Interview with Ellen Jackson
QUESTION 4
JACKIE SHEARER:

So, tell us about Freedom House as the Black Pentagon and the preparations that you instituted to ensure peaceful school opening.

ELLEN JACKSON:

One of the objectives during that period over the summer was to assure that there would be a peaceful transition and that we would commit ourselves to do that**. And many organizations came through the door to Freedom House, representatives that is, to talk about how they could assist. And it was a period, while all this confusion and concern was going on, outside, there was a period of posi--a feeling of positiveness, um, in terms of the people fulfilling something and supporting something that was good, in terms of our babies, in terms of our children. They used to call, The Globe dubbed the Freedom House Institute on Schools and Education as "The Black Pentagon". All types of people were seen coming in and out of that place during that period. Parents still calling, other officials calling to, to, ah, donate their time, their staff time to help us in any way we could to make sure that that first day of school was one that Boston would not have to feel badly about in terms of violence. Um, security in that vein, the, the police department set up a whole command office in the, the building so they could be on call, or dispatch as fast as possible people needed to be at certain locations, certain schools, at certain street corners. Um, the fire department, because there were a lot of bomb scares, there were a lot of things that we had to protect. A special caution, and being very careful about. They set up a command post. The justice department had their people, their community relations people. The FBI was in and out of there. So, it was certainly, I think, earned the name of the Black Pentagon in a sense, all kinds of meetings, all types, times of night, many of us did not get home 'til early in the morning to change clothes and get back to Freedom House to be there when those buses would roll. The men in the community came together in many of the meetings, and took on the responsibility of more or less going up and down some of the streets, the major thoroughfares within the community and talking to the young men, who were, unfortunately, not working, who were more or less just hanging around, soliciting their help and their understanding of what was going to happen in September, and we said to them, or they said to them, that is, that it was very important that they help us in some ways, and one of the most important ways that they could help us was to make sure that they did not harm or harass the young White students that were going to be coming in to Roxbury, because, their brothers and sisters were possibly going to be in some very, un, inhospitable areas and some areas where there could be a problem. And in a sense, we felt that they were hostages, that they would be hostages until they came home. So while they were out of their community trying to get an education, we asked them to help them by just staying away, by just taking their little beefs, or their little extra-generous laughter, somewhere away from the school environment so that we could get these White kids out. You know, a lot of White kids did not come in to Roxbury, but I want you to know also that they did help. They helped at the end of school, they would stand in groups of four to make sure there were no problems until those buses pulled off. The mornings, there would be older men, sometimes senior citizens, men who were not working any more, who would just stand there and greet the children when they got off the buses. I remember this vividly around the Martin Luther King School and specifically around the Jeremiah E. Burke High School. But it was, I thought, again, a commitment, a community coming together for a common goal, for a common purpose, and that was, again, to protect and also give an opportunity to our kids to, for our kids to get some kind of, um, hopefully, quality education in a place that wasn't quite near home. So, in many ways, it was, it was, ah, a community pulled together. And there was difference of thoughts and opinions going on at this time. Everyone did not agree with this particular strategy. They did not agree with Judge Garrity's order. They did not agree with Freedom House's stance of support. They didn't agree with the NAACP. And they wanted to know, "Why is it our kids are always going out of the community?" And particularly the babies. "Why is it that our kids have to leave home?" We believe in education, we believe that, for Black people, that is one step on the ladder, one rung of the ladder for us to make it in the so-called world. To be able to give back and to, contribute to your community. But it's always us as the victim. And they saw their kids the victims. They saw, and they expressed this in many ways, but they said, "OK, we'll give you another chance, we've given you chances before, we're going to allow you one more time, to take our kids and put them out there. But sometimes," they said,"We'd like to see some of you parents and others, who are advocating this kind of strategy to go and feel what our kids have to, to go through, to be part of that." And we did have a chance to do that, which I will talk about later, but, the point is that, all was not, um, um, unified in our community. There was, ah, disagreement, um, there was, um, um, dis, discussion, however, with that disagreement. And I think that everyone, in a sense, however, recognized that we had to take this step, we had to take another chance to make sure, or to, ah, hopefully, to allow our children again to have a better education, certainly from what they were getting here, than what they were getting here in the community at that given time.