Interview with Thomas Atkins

Can you give me a sense of what political activities had gone on, what your feeling was about the rate of success with dealing with the city, state and federal level in terms of this issue?


B--We started dealing at the city level ah, because that was the most logical thing to do. Nobody thought we were going to wind up dealing with an issue ah, as big as what it eventually became. And nothing succeeded at the city level. We got no support. Ah, we, we couldn't even get the Boston School Committee to acknowledge that there were schools that were segregated, never mind how it happened. We weren't initially asking them to admit ah, to any illegal action. We simply wanted them to acknowledge that there was a problem because we felt that was a predicate for doing something about the problem. They wouldn't agree to that. Ah, we could not get the mayor, none of the mayors, ah, to ah, use whatever political clout they had to muscle the school committee into addressing this problem. Ah, we certainly could not get the votes in the school committee elections to throw the fools out ah, who couldn't see schools ah, that were all Black as a segregated school. So we had abandoned the city as a, as a, as a place to get any kind of political response or relief. The city was a wasteland. We went to the state. Ah, in 1965 on a bill that had been filed ah, several years in a row by Edward Boland[SIC], ah, state representative Edward Boland. Ah, eventually the bill passed in a form that came to be known as the state's Racial Imbalance Law, what was hailed all over the country as a dramatic ah, new step. When in fact, by the time the bill came out of the committee, we knew that it was worthless to us. Ah. We wanted a bill that would address the problem of racial segregation. What we got was a bill that identified schools that were more than fifty percent Black as illegal. Well, what about schools that were a hundred percent White? To us those were segregated too. The school--The bill that we got ah, gave very limited powers to the state to correct the problem. They had to go through an extraordinarily long and drawn out bureaucratic process ah, which eventually d--meant that they had to go into court. They had to go to court to get relief for the kids. And we saw when they started trying to do this--It didn't work. Boston was stronger than the state. It was more determined to resist than the state was to enforce. And Boston fought the state Board of Education and the state commissioner of education at every term and succeeded in bottling them up. By 1972, ah, the efforts at the state level were so clearly thwarted that ah, the feeling was if relief is going to come it will come only at the federal level. And if it's going to come at the federal level in 1972--you got Richard Nixon in the White House. I mean, he's not going to help us. Ah, so if it's going to come at the federal level ah, there's only one place it's going to come from. And that's out of the courts. That's why we got to the courts in the first place. It was by a simple--not very quick--process of elimination. We eliminated all of the other alternatives except filing the federal lawsuit.