools; his plan to create racial balance involved busing students to various schools throughout the city. At the time of the ruling, Congressman John Joseph Moakley represented South Boston, one of the neighborhoods most directly affected by the busing plan. This guide provides context about the busing crisis and outlines the resources available at the Moakley Archive and Institute at Suffolk University for researchers.
PDF version of the Garrity Decision Research Guide
» Background Information- The Garrity Decision and Forced Busing in Boston
» Background Information- Congressional Elections
» Background Information- The Impact of the Garrity Decision
» Footnotes and Works Cited
» Materials from the Moakley Papers (MS100)
» Digitized Correspondence from the Moakley Papers
» Digitized Memos from the Moakley Papers
» Digitized News Clippings from the Moakley Papers
» Digitized Notes from the Moakley Papers
» Digitized Press Releases from the Moakley Papers
» Various Materials Digitized from the Moakley Papers
» Materials in the Suffolk University Archives Reference Files (SUA-004.03)
» Oral History Interviews
» Other Archival Collections (Boston Area)
» Secondary Sources- Books
» Secondary Sources- Journal Articles
» Secondary Sources- Online Resources
School desegregation became a significant issue in Boston following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the 1954 case of Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al. (347 U.S. 483), which asserted that separate educational facilities for black and white students were inherently unequal, school districts were faced with the task of integrating their public schools. Despite the Brown decision and the enactment of the Racial Balance Act of 1965 in the state of Massachusetts, the Boston Public Schools largely remained segregated.
In response to the inaction, a group of black parents filed suit against the Boston School Committee, then led by James W. Hennigan, in the case of Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James Hennigan et al. (379 F. Supp. 410) on March 15, 1972. The suit claimed that the Boston Public Schools were deliberately segregated. The filing of Morgan v. Hennigan, some say, is linked to a Boston School Committee meeting on September 21, 1971 where the committee voted 3 to 2 against using busing to racially balance the new Lee School; 1 a vote in violation of the Racial Imbalance Act of 1965.
The “Garrity Decision” refers to the opinion on Morgan v. Hennigan filed by Judge Arthur W. Garrity on June 21, 1974. When the school committee failed to submit a plan, the court established a plan that called for Boston Public School students to be bused to schools outside their neighborhoods. The plan determined that “the racial balance in all citywide schools shall be reflective of the total student population in the Boston public school system, with a 5 percent leeway in white or minority enrollments. For example, white students represent 51 percent of the city’s student, so white enrollment could number from 56 to 46 percent at any citywide school. Black and other minority students, who are 49 percent of the city’s total school enrollment, may range from 54 to 44 percent of enrollment at individual citywide schools.”
Judge Garrity’s desegregation plan was to be implemented in three phases. Phase I, which began on the first day of school September 12, 1974, involved redistricting, student transportation and the formation of parent-teacher-community involvement committees. This phase only applied to neighborhoods where whites and blacks lived near each other; the Charlestown, East Boston and North End neighborhoods were excluded.
Phase II, also known as “The Masters’ Plan”, was ordered to begin in September 1975, and included all areas of the city except East Boston. This phase involved a “a revision of attendance zones and grade structures, construction of new schools and the closing of old schools and a controlled transfer policy” with limited exceptions in order to minimize mandatory transportation. 3 Essentially students had two options: 1. to attend a school in their community district schools where the enrollment was determined by the school committee or 2. to attend a citywide school where they could list a preferred school in addition to other options if their desired school was unavailable. Opting to enroll in a community district school meant that the school committee determined where students went based on geocode and racial balance. 4 Phase II also linked universities, colleges and community groups to schools.
Phase III began in September 1977 and established the Department of Implementation which oversaw desegregation and the compiling of racial statistics of the Boston public schools.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, racial tension and violence escalated in Boston. In anticipation of a ruling on school desegregation, anti-busing rallies and protests were held at city hall and elsewhere around the city.
Elementary and high school students, already subject to long bus rides across the city, experienced rocks thrown at their buses, verbal harassment by people as they entered school buildings, and in some cases harassment by their peers and school administrators once inside the building. The stabbing of Michael Faith, a white South Boston High School student, by a black student inside the walls of the school is just one example of the violence that broke out between students.
Busing proponents and opponents were subject to harassment on a daily basis. Pro-busing activists experienced death threats and harassment by motorcades that hurled insults and rocks at their homes. An iconic image taken by Stanley Forman depicts violence at a rally in April 1976. In the photograph it appears that Ted Landsmark is being attacked with an American flag by anti-busing activist Joseph Rakes. The accounts of what actually happened between Landsmark and Rakes vary widely; ultimately Landsmark sustained injuries at the hands of other protestors that day. This image won Foreman a Pulitzer Prize and catapulted Boston’s race problems into the national spotlight.
South Boston was a hot bed of protest and violence. Boston policemen were initially assigned to protect South Boston High School but as the crowds and tension escalated, the National Guard and State Police were called in to maintain order. In his oral history interview Congressman Moakley, a resident of South Boston, recalls his treatment: “I was against busing too, but I just couldn’t march in the streets and scream and holler like some of the people were doing it, and that cost me… On a Monday, I was picketed by six hundred whites. On a Tuesday, I was picketed by six hundred blacks. ”5 Many Boston families chose to move out of the city to the suburbs; this mass migration, commonly known as “White Flight,” began between 1950 and 1960. 6 Options for families who did not want their children to be bused and could not afford to move out of the city were slim. Families that could afford it sent their children to parochial school.
As the plan unfolded throughout the 1970s, students and parents gradually accepted forced busing and racial tensions eventually lessened. Judge Garrity continued to oversee most administrative functions of the Boston School Committee and to make decisions regarding schooling and desegregation. Although Garrity’s involvement ended in September 1985, the battle over schools and race continued in the federal courts into the 1990s.
5. Moakley, John Joseph, OH-001, 19-20.
6. “Between 1950 and 1960, a net of 124,668 whites moved out of the city, and a net of 187,521 whites moved into the suburbs of Boston. Between 1960 and 1970, a net of 97,668 whites moved out of the city, and a net of 206,663 whites moved into the suburbs. Hence, ‘white flight’ to the suburbs was considerably less during the decade when school desegregation efforts intensified than during the previous decade.” U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, 36.
MS 100 contains over fifty folders of printed materials that directly relate to the Garrity Decision, including news clippings, constituent and professional correspondence, legislative files, and reports on the issue that were written by various organizations. What follows is a list of the series to consult for further research:
General Legislative Assistants Files (MS100/03.09):
District Issues (MS100/04):
Campaign Files (MS100/05):
Constituent Service Information Requests (MS100/06.06):
News clippings (MS100/07.01): stored off-site; advanced notice required
Press Releases (MS100/07.03):
Congressional Speeches (MS100/08.01):
Audio Files (MS100/09.01):
Congressional Photographs (MS100/10.02):
Pre-Congressional Political Files (MS100/11.01):
Correspondence regarding busing or South Boston High receivership
Note: due to copyright restrictions, digitized files are only available in the Archives.
The Moakley Oral History Project and the Boston Voices project (this project was created following the thirtieth anniversary of the Garrity Decision in 2004) collected interviews regarding key events and issues in Congressman Moakley’s life and career that document valuable information and observations that may not be part of the paper, photographic and audiovisual portions of the Moakley Papers. Interviews with the following narrators, including family, friends, and staff of Moakley’s, include observations about the 1974 Garrity decision. Interviews from the Boston Voices project focus entirely on the Garrity decision.
Link to Garrity Decision Interviews
City of Boston Archives
University of Massachusetts Boston