I was in the middle of what I honestly call the Boston busing fiasco. On center stage, it played as a racial divide between Boston’s white and minority communities. It played well in the media – especially national and international media where they didn’t understand the local sentiments. The local news stations did a little better — when they tried.

Boston was sarcastically labeled as “The Athens Of America” in this period.

Boston busing – Opposing busing didn’t mean you opposed integration – Boston Globe

The key which I discovered by listening to students and parents – white and minority — was lack of quality education. Busing poor, low-income kids -Black and White – didn’t solve the problem of inferior education. Old, outdated textbooks. Antiquated curriculums. Teachers disenchanted by the lack of respect in pay and regard. Oversized classrooms where teaching was a mission impossible.

Time and again, I heard the same complaints from communities that reportedly were “racially divided” by Federally-mandated busing.

Students were transported from substandard schools in one community to substandard schools in another community. Few bothered to mention this. Most said it was a racial divide which was a cheap way to deflect the ball dropped by courts, legislators and local politicians who saw this as a way to build their constituencies by playing the race card instead of dealing with the fundamental issue: the lack of quality education in Boston’s low-income communities.

After I heard the anger over lack of quality education which was repeated over and over by white and Black families, I went with that as the core of my reports.

Truth be told though, I usually led stories with the standard visual images of angry crowds shouting racial epithets, school buses being stoned, and students threatened. Those images were overemphasized and inaccurately interpreted by national and international journalists and commentators.

I often tried to explain things to the network reporters, but they blew me off, labeling me as a local unable to see the big picture. It was exactly the opposite. They didn’t see the picture and they weren’t looking for it, either.

Many local politicians and community leaders – who really knew better — preyed on their constituents for votes instead of trying to calm the firestorm which often turned violent. We in the local media played the violence up, too because it brought in big ratings and that’s what our bosses wanted. If you wanted your job, there was no escaping the error.

Real efforts to explain the education issues were left to minority affairs shows which aired while most people slept.

Although I was proud of my body of work and earned an Emmy for coverage of that era, it was a bittersweet honor. Had I been able to cover it honestly, it would have been a different story.

There’s certainly no excuse – 50 years later – for Presidential hopefuls to use busing as a political tool. Again, they are ignoring the real issue of that volatile period in the name of getting some votes from people who weren’t here and don’t understand what really happened.

Shame on all of them!

You might find reading today’s Boston Globe’s article:

Categories: #News, #Photography, Boston, Education, Garry Armstrong, newspapers, politicians, Politics, reporting

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15 replies

  1. I was bused..neither of my brothers were, nor my sisters as it was such a bad experiment of the part of the school superintendents. I fell into the “all fourth graders will be bused”…regardless of school they attended. I had a GREAT school in a neighborhood of Pentagon officials, military officers, politicians and medical professionals. I was bused, along with all my classmates, to a predominantly black school 45 miles away. Those kids were bused to a school in Arlington, and the Arlington kids came to the school I had previously attended. NO ONE learned much of anything that year. The following year, it was decided that “only the black schools will be bused” and I was able to go to my own block away elementary school….which was now extremely overcrowded. Originally we had about 12 kids per class..we went up to 40 kids per class. We still didn’t learn very much. By the third year, no one was bused as a single black family (He worked at the Pentagon) moved into our neighborhood and we were “sufficiently integrated”. Lord, the things we do……

    Liked by 2 people

  2. In Utah I don’t think that kind of volatility existed or maybe I was too young to realize it. We walked to school, in fact it wasn’t until I was in 8th grade that I ever rode a school bus at all. Culture shock too. My family had moved from Salt Lake City (almost entirely white) to West Jordan, which was home to a lot of migrant worker families (Hispanic) and really poor white families. I don’t think I ever met an African American until I was in my early 20s and working for a really huge company that employed ONE. Now all sorts of nationalities are seen in Salt Lake City, but I still don’t think Utah ever got the impact that the East Coast did vis a vis the busing issue. And morons in the form of administrators and politicians who are out of touch with their constituency and more so with the children who are being made pawns in some idiotic game of political chess. Fie on those politicians. Shame on them indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…morons in the form of adminstrators and politicians” — they sold their souls for political and financial rewards. There should be karma for them.


  3. Very interesting Garry. It goes to show you that you can do great investigative research into the subject but the powers that be can cherry pick the photos and write up, to come up with their own conclusions. It has to have been very frustrating. I’m glad I heard your side of the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The bizarre thing is that I think I lot of people who WERE there didn’t get it either. You had to talk to both the white and minority parents and kids … and then realize that neither school was better than the other and that moving the kids around was a lose-lose proposition.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That’s so frustrating. To go through all that and nothing much was gained. It had to be very difficult for the kids that were being bused too…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Leslie, I did followups and even a 25 year retrospective (embarrasingly brief – “to keep the viewer’s attention” on busing and school desegregation. I talked to parents who had been students during the early phases of Boston school degregation. I recall Moms and Dads — White and Black — with babies on laps or shoulders – recalling the violence in their school days. Their faces twisted in anguish as they remembered those not so good old days. A few apologized for yelling racial epipthets at me and other minority reports. Black adults asked forgiveness for calling me “Uncle Tom”. The common thread – bitterness among those forced into busing to improve their education. They lamented lost youth and poor education which robbed them of pursuing their dreams to succeed as adults. Many had low income jobs like their parents. No chance to climb the social ladder a rung or two. Those who attended private and or parochial schools fared better but acknowledged back lashes from the busing debacle. Some communities and families were ripped apart by the so-called racial divide. I’ve maintained connection with a few politicians and communities leaders who tried – in frustration – to calm the waters. We share respect for each other but regret we couldn’t do better for scores of young, vulnerable students.

      I hope sanity prevails in today’s political conversation as some who seek support cede to their darker angels.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I know you must feel very frustrated by the whole situation. I would encourage you to write about it. Eventually someone will read it and take note. It’s as if they just wanted to do something/anything but they didn’t have a clue how to go about it.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Garry, did you ever talk to the kids who were bused to different schools? I was in a school where the minority schools got bused to my school. I made friends with this one girl. We loved to play and talk and do things normal 4th graders do. The sad thing was that she could never come to my house nor could I go to her house to play. The differences between us seemed wider. Here I had a friend, I could never see outside of school.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Cee, yes. MANY times I talked to the kids –black and white – who were bused to different schools. Once I got past their initial and unerstandable hostility, I heard the same complaints. They all complained about overcrowded classrooms, old (if they HAD them) outdated text books, teachers who were tasked with anger management rather than teaching and older people who pretended to speak for hem but were just shills,

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The assumption that busing students from school to school failed to accomplish anything positive as far as schooling went is intelligent, not racist. GARRY covered the story for Channel 7 (then CBS network affiliated) and he is definitely NOT white. He thought it was bad for everyone — except the politicians and media. Politicians got votes and donations while the media made money. The kids got pretty much no education at all because they were in the middle of a massive riot that never ended. They didn’t get their prom or senior year with their friends … or any of those memories that sometimes make high school worth attending — even if the quality of education is lousy.

    Study after study shows busing DID NOT WORK in any region where it was forced on people by judges whose kids, you can be sure, were NOT getting bused.

    To be using this as a political weapon 50 years later is pathetic. For those who think Kamala’s little “rant” was “just an accident,” if you believe that, you believe in magic, too. She knew exactly what she was doing and why she was doing it. She came from a well-to-do neighborhood and was bused from one well-to-do-school to another well-to-do-school. She wasn’t one of those poor kids forced to travel for hours on aging buses to go to a school of no better than the one they were leaving. In Boston and in many other areas, forced busing merely exchanged one poor-quality school for a different and far less friendly one. This is NOT progress.

    If I had any thought of voting for Kamala, I’m now very doubtful about her — even as a person. Playing the race card this early in the primaries shows that her goal is to win at any price. We already have one of those losers in office. We don’t need another one. I don’t like the politics where the big idea is to shame your colleagues, preferably to as big an audience as possible. Hasn’t the Democratic party seen enough of that yet? Are Democrats really that stupid?

    The big battles between Hillary and Bernie had a lot to do with our losing the race in 2016. So now — are we going to do it again? Seriously? That’s our strategy?

    I know we are generally disorganized and inclined to shoot ourselves in our own feet, but this is one of those times when we need to get it together and not act like a pack of rats who just found a pile of unguarded cheese.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s discouraging, REALLY discouraging to see this volatile issue played out AGAIN on the political stage – by PRESIDENTIAL hopefuls trying to get support. I hope people track history for the REAL story about forced busing and school desegregation.
      Those of us who covered the story and saw the truth — half a century ago — can only shake our heads in disgust. This isn’t “pay it forward”. It’s ‘print the legend’ in the most foul way.

      At least one or two generations of Boston’s youth — white and black — were victimized by those who polarized the issue for their own benefit. It’s really a very cheap and rabble rousing way to block out the truth. It’s the same thing we complain about in today’s politics. It’s shameful for those who know better and don’t care. SHAME!

      Quality education is priceless. We have debt to pay. Remember that as you follow today’s political follies. Do NOT ignore history.



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