Desegregation Day

By TOM SHEEHAN  |  September 17, 2009

At noon, when police attempted to clear an area near the front gate to the school, there was a significant escalation. This time the crowd took on the cops directly, throwing bottles and rocks, and the wildest melee of the day developed as police charged on horseback after the offenders.

Once again the crowd drifted away, once again it gradually drifted back, and as the school closing time approached there was every reason to expect more trouble.

"It could have been a lot worse this morning if a couple of thousand had showed up," said one city worker who asked not to be identified. "But I'm worried now. The kids are out there drinking. You can see them in groups on the sidestreets."

To other observers there was a more frightening element -- the kids' mothers.

"It's like Belfast," said a correspondent for a Swedish paper. "The women look the same, talk the same, and seem to be just as tough. Anytime there's any trouble, you see them egging the kids on."

The women in the crowd we spoke had two things in common: they all said they saw no sense in busing kids away from the neighborhood school and they were all unwilling to be quoted by name.

Beyond that they offered varied reasons for their opposition to busing and their presence at the school.

"The whites had the brains to stay out [of school] today," said one. "Why didn't the colored stay out? Because they're defiant, that's why."

"A lot of kids play hockey here," said another. "It's a good team and they don't want to break it up just for a political thing."

All the mothers we spoke to said they would "never" send their children to school as long as busing remained in effect. Among the kids themselves, however, the feeling was not always that strong.

"I'll stay out," said one, "as long as everybody else does."

In the end, neither the kids nor their mothers had a chance to take out their feelings on the blacks as they left the school Thursday. At half past one the police, many now equipped in riot helmets, once again cleared the area around the school, making at least two arrests in the process. (The arrest total around the vicinity of the school Thursday was six.)

All 56 of the blacks were loaded onto two buses, and the buses got back to their starting points without incident.

But other buses traveling the same route -- along Day Blvd. that skirts the harbor -- were not so fortunate. According to reports late Thursday, nine black students and a bus monitor were injured by flying glass when their buses were stoned by crowds along the boulevard. The students, from the Gavin School and the L Street annex to South Boston High, were not seriously injured.

Late Thursday Boston Mayor Kevin White responded to the violence with the announcement that groups of more than three people congregating near schools would be asked to disperse, and arrested if they didn't, and all buses would be escorted into and out of Southie by the police.

"The troublemakers in South Boston," said the mayor, "will be isolated, will be dealt with severely, and will not be allowed to continue disruption or acts of violence ...."

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