Interview with Ellen Jackson

Over the summer of 1974, um, what was the mood in the Black community in terms of upcoming school deseg?


The mood was one of confusion, concern and fear because the elected officials in that, during that summer of 1974 after the order had been, ah, given by Judge Garrity, ah were very often making statements that this would not happen**. Ah, and statements were coming out of certain segments of Boston, specifically out of South Boston indicating that these students were not going to be welcomed into the schools. They would do anything that they had to do to keep students from entering the schools in South Boston. We attempted at Freedom House over the summer months to try to allay some of the fears that parents had. We attended most of the meetings that ah, the Mayor Kevin White, called at the Parkman House in the Carriage Room, of various, ah, people, community agencies, the justice department, the police department, the fire department, school officials, ah, and a few representatives to see how he could call us and work on, you know, disseminating the appropriate and accurate information to parents. Well, we even talked with the publishers of the major newspapers in the city and asked them if they would devote a special time and space to sharing with parents what they could expect, where they should go if they had questions. Again, it didn't happen in our community, ah, in a fashion that our parents and other concerned people could grasp. So what we started having was, n, nightly meetings with various principals. And particularly we had a meeting with the, ah, the principal of South Boston High, Mr. Reid, at that time. And asked him to come over and we would just have a kind of, of, a question and answer period of what parents could expect. And what kind of commitment he was prepared to make. And it worked out all right, the first session. Basically because there weren't many parents. It was an evening meeting and we tried to take into consideration and be sensitive to working parents. And we had it, it was also the idea if they had to go home to feed the children and do a lot of other kinds of things, they had no time to do during the day. We come from a working community. Ah, so it was an early meeting and many parents did not show, not too many parents showed. But it, it was clear that Mr. Reid was attempting in his own way to allay again the fears that parents may have whose children might end up in his particular school. We then talked to him, ah, about an idea of breaking bread together. We thought about bringing some of the parents over from South Boston who have never been to Roxbury. To Freedom House on a Sunday afternoon to have some kind of repast with us. And believe it or not, there must have been about 15 to 20 parents who showed up. And there were about 15 to 20 parents who kind of came to the forefront and began to be spokespersons for the rest of the parents. And they sat down together and they talked. And it was a great afternoon. But that was the only afternoon they had like that because he was warned by the representatives around South Boston he should not encourage this kind of dialogue and that he was not to come to Roxbury and talk about, ah, children and the educational, ah, program at South Boston High School. We were very disappointed. In fact at one point Mr. Reid just stopped accepting our calls. And we really did not hear that from him but we found out what happened to him because he was immediately, not long after, ah, we entered South Boston High, he was immediately removed from, from that school. By and large parents didn't know what geocodes were. They didn't know where these streets were that the kids were supposed to go to to catch the bus. They weren't sure how the kids were going to get to school. If it was a bus, if it was going to be a taxi. If it was going to be, ah, one of the, ah, longer, ah, station wagons. They didn't know that they, the children had, ah, handicapps. What was going to happen to those particular children, how they were going to get to school? If they were a special need student, were they to go to the same school to report to the same teacher? There was a lot of confusion. Mothers worked. What time were they going to get back into the community? Where were they supposed to go? Who was going to be there to meet them? There was a lot of concern. So we attempted to work with the school department in making sure that for each school there were pick up spots and and spots and times. And people there to, to accompany the children, to wait with the children when the busses came. And to make sure that the children were there on time. And if not to encourage the bus driver to wait just a few minutes because the kid may be a little late. We then began to set up what we called a develop, through the help the New England Telephone Company what was called the hotline. In the beginnings of the hotline at Freedom House, at the institute was to in a sense answer any of the questions that parents had. And it was staffed by people from various, believe it or not, ah, agencies, ah, various universities, various companies. We developed, my staff and I, we developed a kind of manual and we put it together for emergency numbers. We told parents about giving their children emergency numbers, pinning them on them inside their clothes or somewhere. We also made it clear that they could come and pick up this book. We tried to tell them that even the bus numbers that their children would be, ah, boarding. Ah we tried to answer and assure them that there would be plenty of people around. Many people volunteered during that time to assist, ah, parents and students during that first, ah, day of school. The first week of school that is. Ah, we kept the hotline going almost 24 hours a day. People would come in to do shifts--