Interview with Ruth Batson

Can you describe the Boston school committee as a political body for us?


Well, it's important to note that the Boston school committee was a unique political body. For one thing it had always been used as a stepping stone to a higher office. The um, members were unpaid and of course, the only reason for them to serve was never their um, interests in education because I used to attend a number of school committee meetings. And the only things I would hear discussed would be promotions and assignments, things like that. Very seldom did you hear real educational issues discussed. Now, um, Louise Day Hicks was chairperson of the school committee at that time. And it's interesting to note that um, some of the people on the NAACP general committee felt that she would meet our concerns favorably. Um, she had been endorsed by the Citizens for Public Schools before. And so they thought that oh, Louise'll be fine. Well, um, Louise turned out to be not fine at all. She was an enemy from the minute that we stepped into that door. And this shocked a lot of people. Somehow she was smart enough to know that here was an issue that she can hang onto and move, just move ahead. Well, after that meeting we were asked to come to a private meeting with the members of Boston school committee. No press. Just us and them. And so we would sit down and we would talk. And one of the things that was interesting about her is that she would completely ignore me and talk to the men. Um, she never addressed me directly. I would continue to address her but she ignored me completely. And as we moved on she became tougher. Um, at one point she said, "The word that I'm objecting to is segregation. As long as you talk about segregation I won't discuss this." Well, now, remember now, we didn't get past the de facto segregation issue. And so um, we would drop these little sentences saying where there is a majority of Black students, these students are not being, ah, given the education that other people are given and so forth and so on. And she'd say, "Does that mean segregation?" And so the whole thing would be dropped. We went through all these routines with her. And the other thing that's interesting you know, when we'd come back to a board meeting and report there were some members of the board that said, well you know, the problem with this, the reason this is not being taken care of is that there are two women heading up this negotiation. And that you know, women are emotional and so forth, but I had wonderful co-workers on that committee, Paul Parks and Mel King and they immediately debunked that theory. But these are the kinds of things that we were getting, plus with the press. The press came out. NAACP is wrong. This is wrong. We got very little public support and we got absolutely no um, political support. I remember once um, when Martin Luther King came. I think it was 1967. I, I'm not sure. Came to Boston. And one of the things he was going to do when he was here was go visit the school committee and go visit the mayor and so forth. He never got to the school committee. But we did go to see the mayor who was Mayor Collins and he made an appeal on the basis of peace and s--that we'd got no public support whatsoever. And so what the, then, now the people in the community started to react. Um, there were um, um, pray-ins outside there. We had a minister whose name was Reverend Vernon Carter who did a walk for I don't know how many days in front of the school committee. And then we decided one night to sit in. And ah, we went. We sat there. We were sitting there waiting to be arrested. And ah, the captain came and announced that if you're not gone in t--so and so minutes you'll be arrested. When Melnea Cass, that wonderful woman, um, who was always called the First Lady of Roxbury, walked in and sat right in with us. And of course, nobody was going to arrest Mrs. Cass. We did all kinds of things outside that school committee. We did all kinds of, made all kinds of appeals. And they would do nothing. In the meantime, Louise Day Hicks' fame was spreading and she was a cult hero. They loved her. And ah, the only person that we had on that Boston school committee who supported us was a man named Arthur Gartland. So constantly we had these five to one votes. And of course, he was vilified in this city. It was a horrible time to live in Boston. I also got, oh, all kinds of hate mail. Horrible stuff. And, and I also got calls from Black people in Boston and they would call up and they'd say, "Mrs. Batson, I know you think you're doing a good thing. And maybe where you came from there was segregation, but we don't have segregation in Boston." And I would say to them all, "Where do I come from?" And invariably they would say South Carolina or North Carolina. Of course, now, I was born in Boston. So there were people who could not accept the fact that this horrible thing was happening to Boston, the city of culture.


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