Interview with Kevin White

But, we're talking about 1972. Black parents have just filed suit in federal court, so they've been waging a fight for quality education. White parents have been vowing to resist forced busing and you're mayor. Do you think that there's any way that you can head off racial confrontation?


I don't even see it coming, I suppose, and I'm as close to the scene or the center as you could be. Ah, everything has a genesis, and, and, and, and ethnic, uh, tensions, uh, neighborhood tensions, uh, have been a part of the fabric of Boston for 30 years. The Irish against the Yankees, that kind of tension between groups was not new. But, as it revolved around the issue of busing, or Black and White relationships, it really began for me, walking up School Street one day, when I was secretary of state, a fairly young man, not even planning to run for mayor. And there was a Black minister all by himself, walking around with a sign, about forced busing, about the school committee. It seemed quaint, uh, if not a little eccentric and I, like most people, passed it by. But from that began the focus on the school committee, its lack of quality education, and, and, and, and, then I became a part of it incidentally to my career by running for mayor of the city of Boston. And, and the issue in the campaign became not my qualifications, but Mrs. Hicks's, uh, leadership, exacerbation of, or, uh, however you define it, of the, escalating the tensions between the Blacks and Whites over the issue of the school committee, of which she was chairman. And, and, and the battle basically in the election came down to Mrs. Hicks saying, "You know where I stand," which was a code word for saying to the hearer, "I'm anti-Black, and we will not let them dislodge us from, from our neighborhoods or our schools or our points of power in, in the city government." It was a code word. Ah, I used to kid and say, "If Mrs. Hicks looks like, looked like Grace Kelly, she would've beaten me." She was not an attractive candidate, and I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, but not an attractive candidate, yet she came within 12,000 votes of winning. And the good government forces in the city, uh, lived outside of her, the city had been a place they had fled, yet it was part of their living experience, where they worked and they were without the right of vote, and they had to stand by and watch Mrs. Hicks almost win the election. To make a long story short, I won, with 98 percent of the, or 95 to 98 percent of the Black vote. Blacks did not know me. They were afraid of Mrs. Hicks. I was a, an unsecured refuge for them, for the moment. But once we got to that crest, and I began to govern the city, and bring Blacks into city government, it appeared that the issue was beginning to, tensions were beginning to alleviate itself. Blacks were becoming prominent in the city, in some small degree, I don't want to exaggerate that. But the Black community felt protected and progress. So when the suit was filed in 1972, it was the insistence by White liberals, Blacks, concerned citizens, fairness, for quality education. So the battle of, of racial hostility I didn't see coming with the fervor and the emotion that was to culminate three years later. At that time, it was just another step in the legal arena, and so it was only tangential to what I was doing as mayor in '72.