Photos from South Boston in the 1970s. (Photos from WBUR)
Grace Connolly, GBP Student
It is obvious through the name of this class, The Greater Boston Project, that we are learning about the evolution of Boston and the surrounding area. Up until recently, the focus of the class has been on colonial, pre-revolutionary and antebellum Boston, and how these historical events have defined the city. We have learned how each one of these time periods have imprinted their legacy on the city of Boston through the people, culture, customs, landscapes, and businesses that thrive here today. Yet, as students in 2016, we often lack the ability to feel a deeper connection with events that took place hundreds of years ago. This all changed recently when we started reading All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald.
MacDonald starts his story in the 1960’s and progresses along until the reader reaches his present day life. MacDonald is an exemplary narrator due to his unique perspective. Growing up in the Southie projects allowed him to experience the city during some very influential events. One of these being the Boston Busing riots. MacDonald’s first hand account of the incidents, mainly in chapter four, become very real to the reader due to the descriptiveness of the individual riots. In addition to MacDonald’s account, many parents of the GBP students were in and around Boston during the riots. The combination of the two perspectives gives us students a way to connect with the historic events better.
In fact, the very reason I am in Needham Public Schools is a direct result of busing. My two sisters and I were born in Boston. We lived around the corner from an elementary school where we played on a regular basis with the other children in the neighborhood. However, due to the busing lottery system that was in place at that time, it was most likely that we would not attend our neighborhood school and we had no guarantee of being placed together as sisters. My parents had three choices: face the uncertainty of the lottery system, pay for private education, or move. The decision to move to Needham was difficult given that we left behind a wonderful home, with great neighbors, and close friends. Here in Needham I attended Mitchell Elementary, a short walk up the hill from my home. The proximity to home, made it easy for my parents and I to attend events, meet neighbors, and participate in and strengthen the community.
MacDonald further articulates how Boston busing affected communities from the Southie point of view. Many of the families being bused didn't have the opportunity to move or go to a private school, thus they were forced to watch their neighborhoods and communities deteriorate. There were multiple reasons that caused the communities to fall apart. The fact that many students had to go across town to their schools played a major role in the deterioration. A neighborhood school is a place where parents have the ability to connect with other parents and form a close knit group. When their child’s school is in another area, parents don’t always have the option to travel across Boston to that school and meet other parents. This creates a lack of community and close connection among the adults, that transfers onto their children. Because the communication aspect is missing, many communities slowly fell apart. In addition to the lack of close schools, people became less open to welcoming ‘outsiders’ into their lives. The strong sense of community felt before busing prevented the formation of other communities due to the us-versus-them mentality shared by many. The racial stereotypical views people had prevented many interracial relationships to form, especially in an area like Old Colony. Although the bulk of this issue occurred in the 1970's, the city of Boston is still changing because of it. Many parents with children approaching school-age continue to move out of the city in order to provide the education they wish for their children.
Although the forced busing was with good intention, the unintended consequences of busing have hurt the city. Desegregation of the schools was necessary, but forcing the two poorest schools in Boston, with some of the strongest communities, to immediately accept the changes caused many issues that could have been prevented. Thankfully, the Boston Public Schools have successfully desegregated, but the painful process has left many scars on Boston, as shown by MacDonald and existing issues within the system.
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