Monday was a day we'd been looking forward to for a while.
HeyMama and MeToo started their respective Kindergarten classes in a wonderful little Boston Public elementary school. LittleDebbie started part-time daycare in a wonderful little home day care center in our neighborhood. All 3 girls walked in the door with a smile on their face, and all 3 had great days.
While I was getting dressed for work, I listened to a report on NPR commemorating the 40th anniversary of forced integration, or "bussing", in Boston Public Schools. So much has changed in 40 years.
I drove the girls to their first day of school. We parked on a street near the school and walked together; BestestHusband rode his bike and met up with us. Children and parents were milling around excitedly outside. Parents from the Parent Council wrote down our email addresses, gave us name tags, and served us coffee and treats. We introduced ourselves to parents who also looked new, and were swarmed by parents who weren't. We were from multiple neighborhoods around town, but found some families that lived a short walk from us and shared the same bus stop. The principal rang his chime, and the hubbub died down. He directed children and parents to their places for the welcoming ceremony. We formed a circle in the middle of the parking lot. The new Kindergarteners were in the middle, the bigger kids were around them, and parents were on the outside. We held hands around the circle. The principal talked about the importance of school and the values we were all to share. Everyone there was directed toward that purpose. We were supposed to be a community.
But the audio played of the first day of school 40 years ago was quite different, and still rang in my ears. People were yelling and screaming. Glass was shattering. Police were trying to separate an angry mob from the schoolchildren they were throwing bricks at. Yes. People were throwing bricks into busses full of children. And spitting on them as they tried to get into school.
Let me repeat that.
People were throwing bricks at children on their way to school.
It was because the federal mandates to integrate schools were finally being enforced. Children from white neighborhoods were being put on busses to go to schools in black neighborhoods. And children in black neighborhoods were being put on busses to go to schools in white neighborhoods. And people were angry.
It's hard to imagine this side of Boston today. Sure the neighborhoods still have old tradition, and the elderly that live there reflect the neighborhoods' pasts. Rozzie still has a lot of people of Greek origin. West Rox is still very Irish. South Boston is still very Irish, too. The North End is still very Italian. Dorchester and Mattapan still hold generations of African-American families. But they all now hold immigrants, too. And newcomers from other parts of the US, lured to Boston by universities, like us. You don't get beat up for going to the wrong neighborhood anymore.
When I watched my girls walk into their new school, I never doubted that they'd be safe. Of course they would be. But I couldn't help but think of those parents 40 years ago, wondering if they'd made the wrong choice by making their kids go to school. Many of them weren't wealthy enough to move to the burbs. And the Catholic schools had frozen enrollment, so there was nowhere else for them to go. How do you choose between an education and safety?
As I looked at the name tags and listened to the names called during the school assembly, I saw that the forced integration had worked. My girls' classmates will have names like Molly, Jack, Brianna, Messiah, Rashan, and Athena. This would be unthinkable 40 years ago.
Yesterday, I put the girls on the bus for the first time. We watched more than a dozen busses pass before theirs arrived. Children from our neighborhood were scattering to various schools on busses that fanned out around the city. This is the ongoing process of "bussing". Neighborhoods can no longer be insular. My girls gleefully climbed the steps for their first bus ride to school. They smiled back at me, waved, and disappeared. There would be no bricks. There would be no riot police. There would just be children going to school.
We have much to be thankful for.
PS. I don't want to sound so blithe to imply that I don't recognize that there are still serious race and class issues in the city of Boston. There are. One of the gripping articles that I read on the matter talked about the communities of S. Boston and Dorchester that first experienced bussing; it observed that it's the poorer communities that bear the brunt of the challenges and shortcomings of the public education system. This, alas, has not changed in 40 years. We talk about how, when we got seats at the girls' school, we won the school lottery. But the reality is that we had already won by having the ability to buy out to a wealthier school district.