Interview with Thomas Atkins

Let's end by going back to the beginning. Since we have some film, I'd like to get you reintroducing us to this whole story and telling us how and why it was that Black parents wound up in court.


The--the question of how we got to the federal court in the first place has to be put into context of what we had done before. And we'd done everything we could. We started from the premise that whatever we had to do to get our kids out of schools that were killing them educationally, we would do. And we tried everything. We tried meeting with people, with the school officials. And that didn't do any good. We tried taking the kids out of the school and using the open enrollment program and sending them to schools in West Roxbury or--or in Hyde Park. And there weren't enough seats to help most of the kids. The few that it helped we were glad for, but there weren't enough that could be helped. We tried meeting with state officials, and we finally got a law passed at the state level. As soon as it was passed it was clear it would never be implemented in Boston. Boston's resistance and--and will to fight was stronger than a state's will to enforce. We tried creating new schools. We tried finding opportunities through METCO for kids to go outside the Boston Public Schools but still stay in public schools. Or other kids to go to private schools. And again we couldn't create enough opportunities for enough of these kids and we were finally left with the reality that our kids were going to be for the most part in the public school system. And it was a public school system we had to deal with and there was only one place we could go and that was to court. And as between the state court and the federal court, it was too big for the state courts, and it was too hot for the state courts. So we just ran out of options. We filed a lawsuit in the federal court because there was no other place for us to go. It was literally the court of last resort.