Interview with Thomas Atkins

Now, let's go back to Boston facing the deseg struggles. I want you to give me a sense of were there any disagreements within the community about this strategy, was everyone for investing all this energy and money and time into an integration fight? How did that all go down?


When the decision was made to file the lawsuit in the first place, there was no ah, agreed upon strategy as to what the solution, what the remedy was going to be. The NAACP did not have a remedy. It didn't have a, a proposal in its pocket or stashed away in a drawer somewhere as to what the judge ought to do if he agreed ah, with the lawsuit that was filed. After--And as a, as a matter of law, the nature of the remedy that you get, says the Supreme Court, must be tailored ah, by the scope of the violation you've proven in court. So you can't really start putting a, a, a remedy together, a solution together until you have proven the dimensions of the problem you've described. The, the, the actual work in developing a remedy did not start until Garrity's decision came down in June of '74. That's the reality. People find that hard to believe. They say, "oh, you knew what you were going to do." Well we didn't know what we were going to do. Ah, so work began on developing a remedy. Ah, in the community there were enormous diverse--diverse views. There's always been diverse views in the Black community a-around education and about everything else. I, I don't remember a single time over the last 25 years, literally, 25 years when on any of the major educational issues there has been a total community consensus. Ah, we had people in the Black community in 1963--we got 'em in 1988--who say Black people will never be properly treated in a system that is run by White folks. We need to retreat, get our own resources, control our schools and teach our own kids, protect them from a system that is racist. Some call that a separatist view. Some call it a pragmatic view. It's never happened. Ah, we've had people for this entire ah, period, this entire generation who have argued that what was needed was a s--a means of maximizing the choices that parents had. Ah, those parents who want their kids in the public schools, fine. Those--There are maybe some who want their kids in private school. Give them the chance. There may be some who want their kids in public school but not in Boston. That's what METCO was about, public schools outside of Boston. There may be parents who want their kids in parochial schools. Well let's give them that opportunity. There may be parents who want their kids in schools that have never been created yet. They have an idea about some innovative approach. That school of thought is, is committed to the notion of maximizing choices. And then there are those who, who felt that for now, and the foreseeable future, most of the kids in the Black community are going to be in the public school system. And what they get is going to be determined by what it does and that we simply cannot afford to permit it, that system, ah, to function without input from us. It was that view which eventually convinced a majority to come together and say, whatever else we do, we need to file this law suit. You know, we're not, the people who believed in maximizing choices, did not give up that, that search. They worked with Exodus, the worked with METCO, they worked with the BRIDGE. Ah, people who believed, in, in, ah, ah, the notion of, ah, developing schools that would be controlled by the community did not give up that. Ah, schools began to be formed in the Black community and there are still some that exist. But everybody agreed that most of our kids were going to wind up in schools run by the Boston Public School System. And that whatever else was done, we had to focus on that system.