"The people are speaking," Louise Day Hicks told reporters on the night of her overwhelming re-election to the Boston School Committee last November. Her implication was clear: here was a mandate for the status quo, for keeping the 23,000 Negroes in Boston's imbalanced schools where they were.
But Mrs. Hicks has never been less listened to than in the months since she received her mandate. By September, the School Committee may be busing 1,000 students from Roxbury to white schools to relieve "overcrowding," its favorite euphemism for de facto segregation. In fact, the meeting today between the School Committee and the State Board of Education could bring agreement on a plan to eliminate segregation in Biston schools within the next few years.
This School Committee is the same one that Mrs. Hicks carried into office, but it has changed its character. The change is largely the result of actions taken by the newly-appointed Massachusetts' unique Imbalance Act, giving it the power to withhold tax funds from any city with racially imbalanced schools (schools with more than 50 per cent Negro enrollment), the State Board has refused to accept Boston's own corrective plans. They wee clearly designed to get around the question of busing and, for that matter, the question of de facto segregation. Earlier this month, despite confident School Committee predictions to the contrary, the Board invoked the Act against Boston.
Since then, it has become obvious how justified the Board was in rejecting a compromise. Faced with a possible yearly loss of some $16 million in school funds, Committee Chairman Thomas S. Eisenstadt, and probably a majority of the Committee, now seems ready to support large-scale racial busing in Boston.
Bus Eisenstadt may have been waiting for just such an opportunity to move from his earlier anti-busing position. Since his election as Committee chairman, he has clearly been disassociating himself from Mrs. Hick's views. He has led an anti-Hicks majority of the School Committee in many crucial votes, including approval of a Federally-financed project to bus 200 Roxbury students to several suburban schools this fall.
Eisenstadt claims to be a moderate in racial matters, and his sincerity will be tested in the next few weeks. It is incumbent upon the School Committee now to accept more than a busing plan if it is to eliminate racial imbalance. It must also work out a re-drawing of Boston's school district lines and a plan for building new schools, whenever possible, where white and Negro neighborhoods meet.
These actions should involve the School Committee, for the first time, in the process of creating integrated schools. Mrs. Hicks has been dead set in her opposition to that process and her defense of the neighborhood school. If Eisenstadt and the majority of the committee accept a strong imbalance plan, as they seem ready to do, it will be the beginning of a long awaited showdown.