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March Against Racism


AN AD HOC coalition of Massachusetts and Rhode Island student groups, led by State Sen.-Elect William Owens, has called for a "national march against racism" in Boston this Saturday, and Harvard-Radcliffe Afro is sponsoring an anti-racist teach-in to take place at the Business School the night before. Everyone who can participate in these activities should do so.

In one sense it's certainly discouraging that students should still be organizing freedom marches 15 years after the first ones shook the United States, five years after black people's struggle for full equality in this country seemed to have moved beyond the defensive measures of the early '60s to a forthright attack on the system that denied them their freedom. But in another sense the fact that Saturday's march won't be the first of its kind is encouraging, for experience shows that it can work. When Southern school systems were forced to accept racial integration, schoolchildren--especially black school children--were subjected to extreme pressure aimed at reversing court and Justice Department orders, just as black schoolchildren in South Boston have been taunted and stoned in an effort to force a reversal of Judge W. Arthur Garrity's busing order.

When it became clear that Southern school integration wouldn't be easily repealed, the violence against children stopped. And even though the federal government then stood fairly solidly behind the civil rights movement--in sharp contrast to President Ford's carefully "balanced" statements, which are seemingly meant to encourage people to do their best to repeal integration edicts--what did most to make clear the inevitability of integration was probably an outpouring of civil-rights marchers into the streets of the South. If Saturday's march is large and visible enough--as the opponents of busing who have already begun to organize counter-marches evidently fear it will be--its strength can have the beginning of a comparable effect in the North.

But in addition to the importance of the Boston school situation to Americans in general, the issue should speak particularly to students at Harvard. It's important, first, to recognize that the people of South Boston in general probably do not think of Harvard as part of their city. What's happened in Boston in the last few months is a chapter in a long history of racial struggle in the United States, but it's also a chapter in a long history of class struggle among white New Englanders. In this latter history, people's sympathies belong with the working people of South Boston, whose distrust for well-off suburban liberals is entirely justified--even though it ignores the far greater social engineering that prompted Garrity's order, the School Committee's purposeful segregation of Boston's schools through construction and zoning plans over the years.

Historically, Harvard's graduates have generally stood with the social engineers, beginning with those Harvard-educated Abolitionists whose sensitivity to the plight of black slaves strangely blended with a massive contempt for Irish workers. By helping to create and run a society that kept poor blacks and whites fighting for its leavings, these people helped to nourish the roots of racism, even though they discriminated only in the most genteel ways--much like Harvard today, with its fashionably mild distaste for the Afro-American Studies Department and its yearly production of a crop of youth to fill the houses of suburbia. If Saturday's student marchers end up as part of that crop of youth, the march--though it will still have an immediate impact, and still be important--will also deserve all the labels its opponents will undoubtedly pin on it anyway.

But secondly, it's important to remember that people outside of South Boston do think of Harvard as part of Boston, and it's important that as many students as possible on Saturday's march come from schools associated with the city, so that as much as possible of the assault on the racist stonings the School Committee's institutional racism has fostered come from the people of Boston themselves. It's important that Harvard, students, this week at least, think of themselves as members of a Boston school, and it's important that they act as responsible members of the city.

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