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.

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 Old, outdated textbooks.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 – more than 50 years later – for politicians to use busing as a political tool. They are (again) ignoring the real issue of that volatile period in the name of getting votes from people who weren’t there when it happened and don’t understand it.

Shame on all of them!

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

Tags: , , , ,

22 replies

  1. No – being against forced busing in and of itself doesn’t make you racist. But having lived in Boston for a number of years during and after college, I’d say racism was probably a strong factor. I’ve lived many places, including in the South, and I have never seen the type of open racism I saw in Boston.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That may be true but I’m white, so I really am in no position to say. I’m pretty sure racism and bigotry is doing pretty well everywhere in America. Garry would know more about this as this is his side of the road.

      What I DO know is that racism had little to do with the failure of busing. Court-mandated busing was supposed to improve education — at which it failed. Completely. Both the poor white and poor black schools were as bad or worse after busing as they had been before. I think that pretty much defines failure.


    • Skanlyn, I agree about the open racism in Boston. I encountered it many places even our beloved Fenway Park where racism existed on and off the field but was never fully covered by the tradition bound media who didn’t want to rock any boats. The Fenway scene eventually evolved when the Yawkey administration was replaced by more forward thinking adults – changes in baseball and blatant societal wrongs that couldn’t be ignored with sports cliches.

      Yes, racism was one of the layers in the busing order but it wasn’t the “big picture” issue. That was quality and equal education for ALL students. The education issue was less sexy for those who played up the racism that was part of Boston’s history. If you talked to all those students caught up in the 70’s fervor, you’d find they were victims whose dreams of success were quashed by how the court ordered desegregation order was implemented. They were a “lost generation” when it came to education. I talked to many, years later, as adults with their own children. It was very sad.


  2. I remember this all so well and cannot believe that some still don’t really understand

    Liked by 1 person

    • I lot of people think they know what happened, but if they weren’t there, they really don’t know. Regardless, busing was a huge failure. It didn’t improve education which was its purpose. Instead of improving relations between the people, it made them much worse. I think those same schools have the same lousy education now as then. Or worse. And we spend a FORTUNE on that education. I don’t know how we can spend so much money on it and still never manage to get it right.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Beth, there are folks who still follow the serpent tongued leaders who prey on ignorance.

      I had a very closeup view of how things evolved. It was so easy to use racism as a political football and ignore the faulty education that devastated so many families.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing, Garry! It’s never to late to reveal those things that really need to be understood and changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the main frustration is the forced busing — fifty years later — is STILL being used as “an issue.” Never mind the real underlying issue of poor education for poor people. Pushing it as a racial issue takes the pressure off state and federal education officials to deal with making sure kids get educated. You’d think 50 years after this mess, we’d be way ahead, but we might actually be worse off than we were.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bette, thank you. I hope some folks are listening with an open mind or more generations will be lost to shoddy education. Elected officials and those seeking elective office need to do the right thing and deal with education – head on – without fanning the fires of racism. It’s a cheap way of gaining political success. So many young people are lost in the rhetoric that ignores the importance of quality education.

      Imagine all the Elmer Gantry types spewing their vitriol to folks who don’t know history.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve seen it all… Quality education should be an American value, not a political football game with winners and losers. Thanks for sharing!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Bette, yes, you have seen it all and must share my frustration.

          On another note, what did you think of last night’s “January 6th Congressional Hearing”?


          • Watching each and every one… The Committee continues to build a solid case and hopefully the DOJ is working diligently to ensure that justice is served. Trump is our nation’s and his own worst enemy. Let’s hope and pray that America wakes up before it’s too late! The clock is ticking…


  4. I’m excited to hear that Garry is being asked about those times or that topic by PBS. What a major issue it was, and apparently still is. I appreciate, very much, you’re sharing this writing today. I agree with you a hundred percent the subject matter needing addressing is really fair education for low-income areas and all children (and not only for medium to high income neighborhoods or via a seat on a bus or some luck in a drawing). I’ve wondered what the purpose was in Joe and Kamala bringing up the controversy and her attendance at a “white” school; I don’t see the inclusion in their campaigns as happenstance. Perhaps to show there doesn’t have to be a strict divide based in viewpoint on busing itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I wondered about it too especially because after all was said and done, busing didn’t accomplish anything. As Garry so well put it, they just moved students from one bad school to another. I don’t know why we have such poor education in places that ought to be much better.

      These days, it’s all about standardized testing. No one learns anything. They just learn how to take tests. If enough students flunk the tests, they just lower the bar until most everyone passes. That’s NOT education!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Marleen, this continues to be a hot button issue/political football.

      Joe & Kamala – the “White” school? A not so slick PR tool. But it plays to those not really thinking. It’s not happenstance.

      I recently visited Ray Flynn who was Boston’s Mayor (previously State Rep) during those tumultuous “busing” days. Flynn was a conscientious political leader who did his best to serve his city and communities while navigating the shark infested political waters that almost divided Boston. During my visit, Mayor Flynn and I shared regret about what we could not accomplish but agreed we did our best to help those left in harm’s way – Boston’s school children. That’s a chunk of history that is seemingly forgotten or misremembered by today’s political and community leaders.

      The race card is still played with today’s students a new generation of victims when it comes to quality education. A genuine pity.


      • A melancholy and disconcerting, even worrisome to heartbreaking, true evaluation — “forgotten or misremembered.” It’s good you could reminisce with the mayor.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. I’ve heard this story many times although recently, probably because there is an anniversary date coming up, Garry has been interviewed by PBS and other stations interested in taking a new look at what happened. Of all of the work he did which got him praise, I think he most regrets never being allowed to tell this story the way it should have been told.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, a genuine regret. Maybe I should’ve pushed harder. I really did try.


      • I know you did. And even now, you still fret about it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Amid my tongue lashing of political and community leaders who misled their constituents and followers, I should give a shout out to those leaders who did their best to calm the racial fires and focus on the education inequity that was the heart and soul of the federal court order.

          Mel King, a Black Community activist and Raymond Flynn, a White community activist who served as a state legislator and then later as Boston’s Mayor — did their best to bring Boston together. Hats off to these men and all the others who fought the good fight but were often ignored or misquoted.


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