Interviewer: Jackie Shearer
Production Team: D
Interview Date: November 9, 1988
Camera Rolls: 4051-4052
Sound Rolls: 421-422
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Evelyn Morash, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 9, 1988, 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.
When your kids were in school were you satisfied as a parent with the education the children were getting?
Was I satisfied with the education they were getting? My kids all went to the local schools up until they went into high school. Um. Couldn't have been too satisfied. I knew all the teachers because I was in and out of the schools, but I was always there to try to make things a little better. So if you ask me, was I satisfied. I thought I was satisfied, but when I think about it, ah, why was I there? If, ah, unless I thought I could make things a little better.
Can you tell us about what your experiences were with the Boston school committee?
With the Boston school committee. First, I had a horrible encounter with, actually, it wasn't with the Boston school committee. It was with a Boston administrator when one of my children was in junior high school. And the class size was, we felt was too big. It was over the limit. And the local, the teachers couldn't do anything about getting an ex- an extra class put in. And, ah, I had called, tried to put pressure on to bring that class size down, get another teacher, another classroom put in the school. And I was told that that could only be done for kids with learning disabilities. And I you know, screamed and I said, ah, you know, "I think this is highly unjust. These kids need extra help because they're bright kids." And I, I remember calling and inviting the parents of all the kids in that class to this house and they all showed up because they all had a vested interest in their kids. And we pressured that school department to get an extra class in there. That was one of my first real encounters with the Boston school department. Ah, I had other encounters with the home and school association that I was unhappy with. I always felt the home and school association was nothing more than a company union. Ah. And they dealt with people school by school. They used the lovely term that the home, local home and school associations were autonomous entities. It was a nice way of saying we don't want you talking to anybody else. And I had gotten involved with the, ah, school volunteers. School vol- Boston school volunteers knew how many s- texts, not text books, real fun books for kids. Library books had been bought with the easy money, the elementary and secondary education act money, that was still locked up in boxes. They'd been bought and never opened. So school, and the excuse, "We used the money because we would have lost the money. So we bought the books but we haven't had the resources to get the books on shelves." So they asked, they tapped me would I go down. This was at the junior high school. Ah. At that time I had, my three oldest children were in school. And I have three, I have three children together. A group of three children and then I have two younger ones. Interesting that a lot of people don't know, at that point in time didn't know about the two younger ones. I don't know why. I never kept them hidden. But they didn't know they existed. Probably because I was also working at the time. I worked part-time jobs so that I could also get involved in school activities. But anyway, I got involved with the library program. And we got a great library going down at the Barnes Junior High School. And that was the key school to get one going in East Boston. Once we got that one going we started spinning off and setting up libraries in all the other, ah, in the elementary schools. And it was a link between the home and school associations and we had volunteers in all the schools. So we started talking together. And we found out that we, you know, had pretty common problems. But, ah, every time any of the individual home and schools went to the school department or the school committee they got a different answer. So we were all getting played off differently. And we formed an organization of East Boston, well we called our organization East Boston Association of Home and School Associations. And I got in a real hassle--
So what was the story about the struggle with the school nurses?
I guess I must have been beginning to be viewed as an agitator. And I must have, oh, I know. I had vend- I had offended one of the school principals because of my request for things to be changed. My youngest child who, this was one of the kids that somehow people didn't know about, he was started, had to have been kindergarten or first grade, but it was the first day of school. I was working. I got home from work about 5:30 and he has a note. Open the note from the school nurse and it says, "Your child shows evidence of head lice and cannot return to school until the head lice are gone." So I got, "Well, what's this?" So I go to the pharmacy, try to get some medication. I, I didn't know that the rules had got changed. You need a prescription to buy Quell or whatever you needed for head lice. So I called a neighbor who had a bunch of kids. She had some around. Doctored the kid up. Get the steel comb, do the whole thing. And I'm not seeing any lice. So after about two hours of soaking the kid's head and well, how's he going to go to school tomorrow, one of the older kids said, "You know, ma. School nurses never check your head the first day of school." All of a sudden it dawned on me, you know, they got back to me. And what, there were a couple of, I don't know why that all happened. Maybe I, maybe I offended them. But I know they, they really got to me and I reacted very, probably just the way they wanted me to react. Scared. Spent a lot of energy. Called the barber who, ah, the kid had gotten the hair cut on the Saturday before school started and I said, "By any chance, did you notice any lice on Eric's hair?" "No. I would have told you right away. Wouldn't have let him g- get out of here without telling you that." So there were little ways they could get back when you were- and I think that's one of the ways that people backed off from taking an active role because when you become an activist in the school and you're not there all the time you leave your most precious object in the hands of people who may be very angry at you, and leave your kids vulnerable. I remember another time one of my kids, ah, was taking a test in school. The early grades. Taking a test. And someone walked up to him and asked him if he was Mrs. Morash's son. Well, who did you think he was? His name. His last, his surname was Morash. The kid got rattled. In very little delicate ways they can do that. And people don't want to leave their kids vulnerable so they back off. And I think it's one of the ways that you know, people stayed away from taking an active role.
Now, you told me a story about working downtown, looking out the window and seeing groups of people marching up to the State House and how angry it made you in terms of what politicians were doing to their constituents.
OK. That- I was working at that time at 27 School Street which is right next to the old City Hall. And it was in the days when they were trying to get the racial imbalance law repealed. Probably '73 or '74. But it was before the federal decision, the, ah, the federal cases being heard down at the federal courthouse on Devonshire Street. And I looked out the window. I heard all this turmoil outside. And there was a literal parade of people coming down through there, mothers, fathers, all watching, walking up with their signs from the different neighborhoods of Boston, storming up to the State House to get the state legislature to repeal the racial imbalance law. And I remember looking out that window in tears. And this is, this is right at the time we had gotten the libraries going. We were trying to recruit people to help out. I'm thinking to myself, you know, there's two issues. Number one, people are getting lied to, thinking that by walking up to the State House they can repeal the racial imbalance law and the threat of desegregating Boston schools is over. And that's not where the action was. The action was going on down at the federal courthouse and no one was told that. I mean, it was like that was a big surprise. So it was easy for people to pressure their local representatives and their local senators. And there were more of them they could exert pressure on. So there was that one issue of people being lied to, thinking that the racial imbalance law was repealed. The case was al- everything was all over and everything was going to be fine. But the other issue that really probably made me sadder was that they could t- pull out all these people to walk up to the State House, take time off from work, time away from home, on a negative activity where if this same amount of energy could have been put onto a positive action, there were mountains could have been moved. It was just a very, very sad experience to see those women walking up there.
So could you tell us the story again about sitting at work and looking out the window?
OK. At that time it was pro- it had to either have been '73 or '74, been more early '74 when they were trying to get the racial imbalance law repealed. And I was working at that time at 27 School Street which was directly next to old City Hall, down the street from the State House. And I could hear all this noise outside. And I went to the window and there was a literal parade of parents, men and women, coming back from the State House with their signs from all the different neighborhoods. And they had been coerced, encouraged by their, by local school committee people to get up to the State House to put pressure on to their legislators, the representative senators to repeal the racial imbalance law. And there were two issues that really bothered me and made sad. Number one was they were, they were told to get up to the State House and get the racial imbalance law repealed, and never being told that the real action on the desegregation of Boston schools was happening down at the federal courthouse. And no matter what happened to the racial imbalance law, this still was a federal law that had to be complied with. And that the, Judge Garrity was holding sessions right then while this parade was going on. So that was one issue that they were lied to. The other issue was that I saw and had been involved in organizing the school libraries, and saw this wasted energy, this manpower and womanpower walking up there, being just on the negative activity. And all I could think was you know, if that amount of energy was exerted in a positive way they could have moved mountains.
Great, now, can you tell me how friends of yours, other White parents who were "anti-busing", how did they describe themselves to you in terms of why were they anti-busing?
Why were they anti-busing? They didn't know where the kids were going to go. They didn't want their kids leaving neighborhood schools. They didn't want their kids going anywhere else but here. They had their right to the neighborhood school. No one was going to tell them what to do. And the frustrating part for me was when I would try to explain the years that the school committee had stalled, had taken positive actions not to desegregate the schools, how so much of it could have been done in a very easy way that had been d- denied and there was those, all the actions done to stop it. N- you'd try to explain this to people and you know, their eyes would glaze over. You know. And they didn't want to hear any of that reasoning, any of that rationale, any of the background. And it was like don't tell me that. Just tell me that my kids are not going to go on a bus. And you have to remember that in East Boston, probably a lot of neighborhoods, but I think even more so in East Boston, people don't leave East Boston for a lot of reasons. Ah. East Boston is an island. You have to make an effort. I mean, and you'll hear that. Time and time again. East Boston--we're an island. And you try to con- you know, I tried to say to people, "You know, yeah, we, we are an island but then there are people that leave it every day, get on a bus, get on a train, go to work in town. And there are people that come on to this island, millions of people a week, to go to our airport. So you know, it isn't that we're isolated. The isolation is a mental isolation." So they didn't want kids to leave. And I mean, I think a lot of our schools, a lot of the field trips that we were doing at that time in school were into town, getting kids, bringing them into museums. It was, there was a twofold purpose. It was getting them into the museums. It was getting into those outside activities. But it also showed them there was another world outside there on the other side of the, on, on the other side of the harbor. But people were afraid to leave. And y- y- you can be so self-contained here. And East Boston had a complete, total, I mean, we had elementary schools. We had a junior high school. And we had a high school. It could have been a total school system which a lot of other neighborhoods in, in the city didn't have that totality school system that we had here. So probably it was very easy to, for people to think why should we have to leave? We've got it all here.
Now, how did people deal with you? Were you seen as a traitor to the cause?
To some people I was seen as a traitor I think. You know, why, why are you saying these things? Why are you standing up for this? I remember, ah, having a confrontation with, ah, a local police officer in the bank one day. And he said to me you know, "What are, what you s- what are you standing up, what are you, what are you doing this for?" I said, "Well you know," I said, "It's, it's, it's illogical, you know, because someone's skin is different than mine and different than yours they don't have the rights that, that we have." I mean, you know, you carry that one step further, I have green eyes and only one of my children have green eyes. The same logic that says because your skin is a different color and I can't mingle with you and I can't associate with you and I don't have to interact with you, carry that further and we'll say because you have green eyes you can't drive a car. And I don't want that for me and my one child with green eyes. So I do try to explain that. And it was like--dead. But I, I, I guess I was viewed as a traitor by a lot of people. But I did have a party of support. I had a supportive family. And I found the support of friends who were probably of kindred s- kindred spirits. Ah. People who to this day I'm very close.
Could you tell me about this meeting before the opening of schools?
OK. There was a lot of preparation going on in that summer of '74. It was '74, before Phase 1 went into effect. And the community really was trying to get itself organized. Ah. The city had mobilized a lot of activity. There were meetings all over the place. Community, community personnel, priests. There were, ah, police departments. And I remember going to one meeting in the afternoon. It was very close to the beginning of school. And it was at the Social Center. And one of the principals came in because all the principals were there getting ready for their school openings. And one of the principals came in and he had his foot in a cast. And people hadn't seen each other over the summer and someone asked him, "What happened to your foot?" And his answer was, "Broke it kicking a nigger off a bus." And I was horrified to think here we are at a meeting to talk about a peaceful integration and we still have an attitude like this that can express itself.
Did desegregation have an effect just for Black kids and their parents?
No. I don't think so. For years I had always thought here in East Boston itself where it's said that we had a total school system with- we really had even inequality in those school systems. We had one junior high school and we had two schoo- who, which went from seventh to ninth grade. And we had two schools which went through the eighth grade with kids graduating the eighth grade. I always thought that was very discriminating to the kids who went to the junior high school. Kids who went to junior high school and those were the kids who were basically from this area here, Eagle Hill, and all the way down the bottom of the hill, had to stay in that junior high school until the ninth grade. So if those kids wanted to go to Latin School, they had to go to Latin School as sophomores, not in their freshman year. Ah, so if they were looking for a pure academic experience at Latin School they were, only got three years of it. If for purely sports, ah, interested parent who wanted their kid to get a sports scholarship, that kid didn't get up to the high school to be on the football team until he was a sophomore. I said, "There's something wrong here. We're getting inequality." Wi- one of the key pieces of the desegregation order was that it broke down that two system and it made it a one system. We got elementaries, middle schools and high s- four year high schools across the city. So everybody had the opportunity to go to a four year high school. That to me was a big change in what we had. It also gave people a chance to look at what different kind of high schools were around. Ah, because as long as you could go to your district high school you were going to be happy with it, no matter what they did there. And you didn't look, and it might have been the best high school in the city. But it might not have been the best one for you. So you, it was really limiting your options by not opening up, not giving you access to all those other high schools. And the desegregation order did give you access to those other high schools.
What about the difference between, if you think there was one, the Home And School Association and parental involvement as mandated by the court order?
Home and School Association involvement really had the blessing of the school department, ah, because it was a, it was a, it was a very passive, benevolent kind of thing. I mean, you did cake sales. You raised money. You filled in the gaps that the school budget didn't have, ah, but you really didn't get involved in any curriculum issues, looking at, ah, criteria for teacher certification, looking at qualifications of principals. It was a passive kind of involvement. And it wasn't ordered. Ah, and if a school didn't have it, if a school p- principal didn't feel like encouraging our Home and School Association the school principal didn't need to.
I'm sorry, we ran out--
So we were comparing the Home School Association with the court mandated Parental Involvement and you were just saying that the Home School Association wasn't in order.
That principals didn't have to do it.
Home and School association could be a very passive thing. You know, raise money for school activities raise money for field trips that weren't in the school budget, and if a principal didn't feel that he wanted a Home and School Association, didn't feel he wanted parents in the school, he didn't have to encourage it, didn't need it, didn't miss it all. But the court order was an order, and the parental councils were ordered by the court. They were difficult to get into place because they weren't in the neighborhood schools and the parents had a right to be in those schools, and that thought was offensive to teachers and to school administrators.
Now I'd like to--sorry for this--back in time again, before school deseg had actually happened, before the court's order, before the opening of school. Was there anything in the wind, what was the feeling out there? Just describe the mental climate.
OK, the first quarter. The states were going to implement their fashion of desegregation, because they were going to be in violation of the state racial imbalance law if they didn't have, ah, desegregation plan in place by December. So that was all set to go, we knew that. Then the court order came down in June and rather than come up with a whole new plan, Judge Garrity used the states plan as Phase 1. People were very anxious. People across the city knew that that had to happen in September, and groups started to organize across the city to explain the pla- explain the plan to parents, to try to quell any kind of trouble that might start arising. But, ah, but to look at it in an even looking at it more positive way, rather than the quell trouble: to answer questions, to give positive information, and to stop all the rumor mongering that was going on. And if kids were assigned, going to be assigned to schools--and they weren't going to be assigned to schools way across town, they were going to be assigned to adj- contiguous neighborhoods to get the parents to visit those schools. And during that time there were parents that saw those schools their kids were going to go to and were unhappy about them, and pressure was put to get some of the schools into better shape when the kids got there. So there was a lot of activity going on that summer, there were all of those community meetings going on, there were people rallying around. There were also people rallying around the ROAR[SIC] group was rallying to make the opening of school as disruptive as possible, but there was a lot of activity that whole summer.
You talked about, um, hosting one the coffee hours that Kevin White had with the White mothers, could you tell us what that scene was.
Kevin himself was doing that across the city, all over the place. It was one of the things I felt I should do. There were a lot of people who were, they mostly my neighbors, I would say, who were here, but Kevin had to meet as many people as possible. Because, it wasn't just parents of school children who were concerned, but people of all, people from all specters of population who were concerned about school opening. And he did that all across the city, and he came and he sat down and he answered questions. It was his ways of doing what he could, I don't know if it worked as well as he wanted it to work, but we had that, one of those here, and people were here, and he was here answering questions and trying to explain that it was the law. And he had a responsibility as the mayor to carry out the law, and there was no way that he could violate the law. And he was setting the system up in place, the city hall communication network was being set up, and people could call in. I mean, people, people in the city administration at that time did yeoman service, to make opening day as peaceful as possible.
OK, so can you give us a flavor of that?
Yeah, it was probably easier for me, if people unhappy with me and would ask me questions and weren't happy with my answers and were face-to-face confirmation and I knew who I was talking to. The scariest part of those days were the telephone calls I would get late at night, ah, not knowing who was calling but threatening that my house was going to get blown up, my kids were going to get kidnapped. Probably the worst experience I probably had, we had a dog who wasn't much of a watch dog because he slept all night, we came downstairs, and found the window broken with a rock through the window, found the fro--
Sorry, we're going to have to wait for the plane to--
We liked the whole way you were leading up to it before, even with the dog. So again?
OK, you know it was probably easier for me to deal with people who asked me a question, "Why do the kids have to get bussed." And even when I would explain the whole story and their eyes would glaze over, at least I knew who I was talking to--I knew they were angry, but I knew who I was talking to. The scariest part of those days for me were the threats from the anonymous phone calls I would get. Ah, not knowing who was calling, especially after I'd been asleep, and I could listen to almost anything as long as I'm wide awake--and I think that's probably true of anybody--but when somebody wakes you out of a sound sleep and threatens that your house is going to get blown up, pretty difficult to go back to sleep not knowing what's going on and who you're talking to. The morning that I came down and found a brick through the front window, and found the front of the house all splattered with paint, called the police, reported it, and didn't make me feel all better when they said "You know lady, that could have been a fire bomb," and I would have probably lost the house, and never knowing who was doing that. I could probably do an analogy to you know when you loose your wallet at work and everybody's suspect. So when you don't know whose doing those things to you, and everybody's suspect. Who could have thought that badly, those were the bad times.