Ronald Forminsano has presented a fascinating look at the famous Boston busing crisis of the 1970's. He does a good job of establishing the basic facts and identifying the major players in the crisis. He gives a penetrating look at Judge Arthur Garrity who mandated that the South Boston white students be bused to Roxbury and the black students from Roxbury be bused to South Boston.
This mandate was very controversial from the beginning. President Gerald Ford spoke out as thinking the move was ill-advised. Boston mayor Kevin White tried his best to implement the judge's decision. He had his hands full with vocal opponents like Louise Day Hicks, John Kerrigan, and Pixie Palladino.
Formisano points out that there was a populist backlash from the residents of South Boston. Parents resented the fact that their children were selected for integration. The situation on the ground was turbulent as white students were persecuted in the black community and vice versa.
Formisano admitted that there were some problems with the mandate. However, he generally supported the plan as a means to establish overdue integration of the districts. The problem is that South Boston and Roxbury families were chosen to be pawns in a war that was not of their choosing. I believe that people have the right to receive and education in the region where they live. Roxbury and South Boston were not able to effectively protest the move because the residents were from a low socio-economic level and were not able to establish influential connections.
Roxbury and South Boston were arbitrary sources for Judge Garrity's social engineering experiment. Boston suburbs like Newton and Wellsley are lily-white and were even more in need of an influx of racial diversity. These wealthy and well-connected communities were not forced to integrate. The parents in those districts would have likely fought integration efforts with passion. However, these same "enlightened" parents were often proponents of the busing policies. As long as it did not effect their children, they supported the mandate. I find this to be very hypocritical and that the mandate unfairly discriminated against poorer students and families.
In the end, the busing policy did not benefit whites or blacks. A whole generation of students suffered the scars of being on the front line of this highly-politicized battle. I have friends who lived throught the crisis and they almost unanimously tell me that this policy was a complete disaster and a failed social experiment.
There was need for communities to integrate. There is no denying this fact. However, the integration could have occurred in a less-intrusive manner. For example, the METCO program is more voluntary and has enabled African-American children to broaden their horizons and have opportunities that would not ordinarily available. White communities benefit from the diversity in such instances. This was not the case in the Boston busing crisis. No one was the winner in this failed social experiment.
Overall, I liked Formisano's book. He outlined the basic information of the case. He argued the pros and cons of the controversy. He identified the supporters and opponents of the mandate with clarity. I disagree with his overall position, but I found the work to be heartfelt and sincere. The book was well-written and I learned a lot about this controversial period in Boston history that became a national news story in the contentious 1970's.