In 1972, parents of African American children brought a class action lawsuit alleging that the Boston School Committee violated the 14th Amendment with a deliberate policy of racial segregation. The judge found that Boston schools had intentionally carried out a program of segregation and ordered the School Committee to formulate a desegregation plan. When the committee failed to present an adequate plan, the court assumed an active role and oversaw implementation of court-ordered desegregation in Boston public schools. As the plan was carried out, many neighborhoods in Boston were plunged into unrest.
The historical records documenting the history of Boston’s efforts at desegregation might well have been hidden from researchers were it not for several grants from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
The first grants were awarded in the mid-1980s to help the City of Boston establish and develop a citywide archives and records management program. Over the years, the NHPRC has helped dozens of cities, towns, and counties start their own formal archives program.
In 2003 and 2005, the NHPRC awarded two grants to the City of Boston for its Public Schools Desegregation-Era Records Project to arrange, describe, and publish a Web-based finding aid to some 400 cubic feet of records relating to the desegregation era in city schools. Another grant went to to implement a city-wide archives and records management program, including the creation of a general finding aid to all 14,000 linear feet of records. The Guide to the Records in the City of Boston Archives is organized by department record groups. It provides historical information about each department and brief descriptions of their record series. Links are provided to available finding aids throughout the Guide. The Guide will be continuously updated as new finding aids are completed and new accessions come into the City Archives.
This past summer educators visited the National Archives at Boston to explore and examine primary sources related to desegregating Boston Public Schools. It was part of the National Archives annual Primarily Teaching summer institute.
These educators-turned-digitization scholars identified classroom-appropriate documents from the 1970s civil action court case Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al. As a result of their work, teachers, students, and anyone interested in Civil Rights can now investigate 30 documents from this important case.
The documents they scanned, together with records from Chicago school desegregation, are now available online in the National Archives DocsTeach website.
This is a prime example of the powerful partnership of city government archives, Federal government support, and citizens engaged in making documents more widely available to the public. To find out more about National Archives resources for teachers, go to http://blogs.archives.gov/education/2014/10/17/boston-schools-desegregation-case/.