310. Integration

In 1974, I attended a rally in support of the integration of the Boston Public Schools. The featured speakers were Jonathan Kozol, James Meredith, and Benjamin Spock. I felt as if I was on the right (correct) side of the issue, and that only narrow-minded bigots were on the other side. I thought that integrating the
public schools was the only way to make them fair – that funding and talent was being hoarded by whites, and the unfair status quo was being perpetuated.
Elsewhere in Boston, there were rallies in support of the “neighborhood school” concept. People who were vehemently opposed to court-ordered busing carried signs and picketed. Some of them even had beards and wore love beads, looking very much like the people I’d wanted to picket with only a few years earlier (I’d been more afraid of tear gas, etc. than my peers, so I hadn’t actually joined them, but my spirit had been with them). Something in me wanted to tell them they had no right to look that way if they were going to oppose integration.
When I was a child, I went to schools that were near where I lived. They were somewhat integrated; there were sections of my town where non-whites lived, and there weren’t separate schools for those neighborhoods. Children who weren’t white tended to spend recess and lunch with other children who weren’t white, either. Some were black, some Hispanic, some Asian. Almost everyone rode buses to school; the school was next to a potato farm, not a neighborhood. But no one had to ride very far.
When I taught in Wellesley, there was a program called METCO, by which children were bused from Boston to various suburban schools, including those in Wellesley. It was a voluntary program, and it made it so that some classes in Wellesley (which was mostly white) had a few children who weren’t white. It also made it so that many children spent an inordinate amount of their time on buses. I don’t know how the situation was explained to each child, but some children and parents seemed to feel more positive about METCO than others. I think METCO did a lot of good: there were children who got to spend better time in school than they might have in Boston, and children in Wellesley got at least some exposure to racial diversity. But I digress. This was limited, voluntary integration. When I started writing this article, I intended to write about compulsory integration.
What was going on in 1974 was different from what is going on now. I still believe that integration is important. I don’t like it when it feels as if one race is getting an unfair advantage – as if skin color is a barrier to equal justice, and/or to friendship. But I’m more ready to listen to arguments against compulsory integration, mainly because many of the people I thought it would help most are now opposed to it.

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