Interview with Ellen Jackson
QUESTION 12
JACKIE SHEARER:

OK so you're at Bayside Mall.

ELLEN JACKSON:

We were at Bayside Mall trying to find out from the officials there what they were going to do, how they were going to do it and that is to get the young people out of South Boston High. And basically what was happening at that point up at the high school was that the word had gotten out in that community, of the South Boston community that a young man had been stabbed by a Black, ah, youngster. And of course this was something that in any community was a tragedy. And they didn't know how badly he had been stabbed and what the condition, his condition was. Ah, and people, the word of mouth had gotten around, people were getting together. Concerned whose child it was. It wasn't mine. My neighbors, whatever. And no one was able to give out any information. Meanwhile inside the building there was chaos and havoc wreaking because the kids were fighting. Ah, and they were scared. And they didn't know if there was going to be some kind of, ah, retaliation. Ah, and so the, the first command, what we understood what it was to keep all the students in the classroom. Well the White kids started walking out. And the police let them because remember that school was under recievership. So they let them walk out. In fact I think maybe it was best that they did, in hindsight. Ah, so there were no more fighting, there was no more fighting going on within the building. Down at the mall, we're worried because we don't know why they're not moving in. We, we expected to see the motorcycles. We expected to see whatever, ah, security go up and take these kids out of the school. Well that's because we again did not know how serious the, the mob had got outside. And they were angry. And they were going to, ah, attack the school. They were going to, to try to break into the school. Meanwhile they were suggesting inside that they should put all the youngsters together in one classroom. And something terrible was happening in peop- with people at that time. And, I mean throughout this whole thing. But people really wear their ugly racist heads and, and, and, and when the teachers and the, teachers aids that would come on, who came on the bus with the students would try to go from one classroom to another as they thought the noise and people were coming closer. At least from, from their vantage point. The doors were being locked on them. They couldn't. Old Boston schools have these, ah, connecting doors like homes, you know, from one room to another. They couldn't get through. And each exit that they thought they could get out, that the doors were being locked. And allegedly the doors were being locked by the custodians. And that was a dreadful thing to hear because the teachers were panicking and they couldn't help but panic. And their panic was of course being expressed to the children. Meanwhile we're screaming. I mean we were literally screaming at the police now. We were talking to Dick Grasi[SIC]. We were talking to Micky Roache who was then the head of the tactical police force. Joe Jordan was actually head of the police, tactical police force. And, ah, we wanted to know, we demanded to know what they were going to do. And they kept going off in little huddles and they would talk. And then they would come back. And they seemed to be just too calm for us. And people were asking us, "Ellen, what's going to happen? What are we going to do?" And more people were coming. There was some militant groups that had formed during that period who, you know, expressed their concern. And they, you know, was being very vocal about how they thought it should be handled. And, ah, we didn't know what to do. We were really very frustrated and concerned about how this was going to work out. Then finally, after some dialogue which seemed like forever, a few of us were asked to come to the side, ah, of one of the busses to talk to Joe Jordan and to a few other people. And we did. And the plan was that some of us would go up on the bus, and this was going to be, there would be at least four to five busses that would be going up the hill. And three of those busses were going to be decoy busses. We were going to, we were asked to, we volunteered to go out and we weren't asked to do it but we said, "We're darn right", here was a chance to prove to the parents and demonstrate as they had said to us sometime early back, maybe it was the first day of school. "You need to be put in a position. You're sending our kids out there. You need to find out what those kids are going through." So some of us said, "Yes." And I remember because I was the only woman. At first they wouldn't let, they said I couldn't go. And I said, "You all are going, I'm, going, you know. I'm going. That's all there is to it. I don't think anybody's going to be able to stop me." So we got on the bus and we tried to joke. We were lying on the floor. Percy Wilson, who was the head of Multi-service, say, "Oh God, I thought I left these days in Mississippi. I didn't think I would be into this kind of situation again." But we were nervous. Frankly we were scared. But we went up, and when we got closer to the school, we could hear the noise. And it's a hollow feeling when you go up that hill**. Anytime there's a noise. It seems like it goes back to the water and just very echoey. And we could hear the yelling. Could hear the sirens and things. And the idea and the objective was that we weren't supposed to ah dance it up in the seats. After awhile they took the bus around, there was a circle. And the bus was going to go, then we would sit up in the seat. And for five minutes while we, it would seem as though the students were being, ah, put on the busses, they were being put on these other two busses and they were told to lie on the floor. And our bus came around the regular route and they had mapped out. All these time we thought they were being very nonchalant and uncaring about this whole situation, at the mall they were planning a strategy. A very good strategy. So that we came around the front part of the building where the people, the mob in a sense, crazy mob was and they could see us. Ah, we were crouching so we would look like students. We weren't sitting straight up. So they could see that we were, so called, adults. And while we were trying to distract them, ah, hopefully distracting them, the two busses with the students would take another route and, and get down the hill. Well we came around that corner, first of all just a few minutes before then, Louise Day Hicks had mounted the stairs of the school and she was really attempting to ask the people to be patient, to be careful and to not do anything that they would be sorry for. They weren't paying, all the years that they paid that lady some mind wouldn't move without her and, and supported and respected her, you know where I stand, ah, posture, they did not care. They were out for blood that day. They were out to kill and hurt and maim somebody. Because although there were a lot of parents who were concerned about their kids and angry, there were a lot of other types of people out there too who didn't care about Black kids, who didn't care about White kids, who didn't care about anybody, were just there to stir up trouble. And it was very clear that they were egging the mob on. I mean they were shouting and they were screaming. They were shouting at her, "Get down." I think she even got pelted with an orange or an apple or something. And finally the police told her she was not helping, that she had to get down off the, ah, stairs. But they didn't listen to her. They weren't listening to anybody. When we started down that hill, I tell you they rushed the police, past the police and started rocking that bus. Those busses, I know they rocked the one I was on. And as we were going down they started throwing everything they could get in their hands. Not rocks, they looked like boulders. Seemed like someone would have to pick, take two hands and throw these things into the, into the bus. And we finally got down the hill and when we got down the hill, it was complete silence, complete silence on the bus. And I think a lot of us just started crying. Fear and anger and hurt and it, it was a real traumatic time, when I think about it. And then we started laughing because we started picking glass out of each other. Somebody would lean down and says, "got all this glass in your hair." You know, ah, "Are you OK?" Yeah, we're OK. And people were cheering and shouting and hugging us. And you know, one of my kids was there and said, "Mommy, you shouldn't have gone up the hill, you know that was very dangerous." And somebody said, "You know you're not going to stop EJ from doing what she wants to do. And we kind of laughed and joked about it at that point. But it was, ah, it was a frightening thing. And for us, so it was, it was even more frightening when we reflected on it because we thought of what could have happened to those kids. Because here we were adults and we were scared to death. And I know those kids would have been petrified. Ah, that was another day that I'll never forget, ah, ah.