Interviewer: Paul Steckler
Production Team: D
Interview Date: April 4, 1989
Camera Rolls: 4113-4114
Sound Rolls: 449
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Kathy Stapleton, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on April 4, 1989, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
So, in 1974 you were going into your senior year at high school, tell me what your expectations were. What were you looking forward to about your senior year?
Well, a lot of good times. A lot of fun. My senior prom. Class day. Being finished with high school, graduating. That sort of thing. Preparing for college, getting that straightened out.
So, I remember back when I was in high school and you go through all these lower rungs looking forward to being the king of the hill, the, the top of the-. Tell me what your expectation was in terms of, of Southie. I mean, what was South Boston High good for in terms of, of high school?
South Boston High, I remember I was excited to be a senior; being a senior always made you important. And, it meant your classes eased up a little. You did have a lot more fun than you had the previous years, because hopefully you had your grades in order, and you're all set to go on. Um, it was a wonderful school. We had a great time. I had a great three years at South Boston High School up until going into my senior. So, I expected my senior year to be a continuation of the previous good three years that I had. I was doing well. I had a lot of friends. I was having a lot of fun. I was an--I was anticipating a great year.
Okay, now, when busing was first declared, a lot of kids boycotted. Tell me about kids you knew who boycotted.
Well, people boycotted. A lot of children did boycott school because, for different reasons: safety reasons, peer pressure, um, um, certain groups of people, you know that, that would antagonize children who did go to school, and they felt that a boycott would be effective in some way. I did not boycott. I, I stayed out of school when a majority of children stayed out of school, um, mostly for safety reasons on days that I didn't think that it was safe to be in the building, or it was not a good idea. But, basically, I did try to go as often as I could.
What about kids who did boycott? What, what did they do? What happened to them?
Well, most of them I would think, you know, they boycotted the school. I mean the children and families that I knew that had the means and the money would leave the system and go to public, I mean, public schools in other cities. A lot of families moved right out of South Boston, out of Boston to get into better public schools. And, the people who could afford to, sent their children to private schools or parochial schools. And, um, some I, I would guess a lot of people just dropped out of the system completely.
So, describe for us the typical school day morning: getting from home to homeroom.
Okay. Well, you'd get up, late usually, but you'd get dressed, get all dressed for high school. Of course, your appearance is a very big deal you want to impress everybody. So, you take a lot of time getting dressed. And, I remember going to school, and my high school happened to be across the street, which is about a two minute walk. So, I'd get to the front door and they would hand you, um, at this point we had metal detectors, so what they would do, was hand us a blue plastic bowl and you have to start by you'd take your earrings off, that you just put on, and you'd take your rings off, and your metals and necklace. Shoes, sometimes, depending on what they were about, made of. You had to dump everything, all this clothes that you had just taken all the time to get dressed, and you'd have to get half undressed in the front entrance way of the school and put it in a bowl and then go through a metal detector. And, sometimes on a lot of girls, they would still beep, and, they had a room, at that point where you had to go in and be frisked. And, a lot of time it would be a bra, a metal bra strap, or a buckle on a shoe, or it could be anything, a metal snap on your clothing that would go off; but, you would at that point then be taken aside and frisked by a woman state trooper or a man. And, they would also go through our lunch--they took your lunch bag, your pocketbook, and they would dump your whole bag. So, you had to think twice about what you were going to put in your pocketbook that morning, because everybody was going to see what was in there. So, it was, it was pretty odd, you know, going, It was pretty aggravating actually to go and be put all through this before you even started the day at school. You know, kind of ridiculous for a seventeen year old person to be treated this way.** It was insulting.
Now, tell me, describe to me interactions were like--what were relations like between Black kids and White kids? I remember you said stuff about taunts from the bus, and describing what the inside of the school was like.
Well, regarding taunts from the bus, I feel that, ah, I remember, um, buses pulling up and, and they would be, at the very beginning, especially, there would be crowds of, of parents and children outside and, and students coming in on the buses would say to us, I hear--you know, I would hear them say, "We have your school, how does it feel? It's our school now." You know, because these children were actually going in where we were on the outside at that point in time, at the beginning. And, inside the school, it was not, um, it was not very good. I think both the students that were bused in, and the students that were there, did not know how to react to each other. And, there was not much interaction, at all. It was still basically segregated. Um, for safety reasons, they felt that they had to keep the Black and the White students apart most of the time. Ah, they had separate doors going in. And, when the buses would be unloaded. And, if the buses would be unloading and you were coming into school, they would actually ask you to wait and let the bus--kids off the buses come in first. And, um, they had, uh, if there was an altercation, they had what they called a White holding room, and a Black holding room. And, we would be released from school at the end of the day, everybody would go to their homeroom and they would, uh, announce that the children being bused--which were the Black children--would have to leave first, and that the walkers--the Whites--would have to sit in class till school emptied out. So, it was not what it usually was, the bell rang and everybody filed out, it just didn't work that way. It was a lot of segregation within the school, which was really silly, because, or stupid, because, I mean what is the point? What is the whole point here? It was, it didn't make any sense at all.
So, how would a typical fight start?
Well, a typical fight could start any way. It just um, it could be a push, or a shove, um, in small group of people, which would turn into, ah, everybody was very defensive about everything. You know, everybody took it offense at the slightest thing. Um, it could be a comment, you know, a little comment, then it would go back and forth. You know, two people arguing would turn into four or six, and then it would be groups of people, and it would turn into a, everybody seemed to get involved, uh, teachers would come running, police would come running, and before you knew it, it was out of control. And, most people involved in an altercation had no idea what started it; it just came out of nowhere. It was just explosive, all the time. You know, uh, most people did not know what the pushing and shoving was about, or why, or who started it, or it was just, um, it was almost as if it was expected. The kids in this school--both Black and White--felt that they were there to be defensive and that they were, the white kids felt intimidated that they had Black kids in the school. The Black kids are intimidated because they were in this White school and they did not want to be pushed around**. Just the slightest thing would set it off.** And, I don't think either side knew what was going on. And, I think a lot of the pressure on both sides probably came from outside the school. And these kids went to school with idea that this is the way it was.
Okay, so, the Michael Faith episode. You began it before by saying, um, um, "One day a classmate of mine got stabbed," um, so if you could just take us through the whole story as you experienced it.
Okay. Well, one day we were, I was in the, in the corridor coming from one of my classes, with several of my friends, and, um, a commotion broke out, which wasn't, you know, that happened every five or ten minutes in school. But, um, the people, um, we kind of backed off; but, then we started hearing people scream, you know, um, really, really got out of control at that point, you know, a sense of something different happening. And, um, you could hear people, as we got a little closer screaming that, um, he was stabbed. He was stabbed and then, the, uh, s--people were running to, some were running away. Um, oh jeez, we were close enough that we saw there was blood, you know, on the hallway floor.** At that point I left, by myself without my friends, out the side door of the building and was physically sick. You know, I just went home. I lived very close to the school. Out the side, I didn't go out the front. And I just went home and remembered feeling just really sick to my stomach and frightened. That was probably the closest, ah, thing to a violent act I had ever come to in my life. You know, especially I never expected it to come from my high school, ah, in my own neighborhood, close to home. You know I guess you're never ready for anything that violent to happen. And I was afraid and pretty disgusted.
Did you know who it was at the time?
Ah yeah, yeah I did know who it was and I, I knew, ah, Michael Faith. Not, not, I was an acquaintance. Not very well. I didn't hang around with him or anything. But ah, yeah I was pretty, pretty upset, you know no matter who it was. You know it would have been upsetting to have that kind of violence. That really, reality sets in at that point to say this is really, this is pretty dangerous stuff.
Um, did that, um, change at all? Did it make things tenser[SIC] or worse or anything in school in terms of interactions?
Well it, geez I, I know it tightened security. It's probably at that point when the security got very, very tight in school. And that's when they wouldn't let so much as, uh, a pointed comb go through, you know, you couldn't, you know, they really went through your things. Your sandwiches. They opened up people's sandwiches at points and looked inside, you know, to make sure you weren't concealing weapons. In art classes there was no scissors. I mean in art class they took away scissors and anything that would be considered a weapon. Ah, as far as the students, I, I, I'm sure things were more tense but it did not seem, nothing changed a whole lot. You know it was just this, it was still the same. Maybe people were a little more angry, or maybe a little more afraid. And I just, ah, you know.
What do you think the effect was of bussing on you, as an individual, on the high school, and on South Boston as a community?
I think bussing had a lot of effect on, on me personally. My family and friends in the community. I think, ah, for myself it made, ah, it took away, it, it made us grow up a little faster. Senior year, like you know I said before is kind of a social year for, for kids you know. It's important to getting yourself into college and straightened away. But it's also social. The friends you make in your senior year of high school, girlfriends, boyfriends are usually the friends for life, especially in the tight-knit neighborhood community like South Boston. The school itself was, ah, ah, in any neighborhood, in any city. I think especially in, in these cities, middle class cities, people use the high school as a, ah, a reason for getting together. We have good football teams, hockey teams, ah, young boys aspire to be athletes. You know they hope to get on the team. They hope to play hockey or football or basketball. This was taken away during bussing because all of a sudden this nei--everyone was proud, we had South Boston and Eastie games every Thanksgiving, you know, we played against the other town. It was a source of pride for the community, you know, if you had a good team or a good school. And, ah, this was taken away because, ah, the kids were all taken out of the school and sent different ways. People left the community. Friends were split up, and, ah, so it took the, it took a source of pride away from the town I guess, you know because, ah, it was you know you were from Southie, you go to Southie High fo--you know you're on the team and you're pretty proud of that fact, and, ah, Dorchester or any other parts of, of Boston, they all feel the same about their high school. And that was taken away. And I think that's a big dent in the community. Especially in the city where kids need some direction. You know, they need something to aspire to or a reason for wanting to go to school. You know and, ah, that was taken away. And families too, you know, ah, parents that wanted to, parents are afraid for their kids. You know they were upset. They didn't know whether they should send them public school or they should sell their house and send them to a private school. It just, ah, it effected everybody, you know families, friends and the community as a whole, I think.
Now, you just now when we weren't rolling talked about how there were some people who saw this as a heavy duty political cause and you said something about how you resented it when they tried to tell you what to do. Can you think of any, um, exchange when someone was trying to tell you what to do back then?
Well there was, there was pressure from all sorts of people from the media. The media, as well as the civic groups, the media went up there hoping, you know, they, nobody said, "Don't do this. Don't act up," you know, "this, this isn't nice," you know. Ah, they, they, people wanted to see a story, you know. People en--encouraged it, you know. Nobody said, "Don't do this." Ah, political people said you know, let's, "You children should boycott. You children should not do this." You know, "This is not right." You know, "This is the mayor or this is the police," you know,"don't do this." And so it put pressure on everybody. No one knew the right thing to do. I mean I wanted to go to school. You know I was trying to go to school but I resented people telling me I shouldn't be in the school. I resented people telling us where we should go to school. You know, it just, ah, and I hated, and I hated picking up the paper every day and seeing it in the paper, you know. It was really kind of a disgrace. I, I'm very proud of my community but I did not like what I saw on the media. I think, ah, I think it hurt us all, you know and, and, the attention, you know was, was negative. The kids were the ones being hurt and being told what to do. I mean kids will do what they're told usually because they think these adults think we should do this so we really, you know, they say we shouldn't go to school. Let's not go to school today. Or you know we should do this, or we should fight or we should, you know, stand up for ourselves. But it was not coming from the kids within. I think they were being pulled many, we were all being pulled many, in many different directions. You know, between what was right and what was wrong.
How did you as a seventeen year old kid understand all this?
Well I, I don't think I really understood it at all. I think, ah, I, I think, you know, they wanted to, they said racially mix the school which, which I can understand. I could understand in one way but it wasn't as if, I looked at, my high school was a good high school but it was a run-down building with mediocre, I thought, mediocre equipment. It didn't have, it didn't have, we didn't have a pool or a gym. I could not, for one, would see why people would really want to come into this school. Because it was okay but it was not any better than any other high school in the city. Ah, you know, it was just kind of putting kids from one okay school to another okay school. I mean, it just did not, um, it just didn't make any sense. And from when I had gone to school, I had never heard, our neighborhood, yes it is, mostly a White community, but I had never, up until that point heard you know of anybody being turned out or not allowed because of their color, or race, religion, um, and then all of a sudden when the bussing came, you know and said "We're going to force you to do this because this school happens to be one color and this school was one color and we're going to mix everybody together." And I don't think anybody was particularly happy. I'm sure the kids coming in were nervous. The kids already there were nervous. It just was not, it was not a comfortable situation in the beginning. And, and we had no, ah, there was no time or effort put in to preparing us for this, for this turmoil. You know we were just, one day we all showed up for school. And the first day I was, I was, nobody could have prepared me for what, what I saw when I walked around the corner. It was mass confusion, it was pretty scary, it was upsetting, and, uhm, I was not prepared for that. And I didn't expect it. You know I don't, I don't blame, I don't blame any, I don't blame the people in the community. I don't blame any of the kids in the schools. And I don't blame the people outside. I don't think anybody was prepared.