Broken School Bus Window from Boston Desegregation Violence, 1974
glass (overall material)
rubber (seal material)
overall: 20 in x 20 in; 50.8 cm x 50.8 cm
Cultures & Communities
Government, Politics, and Reform
Artifact Walls exhibit
Gift of Auto-Bus, Inc., through Robert E. White
The school bus, once a symbol of higher education standards because it transported rural students to large, consolidated schools, became a symbol of racial conflict and controversy as school desegregation programs were implemented. In 1974, Boston's court-ordered busing plan became one of the most visible and controversial examples of racial balancing through student transportation. Twenty years after the Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka officially desegregated public schools, the NAACP and parents of African-American school children claimed that segregated residential patterns in Boston's neighborhoods created serious inequities between predominantly white schools and predominantly black schools. They claimed that the all-white city school board deliberately perpetuated a dual system and disregarded the state's Racial Imbalance Law, which required that no student body be more than 50 percent non-white.
On June 21, 1974, federal district court judge W. Arthur Garrity ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered a program of cross-neighborhood busing to change the racial balance within non-compliant schools.
When the new school year opened in September, the busing program proceeded smoothly in some neighborhoods, but in a few there was fierce resistance. In South Boston, an insular Irish-American working-class neighborhood with strong ethnic identity, parents and their children vehemently objected to a student exchange program that paired "Southie" with Roxbury, a mostly black neighborhood two miles away. Southie parents and students staged a school boycott to demonstrate their resolve to preserve social and ethnic homogeneity and maintain South Boston High School as a core of community activities and identity. On opening day, the student body was racially mixed, but fewer than ten percent of students who were expected to attend SBHS actually came. Violence erupted in the streets; groups of white teenagers hurled rocks and bottles at school busses carrying black students, some of whom were injured by flying window glass. Whites shouted racial epithets at blacks. For days, city police held back surging crowds of white teenagers bent on violent protest and disruption of the desegregation plan. By year's end, school attendance had risen slightly, but a stabbing incident and other physical attacks at SBHS brought renewed violence outside the school building and a temporary shutdown. Sporadic violence continued for several years.
Rewhit Transport, Inc. contracted with Boston public schools for transportation of pupils to South Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, and South End. The company fielded a fleet of 56 new 1974 GMC 65-passenger buses. According to Robert E. White, president of Rewhit, white students who were protesting the busing of black students into their neighborhoods broke virtually all of the windows on these buses, throwing bottles and rocks from the hill along G Street near South Boston High School and at several other high schools in Rewhit's service area. Rewhit purchased riot helmets for its bus drivers. The bus windows were replaced in the Rewhit garage; broken windows were placed in a small room, where they remained until the 1980s. Side windows were completely shattered, but in 1983 White selected a semi-intact rear window and donated it to the National Museum of American History.