Eighteen Months Face Down, Covered in Glass
My mother, Michelle K. Robinson was born in April of 1960, six years after segregation in public schools was declared unconstitutional and a violation of the 14th amendment. In 1974, in South Boston Massachusetts, my mother survived the Boston Bus Riots, a postscript to Brown vs. Board of Education ruling.
The sky was grey on a Tuesday morning when I opened the side door to my parents’ apartment; it was left open for me. I was there to interview my mother.
As I slunk through the morning kitchen heavy with the scent of coffee and dishes, my mother warmly shushed from the other room, “I hear you over there.” I settled down in the living room, dropping my jacket and bags on the floor and sitting cross-legged on a big, pink, and welcoming floor pillow. With a cup of black coffee and the record button pressed down on the phone in my hands, we began.
“We were always afraid that they were going to tip the bus over, and the only thing that stopped us from being afraid of that was the fact they were lined up on both sides,” Michelle rolled her eyes, exhaled deeply and lit her cigarette.
The Boston Bus Riots phenomena was the retaliation of Irish South Boston Residents in response to the court ordered busing of students from predominantly white to predominantly Black Boston schools and vice versa. Federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity put this in place during the summer of 1974.
Both white and black Boston students were bused to schools outside of their neighborhoods. But only the blacks were subjected to the war zone sonata playing outside their school bus windows.
For two years leading up to the riots, Michelle had the privilege of attending an all-girls private school with the help of a scholarship. This would temporarily halt the terror that awaited her in Boston’s public school system.
The private school served as an elegant distraction. Michelle took her classes in two refurbished mansions, and ate lunch on brimming white linen table clothes. The school was nearly all white, and definitely all rich.
“We weren’t poor, but going there, it made you feel poor, I was sick of it,” Michelle laughed incredulously explaining her experience in private school. “I had an attitude problem, I didn’t get the scholarship the third year, that’s how I ended up back in public school.”
Michelle had been in public school before her enrollment in private school, and participated in other desegregation targeted programs, but nothing could prepare her for the sickening violence that would follow her to school and back for the next eighteen months. She spent those months face down in a ball, covered in glass, and dodging rocks and bricks on a school bus floor.
The white residents of South Boston were livid, swelling with frustration. Their utter vehemence oozed over the city streets, coating the forming minds of young black children with malice and waving signs of disgust in the streets.
Poor white Irish parents, protestors, and people in white hooded cloaks lined the streets of the bus routes throwing bottles and bricks chanting, “2-4-6-8 we ain’t gonna integrate!” Michelle recalled the rhyme lucidly. The thin wall of law enforcement was all that stood between those kids and death.
The black students on their way to school, were the white blood cells that fed a social cancer. Then they chanted back at them, fearlessly through busted-out glassless windows, “8-6-4-2, 10 to 1 we bet you do!”
“At the same time, the white kids who rode the busses that drove through the black neighborhoods, they weren’t getting anything thrown at them! Like, no one ever even brings that up,” Michelle, my mom, stared through me genuinely asking no one, “Like, what is that? What is that?” I looked at her bleakly, and simply shook my head.
After eighteen months of hell, Michelle’s father, Gary Oliver Robinson got a promotion and they moved to Willingboro, New Jersey.
Willingboro was the country in comparison to Boston. As the racial war waged in Boston for years to come, and although the Willingboro HS was only fairly integrated, at least it was integrated at all. At least bottles and bricks were not being thrown.