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Boston's Oktoberfest


By Michel D. Mcqueen

TUESDAY, September 18, for the second consecutive day, approximately 15 masked whites hurled stones and metal bolts at buses delivering black students to classes at South Boston High School. Three black students were injured; one student had to go to Boston City Hospital for treatment of a jaw wound. Entering the building, students were screened with hand-held metal detectors. Scuffles and fistfights marked the day almost as often as the school bell.

Another semester has begun at South Boston High.

"The stoning and other incidents which have ocurred in South Boston over the past two days are typical of similar incidents in South Boston last year," said Police Superintendent John Doyle. "They certainly do not call for massive media reaction."

Since 1974, when U.S. District Judge John Garrity issued his court order mandating the desegration of the Boston and Springfield school systems, bused students returning to their classes in the fall have met the hostility of parents unalterably opposed to their presence, assaults from their peers, and the apparent apathy of elected officials. Kevin White's administration has apparently accepted a certain level of violence as the price to pay to avoid substantive action to solve Boston's racial problems. Five years after Garrity's order was promulgated, students, parents and politicians alike have been forced to accept the inevitability of racial violence.

One person who refuses to condone the violence is Jerome Winegar, principal of South Boston High School, who launched a sharp attack on Boston's leadership the day after the most recent stoning incident.

"The folks who are in charge of this city don't seem to care what happens here," Winegar said at a press conference. "Maybe they hope this school will fall into the ocean."

The fact remains, however, that even if the fighting in South Boston were miraculously to end tomorrow, the larger problem of racial hostility throughout the city would not: South Boston is but a symbol and, in some ways, a scapegoat for a citywide disease which was allowed to surface in 1974, and which has persisted ever since.

Garrity's order to desegrate the schools became public on June 21, 1974. At that time, close to six million dollars in federal funds had been withheld from Springfield and Boston for over a year, following the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision that found both cities guilty of violations of the U.S. Civil Rights Act. Throughout the remainder of the summer, education administrators, teachers, and police officials rushed to prepare to bus 20,000 Bostonians and 4100 Springfield residents.

While these arrangements progressed, anti busing forces insisted that their fight had barely begun. Groups such as the South Boston Information Center and Massachusetts Citizens Against Forced Busing, sprang up throughout the city, apparently creating organizations and resources solely out of the intensity of their emotions. State Senator and current mayoral candidate Joseph Timilty (D-Mattapan) declared himself a "bitter foe" of busing, and School Committee Chairman John Kerrigan declared, "I'm opposed to desegration and I'm going to fight it in the Legislature and in the Courts."

School opening was delayed until Sept. 12, 1974 in part because guards, school aids, and teachers were training to prepare themselves to deal with expected violence, and in part because no one was sure how many children would actually show up. Projected enrollment steadily shrank as parents insisted that children would either stay home or go to private schools rather than attend school with blacks. Catholic school enrollments swelled particularly quickly in Hyde Park and Mattapan, although parochial schools which accepted students fleeing integration did so against the orders of the Archdiocese of Boston.

MOST REMARKABLE, outside of the emotional fervor exhibited by many parents of school children were the lengths citizens all over Boston explored to avoid busing. One 60-year old Hyde Park resident with no schoolchildren filed suit to stop citywide busing "for health reasons." The exhaust fumes, she argued, endangered her health, and she was entitled to "equal protection." Francesca Galante, also of Hyde Park, who headed the Mass. Citizens against Forced Busing, had bused her children to private school years before, but insisted that officials were "trying to destroy our community" through forced busing. Over 500 Roslindale parents vowed to boycott the schools until Garrity's order was revoked, and when city schools finally opened in 1974, they did so with approximately half of their expected enrollments.

Over the past five years, many students who remain in city schools have greeted each September with the grim expectation that they will be harassed. For the last three years black pupils in South Boston high school have received leaflets printed with Nazi insignia, racial slurs and exhortations to leave the school, as they entered for the first time each fall. Last spring Madison Park High School evacuated its students, who are 40 per cent white and 60 per cent black, when fighting broke out at midday.

BECAUSE incidents such as these have occurred all over the city, observers have wondered whether some unknown central organization is responsible for planning them. James Kelly, of the South Boston Information Center, who now holds a position in White's administration, says that his group had nothing to do with last week's stoning. Boston Police say the incidents are all "isolated"; Education Commissioner Anrig agrees. Still, many of the episodes of harassment which have occurred over the past months have required planning and resources, to provide the weapons or the printers, and this alone causes some black leaders to view police statements with suspicion.

By Friday of last week, police had taken five white suspects in the stoning into custody, and White pointed to the arrests as evidence of his determination to fight racial violence in his city. The arrests came at a bad moment for White, campaigning hard in the white neighborhoods that are Timilty's strongholds. White, who has always carried Roxbury and the South End, must also fight his image as a do nothing mayor for the black community of Boston. White, and every other candidate for office this election, naturally rushed to affirm his concern for the schoolchildren, after Headmaster Winegar's attack, but it is sad commentary on the state of Boston's race relations that White's statement came so long overdue, and, revealingly, carried such political cost.

This is a city where high school principal must go and act like a politician in order to get the politicians to act like leaders, to help shape the city's character, to protect all of its citizens. Fortunately, Jerome Winegar is one person who has not been so stupefied by violence and hatred that he has forgotten how and when to cry out. But South Boston High is Winegar's only domain, and South Boston is merely a very small piece of a very large tragedy.

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