Production Team: X
Interview Date: April 4, 1989
Camera Rolls: 4115-4118
Sound Rolls: 450-451
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Jane Duwors, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on April 4, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
OK, when did you first hear about forced busing? What did you think and what did you do?
Oh, I heard, ah, I'd read in the newspaper about this racial imbalance plan that would bring forced busing into the community, ah, maybe the springtime of 1974 when we were having, ah, hearings over the State House. And I took myself over all by myself to sit down and listen to what these hearings were going to be to see what the outcome was going to be on it. That's how I heard about it. And that's what I did to try to gain some knowledge of it.
What did you think about the idea?
Well I thought it was kind of ludicrous because out in Kansas they had just had a Supreme Court decision that said that, that you couldn't bus a child to pass this neighborhood school because of its skin color. And we weren't doing that in Boston. And children were attending neighborhood schools so it didn't really impress me as all that, something serious at the time.
Now speaking as a parent in 1974, what were your expectations about South Boston High? And could you weave in there also what your own experience with South Boston High had been.
Well like many, many people, like most people in South Boston, I attended South Boston High School as my brothers and sisters did. Most of my friends did and I had children who would--growing up--look up at the high school on the hill. And I would say, "When you get bigger that's the high school you're going to go to." "What, what's its name, mommy?" "That's South Boston High School." And they went through school and time came for them to enter, ah, high school and unfortunately it was 1974. And the high school on the hill wasn't available to them anymore. At that point in time we didn't know where the kids would be going when they went to school. The school assignments were very late. There was, ah, a lot of confusion in the school department about what was going to happen or where children would go to school. I don't even think they had the busses set to roll. So it was just a wait and see game where you know you may be able to go, or you may not be able to go. The feelings that it caused in myself were something of a disappointed-ment that my kids wouldn't be able to go to South Boston High School where, where I went. Where I received a very good education. Their friends would probably be sent to other schools also. So they would be setting off to high school in a completely different environment than what they had grown up and known.
Now in the same time period we're talking about the summer of '74. Can you describe to me what the work was that went on to organize and then to sustain the boycott?
Well, I think it was something that just sort of happened, piecemeal. This, ah, information center was going to be a bike shop. Two fellows were going to open up a repair shop and sell new bikes. And when we saw that there was no preparation for the White children, no news coming out about what was going to happen, who could they go to for help, we decided to open up this information center where people could go to for rumor control to, ah, see what was actually happening. We had to have a place and that's how this place was born. There was three months rent paid on it. The keys were given to us and we were told go ahead and do your own thing. We put a table out on the sidewalk with a sign that said, "We need your help. We need volunteers. We need some money to get this place going." And the people by the hundreds came. Within the first weekend we had about $3,000. We had about 3,000 names and we had this place packed from the front room to the back room. We ordered telephones, supplies, materials to get it open. And we had a lot of, ah, we had a lot of input from what we called our own home and school associations. Home and school associations were always well attended. We had, the parents would always join. They would always help to volunteer in the school. It was a way of taking of your child's education to make sure that, you know, they were learning the things that they should learn in school. And so we had, ah, people that knew how to get things done. Although we were typical families, mothers used to staying at home taking care of the children, fathers out working. We had the knowledge of how a PTA was run so we just enlarged it. We had block captains. We said, "Well, how would we get someone to know something at one end of South Boston and, you know, someone at the other end of South Boston at the same time." So we developed block captains. A block captain had a list of ten people and called those ten people. Those ten people would call ten more people. And that's, that's the way we organized. And as we got together, ah, we had people who had expertise in one area. People that knew how to type. People who knew about mailings. People that knew how to staff a center to keep it fully occupied. People who knew about talking with news media. And that's how it all came into being.
And what about the specific idea of a boycott? How did that come into being?
Well, the boycott was that if there were no children in school they couldn't implement the plan. So we decided to, and it came from another thing, it came from the Freedom Schools in Roxbury in the '60s. We said that if they could, ah, boycott theirs and be successful and have the METCO plan come out of it, then we could boycott here and hopefully we'd be as successful. We took from the Civil Rights Movement too. Public opinion--if public opinion's for you, maybe the ground-swell of people would be so great that even if a federal court wouldn't listen to you the United States government and Congress and Senate in Washington would listen to you and, ah, issue a piece of legislation that would say that, ah, you could not use forced busing as a tool for integration. You'd have to use something else to integrate. So we decided, we had a community meeting. Asked the parents, explained what we thought and asked the parents if they would go along with the boycott. The majority of people did**. And in the meantime we set up schools in yacht clubs. We set up schools in veteran's posts. All over South Boston there were schools. We had them during the day at first and then somebody complained. I, to this day I don't know who complained and said that you couldn't set up a school and have tutoring gone on during normal school hours. So we said, "The hell with it. If that's the way you want to be. We'll let the kids out in the daytime to play and they'll go to school at night." And they did. We switched the tutoring hours over from daytime hours to nighttime hours. And the yacht clubs and the veteran's posts and wherever we had them agreed that we could use them at night instead of the daytime. We had teachers in the Boston public school system who were tutoring our kids at night for free. We had, ah, prospective teachers, kids going to college, tutoring our children at night. And it worked out pretty well. I used to say that during the first year of busing that the children that were tutored, being tutored, were learning a lot more in a much nicer environment than the children that, ah, were going through the school hall, through the metal detectors, et cetera, at South Boston High School. And the Pandemonium in the rest of the, ah, community, you know that the fights in the schools and all the upheaval.
So can you just quickly tell us about these 500 kids.
Well the whole junior class at South Boston High School, down to 500. And they were told that they would not go to South Boston High School the following year come September, that they would be, ah, bused over to Roxbury High School. They felt terrible about it. Their parents did. There was such venomous and such anguish that their senior year, the year where they would, you know come together with their prom, with their class day. Their parents would go up and celebrate the coming out of adult life as is was going to be taken away from them. And that was one of the, ah, more crueler aspects of the plan that went into effect in 1974.
So describe for us the march and then the rally in front of the federal building where the crowd didn't want to hear Teddy Kennedy.
We assembled here in front of the information center. We decided we would have a match, ah, a city-wide march. And people would meet and we'd all go to City Hall plaza and try to address the mayor and address the governor, the legislature. So we picked a date and we, from South Boston assembled here and we marched along Broadway over Broadway bridge. We met people from Hyde Park at the corner of Tremont Street. People from East Boston came in by carloads through the tunnel and they met with the people of Charlestown and they marched over the bridge from Charlestown down to, ah, City Hall plaza. And the dais was set there and people, we had different speakers that were going to address the crowd. And Ted Kennedy happened to be one of them. At this we thought that this foolish social experiment had gone on long enough and that it was time for somebody to listen to the people. We always thought that the majority ruled and that the right to redress was taken seriously and listened to seriously. But we were fast becoming aware that, ah, all we were given was lip service. People would listen to us, shake their heads, "Isn't that crazy?" they'd say. Or something that we got so sick of hearing was, "Off the record let me tell you I wouldn't do that to my child either but, you know, for the record I have to state that I'm for, I'm for this, ah, program." So we, we were getting tired of hearing that and we weren't in any mood to listen to more of the same. We wanted the elected officials to tell us how to go about repealing this court law. What we would have to do to get somebody in a position to remedy it, to listen to it. To listen to our concerns. And Ted Kennedy got up to the microphone and Ted Kennedy was the epitome of the Boston Irish, you know, everybody loved Ted Kennedy. The Kennedy family, they were all gods. So the people thought at the time that we were fast learning that Ted Kennedy was a hypocrite. He was all for other people putting their children on busses and having them driven across town. But his, his children didn't even partake of public education. They were all in private schools and we thought that somebody who had children in private schools who didn't have to walk ten feet in our moccasins shouldn't be chastising us and telling us, "Put our children on bus." We knew that we knew what was best for our children. And not people who didn't have to live it. And we were so disenchanted with them and there were thousands of us standing there. And he got up and the people started to, not boo him but hiss him, politely hiss him. And somebody yelled, "Turn your back on him when he starts to speak. Show him the same consideration that he's showing us. He's turned his back on our problems. Show him that we don't want him any longer to represent us. Turn your back on him." And we did. He started to speak, people started to turn their backs. And I was right up close to the front to the, ah, dais, so I could see him a little short. And I like to see everything that's going on. And he started to speak and people started to turn around and you could see the look of consternation appear on his face. You know, a frown like, "Why would people do this to me, what's their problem?" And finally the whole crowd was facing the opposite direction, we were facing the Kennedy building instead of Ted Kennedy on the dais, and someone said, "We've heard enough, tell him to go, he hasn't anything to say, he's not going to help us." He started sputtering, he started losing his composure, and, um, he kept talking and the things he said were not making any sense whatsoever to us. We were just not in the mood to hear it. We wanted help on how we could redress what we thought was a grievous situation. Something that was harming our children, that was very detrimental to our children, which was you know, the basic right of a parent to choose how a child should be educated and where a child should be educated. So someone pulled the plug, and the loud speaker went dead. And people started saying, "Go home, Ted. Go home, Ted." And he was going to speak, loudspeaker or no loudspeaker until he finally decided it was best for him to leave because people were really starting to get upset. And, ah, he started down off the dais and, God, had to run across the plaza because he had a group of women, scorned women, and not scorned in love, but scorned more importantly in the, ah, how would I say it, scorned more importantly in the most important thing in their lives, their children. Their children were being scorned. And they chased him and they shouted at him, and they, probably, some of them were asking him for help, and others were probably asking him to go home and get out, and he ran into the Kennedy building, and they locked the doors, and the women pounded on the doors to try to get in. And the plate glass windows shattered, and, I think we were as shocked as he was when we saw the glass shatter, but the, the lesson that we learned that day was, you know, the lip service continues and the, the bitterness and the sense of, um, alienation continued to grow and didn't get any, any less because there was no help forthcoming from that area.
Sounds like you were angry?
Angry, disappointed, but mostly disappointed that a- an elected official who was elected to represent his constituents to do what was best for those constituents, what the constituents thought was best for them, instead of a, "Well, I was elected, now I can do what I want, you don't know what's good for you, I know what's good for you, so you best listen to me." So we decided then and there that, um, the only way we would get Ted Kennedy to listen was at the ballot box. And we've spoken out against him since that day, and we will continue to do so.
Now I want you to move to the first day of school, September 12, 1974. Court-ordered busing. I want you to describe to me what you saw, what you heard, and how you felt as you stood outside South Boston High waiting for the busses to arrive.
I, I, went up to South Boston High School the first day of school and I wanted to see what was going to happen. I wanted to see if children were going to boycott, or if parents were going to send their children to school. I wanted to see all the police they told us were all over South Boston, it was like an armed camp, policemen shoulder to shoulder all the way up Dorchester Street, all the way, along the Boulevard, all the way up I Street to Sixth Street, all the way up Sixth Street hill to the Hart-Dean[SIC] School and further on up to the high school and all the way up to the L Street Annex, and, um, it was like an armed camp, and you'd think that the, I don't know, the third world war was coming down or the President was coming to, to visit, there was such high police visibility. And, um, I was out there with other parents, and, I, I really can't remember much of the crowd. I do know that when the buses carrying the students pulled up to the school I felt a sense of, of loss. Not a sense of loss because they were going into the school, but a sense of loss that our children, children who grew up in the community who sort of had heritage and looked forward through the years to going to South Boston High School would no longer be allowed to go there, and that children from another section of town, children who didn't even live in South Boston, I guess, and I don't think it would have mattered where they came from, Charlestown, East Boston, Brighton, Allston, a, a sense of loss that these children were being given seats that children from South Boston would have had had not busing, forced busing come into being. People, people sat and stood around and talked and, ah, sat on doorsteps and talked about what a sad day it was. And it was mostly for the children and I think it was also for the thought that an era was coming to an end, an era of neighborhood schools, an era of tightcl- knit closeness, and, um, a sense of belonging, people who lived in a neighborhood that was such, closely-knit as South Boston, um, where everybody knew practically everybody, not only on their street but in the entire town, from One Broadway Station up to Farragut Statue, and it was a sense of loss that a school era was coming to an end, that no longer would some of them be able to take in class days, senior proms, and even, I think for the boys, it was, ah, South Boston High's football team, which was one of the best in the entire state, certainly the best in the conference they were in in Boston. They would no longer be able to play for South Boston High School, and the basketball team, the same thing, baseball- and the girls, you know, wouldn't have that socialization of going to school with their friends that's so important to them, something that's being denied to them.
Remember the day that Michael Faith got stabbed? And I'd like you to trace your steps from being inside the school to then being outside the school with parents waiting, to Louise Day Hicks trying to send everyone away to when the police moved in.
I was on corridor duty at South Boston High School the day Michael Faith got stabbed. And, ah, I was standing at the bottom of the first floor stairwell. And I was talking with another aide who was also stationed there at the--They all started to change classes, and students started filing and students started, you know, coming down the stairwell. All of a sudden I heard a girl screaming. Just, sc- I mean really screaming like something terrible had happened. And she came running down the stairs and she was screaming, "Michael Faith got stabbed, Michael Faith got stabbed. He's all blood laying outside the trophy case outside the office upstairs." And by then it was just pandemonium. You, you couldn't have kept order if you wanted. Students were running down the stairs screaming. Students were trying to fight their way there up, up the stairs to see what actually had happened I guess. The teachers and the aides were trying to calm, calm the students down. I remember I had the girl that was screaming so terribly and I was saying, "Everything will be all right. He'll, he'll be all right. They'll get him to a hospital. He'll be all right." And she just kept screaming hysterically. It's a terrible thing to see and it's a terrible thing still, fifteen years later, to remember. We tried the best we could. We brought the girl into the nurse's office which just happened to be right there at the stairwell. And the nurse was trying to calm her down. She was laying on the, on the, on the, ah, little chaise lounge they had there. And, um, the nurse was talking to her, screaming, kept growing louder and louder. Outside, and back out into the hallway and try to comfort more girls and next thing you know they were, students, the White students were saying they were going to the auditorium. They wanted to see Doc Reid. They wanted him to tell them what had happened and what was going to be done. And they were trying to get into the auditorium and, ah, the next thing you know Doc Reid was, I don't know if it was Doc Reid, personally, but the word was to get the White students out of the school. The White students were screaming, "This is our school. We have every right to be here. We're not leaving until we find out what's going on." And, um, by this time, it doesn't take very long for bad news to travel fast as you well know. And I think parents had started coming to the school to find out what had happened, um, from the crowd. They finally got the White students. They pushed them out of the school bodily. And, ah, they had the Black students in their rooms, in their homerooms. And they served the Black students lunch. And the White students were outside. The police were all out there and the parents were out there. And the parents still didn't know who was stabbed. The first parents had started coming, the police would give them no information. And the police wouldn't let them into the school to, I guess they wanted to be reassured that their child was all right. And, ah, a pretty ugly scene. It seemed as if they had no consideration or feelings for the, for the students who were so upset, so frightened. The look of fright on the, on the faces of the girls that were coming out of that school was an awful sight to see. Boston Police, the BPF stood inside and joked. The State Police who weren't there that day because of a riot or disturbance at Walpole, had to be called in on an emergency situation and they were the most professional. They just lined the job. They talked, you know politely and calmly to the parents outside. The parents kept waiting. They kept saying, "We want Doc Reid, we want him to come out here, we want him to tell us what's going on. We want to know if Michael Faith is all right. Is he alive? Is he dead? We want to know what's going to happen tomorrow. Is the school going to be open?" And none of these answers were forthcoming. And the parents were so frustrated and the students were so angry that this could have happened within yards of policemen lining the school because there were policemen inside the school, it wasn't just policemen outside the school. There were policemen inside the school everyday also. And they wanted to know how something like this could happen in a school where nothing like that had ever happened before. Their main concern was the safety of their children and the second concern was to find out if Michael Faith was all right. And the third concern was, you know. "What is going to happen tomorrow?" These questions were never addressed by Doc Reid or anybody at the school that day. Ray Flynn came and Louise Day Hicks came and they stood up and they tried to get the crowd to go home. And I think it was one of the few times that the crowd didn't listen to these two people who they thought of as their leaders, the ones that were trying to guide them through these days at, more importantly seemed to be the ones that were trying to help them get legislation, get lawyers, to take the case to court to see if it would be reheard and things like that. It was, "No, we don't want to listen to you anymore." I had left the school and gone outside. I didn't see any sense remaining in the school while the children were outside the school. And, ah, I was standing across the street from the school, ah, listening to Louise Day Hicks and Ray Flynn telling people to go home and people saying "No we're not going 'til we find out what's going to happen." And then the police moved in, they came around Thomas Park from G-Street side on horses and they trampled into the crowd. They knocked people down with their horses they knocked over baby carriages with babies in them, they, ah, used their night sticks quite freely. A lot of people got bloodied up, but they refused to move, I think we stayed there for five or six hours. Before it finally broke up, we heard that Michael Faith was going to be all right, and we also realized that there was not going to be any news forthcoming on what was going to happen to the school, whether the children, whether the school was going to be open the next day. It's a day that the scars are so deep in your heart if you were there, specially if you had children there you could see the children, thought, and rightfully so that this was their school and that the administrators of it the school department in this case had no feelings whatsoever for what they had gone through. I mean somebody gets murdered or commits suicide nowadays they have all these trauma teams race in to schools to give the children counseling and here were children--
So remembering Black Tuesday, um, were you surprised when South Boston High School was put into federal receivership?
No, not at all because I felt that South Boston High was in federal receivership already being under the federal court order. And it really didn't matter who ran the school because ultimately the federal court was running the school. We had federal marshals up there. So I wasn't shocked and I wasn't, ah, too excited about it. It was just another, another, ah, federal body stepping in to run a school system.
OK, can, can you tell me what the thinking was, what the strategy was behind trying to bring an appeal of the court order to the Supreme Court?
Well we felt that where, ah, the Supreme Court had already ruled that you couldn't bus a child past the school closest to its home based on skin color. Ah we felt that an appeal based on that fact would be readily heard and approved. I mean the facts were there. Children in Boston were being bussed by the school closest to their home on the fact of the color based on the color of their skin. There were no two ways about it. You could give it fancy names. You could call it, ah, school assignment based on geocodes. But when you came right down to it, the geocodes that were drawn up were drawn up based on skin color. And seeing that the Supreme Court already said that you could not do that, we felt that the federal court order, the desegregation order as being carried out was illegal. They were going against a court order that had already said you couldn't do that. It seemed so simple at the time. And we felt so righteous and so, um, it was such a simple problem you cannot do that so therefore change it, you know. Do a, do a school desegregation plan based on something else. There are many, many ways that you could have desegregated the Boston Public School Systems without busing children back and forth across town.
Did you feel that your children were being discriminated against because of the color of their skin?
Yes. I felt that I had a son that went--
So did you feel that your children were being discriminated against because of the color of their skin?
Yes, I did. I thought that, ah, I had a son that was, didn't like school very well. And in the 8th grade at the Gavilan School which he went, to they told him if he went to school every day and did well that they would put him in Boston High School for the 9th grade which was a work release. He went to half day and he went to work half day. And that's what he looked forward to and when the school assignment plans came out, he was geocoded to South Boston High School. Ah, and he, I felt that he was discriminated against because he couldn't go to Boston High School based on his skin color. The quota at Boston High School was filled and kids who probably didn't even want to go to Boston High School were being sent to Boston High School. And kids who didn't want to go to South Boston High School were sent to South Boston High School. So yes I did think that he was being discriminated against because of his skin color.
Now can you tell me how, um, you think that South Boston and the city as a whole were affected by busing? In terms of who do you think paid, and was the price worth it?
I think South Boston became much stronger and much more unified as a result of, ah, forced busing, the desegregation order. I think the city became polarized as anybody could well see it. It became a city that was split right down the middle between Black and White. A city that really wasn't like that beforehand. Might have had their problems here and there, but on the whole you could go anywhere in the city and not have to look over your shoulder. But forced busing soon brought an end to that. Who was the loser? Was it worth it? Definitely not. Who was the loser? Of course in this case it was the children. The children that were denied an education that would prepare them for the outside world. Especially the high schoolers. They were assigned to schools that didn't have the programs that they were interested in. Many of them dropped out because of that fact. There was no learning for the first, I would say the first three years. Everything took a back seat to the racial quotas and, um, it, it just wasn't worth it, ah, it could have been done much more intelligently and it could have been done in a kinder way. It could have taken into consideration the 500 seniors, the juniors at South Boston High School. And let them graduate from South Boston High School. You could have taken into consideration program needs of the students. And could have taken into consideration, ah, the quality of education and worked to improve the quality of education in the schools that did have problems. Was it worth it? No way. No way. I cannot see any good that came out of forced busing in the city of Boston. To this day the wounds haven't healed. And the city is still really split on a racial basis for the most part. Even though people tell you, politicians tell you it's not so. It is so.
Now as you think over the story of busing and especially focusing on the first couple of years, um, is there anything that we haven't talked about that you think needs to be told?
No, no I guess just that the, the federal government, or the federal courts don't have the knowledge or the expertise to run school systems. And in many parts of the country they have. And I think that forced busing as, as a tool for integration or desegregation was a poor tool. When, in the future if this happens in other parts of the country I think they, that they should look to Boston because the dismal failure, the record, the drop out rates, ah, the, the test scores, the SATs, all go to show that a good education has taken a backseat to racial balance. And if we want to see the youth of the city in this country succeed, the one thing that they need is a very good education. They don't get that when desegregation enters the picture because the focus is not on education. It's on racial balance. That's about it.
Um, just one last question. Why do you think it was that you described using a strategy based on the Civil Rights Movement? But the image of South Boston that appeared on TV every night was very different. How do you understand that?
The, the interpretation or the, the censorship of the media at the time, the way that the event was covered by the media, by the newspapers, by the television was a one-sided slant. It was good news copy to show some of the things that they showed on television. It wasn't good news copy to, um, to expose a court order that was unworkable from the beginning. And I think that's how that happened, or why that happened. Definitely why that happened, the media. It was the media. A major media event. I remember talking with many reporters and, ah, having them come back and picking up a story and reading it expecting to see, you know some semblance of what I said, reported and it would be absolutely negative. And I would, if I had the chance to, if they came back again, I would say, "Well why, you know why did you write that that way? That's not the way we talked it." And the answer, the stock answer that I along with many others who spoke with the news media got from them was, "It was edited and I had nothing to do with it." This is the way they wanted it reported and that's the way it was reported. And that was the experience that the majority of people in South Boston had. We received no fair coverage from the media in that particular era.