Interview with Ellen Jackson

So let's begin with your talking about parents who were calling.


Parents were calling because they'd said, calling Freedom House and asking for me because I was the director, would say, "You know we got some news that the kids are coming down and the busses are being pelted. And--and ah rocks are being thrown, rocks are being thrown at some of the younger kids. And my kid's on that bus, you know, I want to know. Do you know, have you heard anything?" And at that point I had not heard anything and I said, "No." I said, "You know, don't get alarmed, don't leave your job." Because some of these people were at work. And they said, "Well I am alarmed. I am concerned. I'm at work. You know, what are you going to do? Um, can you find out?" "I'll call you back." Well the phones, the hotlines started ringing. And a few minutes the official word came in that two of the busses coming from the elementary schools had been pelted and had been, ah, ah, stoned. And they were coming directly to Freedom House. the word was from the, ah, command post, if you will, from the police, bring those busses, do not stop at any stops. We want to see these children. Ah, there was Red Cross there, also at Freedom House. We want to make sure they're all right and we want to talk with the children. Well, just then also we turned on the radio and it was on the radio and that they were not going to drop the children off at their stops near their homes, they were taking them directly to Freedom House. Well the shock of the informal network in our community, talk about the drums beating, the word went around the community and people were incensed. They were angry. And they started coming to Freedom House and forming little groups. Walking up the pathway to Freedom House demanding to know what had happened. And the kids came, everybody just broke out in tears and started crying. The kids were crying. They had glass in their hair. They were you know, scared. And they were shivering and crying. Talking about they wanted to go home. We tried to gently, a,h usher them into the auditorium. And wipe off the little bit of bruises that they had. Small bruises and the dirt and, ah, take, pick the glass out of their hair. And then we were calling ah parents based on the numbers we had to come up to, to Freedom House. When the parents got there they were as angry with me as anyone as I would have been if it had been my own child. And it sort of took me back to the days when we had problems in, ah, the sixties, when my kids were in school. And then say, "We gave you, you know we gave you another chance. You know, what, you know you listened to the mayor and look what happened. My kid's not going back tomorrow. I'm not letting him be, or her subjected to this anymore. You know the hell with it." I mean basically parents said, "The hell with it. Not going to do this anymore. You know we, we trusted you." And that hurt because I know they did. And I knew where they were coming from. I could their pain myself. And that feeling of trust because I had trusted some other people who had promised me that this was not going to happen. So what we asked, they asked us to do, we talked with the parents, we asked them to give us another chance. To get to the officials and to talk with them and, and they say, "You can't just talk anymore. You've got to demand for us. You've got to have them demonstrate how they're going to make sure that this day never happens again." I went upstairs to Otto Snowden's office with two other people and I dialed, picked up the phone and of course, Kevin White, immediately was on the phone. And he said, "Ellen I know, I know it happened." And I said, "You have got to come out here and talk." And he said, "Well I can't come right now." I said "Well you've got to come," I said, "because we're not going to have any parents tomorrow. You know I made a promise and you made a promise. We've got to do this. We've got to have a dialogue. We've got to talk. We've got to have some assurances." And he said, "OK. I'll be out there around 6 o'clock." We hung the phone up. We sat down and decided on how we were going to hold this meeting and what we were going to ask him and what could we really gain from this session with him? Not knowing at that point that parents knew that he was going to come at that, at 6 o'clock. Well we thought it was going to be just the parents of those children who were on the busses and some community people. And some other people. But that was going to be a very small meeting and we, I don't know, naively maybe, thought we would be able to convince them through the mayor that this, and the police commission, this was not going to happen again and that they would share with them the strategies that they would use to assure them, and insure that this would not happen. Well, it didn't turn out like that. At four thirty, and that was just a short half an hour after we called him, the hall began to fill up with all types of people, from all over. Parents, agency people, students, just concerned residents. And they were in a tither. It seemed etern--eternity before the mayor came. It seemed like 6 o'clock would never come. And I remember standing in Otto's office watching him get out of the car with his jacket thrown over his shoulder. He couldn't see the parking lot and see the many cars that were there. And George Regan, his press person, special assistant, was with him. And they were just sauntering up the driveway. And I said, "Oh my lord, this man has no idea what's going to happen or what's going, this was going to turn out to be." Nor did I at that point. So he came in the door, and I said, "You know we've got an auditorium full of people. Angry parents. And I don't know what we're going to, we can't promise them anything anymore. My own credibility is on the line. I'm born and raised in this community. I'm going to be here, Kevin, when you go back to Beacon Hill. And I'm going to die here possibly. And these are my, my people. These are my neighbors. Ah, so I don't know if I can assure them. I'm going to need you to tell them something. So let's step into the lounge area and talk. And we want to talk to you only." And there were two other people besides Regan. But Regan stands out in my mind because he was going to, what we call, bogart his way into the meeting. And I said, "I'm sorry. You're press and we're not allowing any press in this meeting." "Well I have to stay with the mayor." I said, "You don't have to stay with the mayor. The mayor is perfectly safe in this room. In fact he's safer than our kids were this morning in South Boston High School." I said, "So you're going to wait out here." And he still was going to walk past me, I remember two young men sidled up to him on each side. But Kevin had the sense and the wherewithal to turn around and tell him, "Wait outside." We went in the room and I said, "You put us in a hell of a position. You know, these kids were hurt, you should have been here and seen it. But you said you couldn't make it. But you had to see with your eyes and you'll understand the anger and the frustration that the parents and we all are feeling right now. So be prepared. Don't come out with one of those pat speeches. You've got to hear these parents." Kevin and I, I think, were very close. But I don't think he really even believed me then until he stepped out of that lounge and went downstairs into that auditorium and proceeded to walk up to the front and to go up onto that stage. And before he could even speak, parents were standing up and saying, "We've been betrayed again. We've been betrayed again. We put our kids out here and we take chances with our kids. We didn't want to do it but you promised us. What are you going to do for us now, Kevin?" It was a difficult time to calm the audience down. When he heard many of the comments, and many of the accusations, and many of the allegations, and many of the, ah, much of the anger and the rage, and the frustration from the parents, they said, "We're not going." He turned around and he said, "Wait a minute. Give me," he pleaded, he pleaded and said, "Give me one more chance. Give me one, let your kids get on those busses tomorrow." He said, "I promise you this will never happen again." There was a pause in the room and you could feel the silence. People were fighting with themselves, their conscience. Whether or not they should allow their kids to go, should they take this chance, how could they be assured? Was it his words should they trust again? When that silence came, someone from the Bay State-side Columbia Point project yelled, "No we're not going to have it. We're going to have our own people there. If it's going to go, if it's going to be like this, we're going to send our own people on these busses." He frankly was lucky to get out of there with his jacket and his skin that night. I'm telling you. I, frankly, was lucky because I had to come up and try. And they said, "Ellen, shut up. We don't want to hear from you tonight. You know we really don't want, we want to hear what the man who runs the city has to say." And I can understand that. And I went upstairs and I did my own little praying. And I hoped that everything was going to be all right. We didn't know how many kids were going to turn out that next, that day, but we met all night long. And we decided then that we'd have to really form groups to go over, follow the busses over, ah, the next morning to South Boston. Ah, and we did. Over to actually the Bayside Mall. And that we possibly will have to, would have to start on a regular basis, ah, from that day on to have people in a sense just watching, ah, and monitoring what was happening as the busses, ah, went up the hill. I remember we stated that to the police commissioner and he said, "Well we don't want it, we're not going to be responsible." We said, "You haven't been responsible for us up to now so, you know, we'll take the responsibility on our own. We'll be responsible for ourselves. At the same time, we've got to be responsible for our kids. And these are all of our kids. Ah, we may not be their biological parents but they're our children. We've encouraged these people to participate in this process. And therefore we have a responsibility." And we did. And we met, ah, over at the mall and I think we beat the busses over there and we waited 'til the kids went up and got off. I don't know frankly what he said to his police forces. I don't know what kinds of meetings were held in South Boston, but there were some people like a Tracy Amalfitano who decried that action that day. Um, whose home was bur, was bombed. Whose car was bombed in South Boston. This was still, this was South Boston. There were others in that community who, ah, rallied you know with us and made it clear that this kind of violence against young people, babies, was not going to be tolerated, and was not going to be condoned. But that was a night that changed the whole idea that this was going to be an easy, easy process. It was clear it was not.