Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

"Militant Mothers": Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

"Militant Mothers": Boston, Busing, and the Bicentennial of 1976

Article excerpt

Abstract: By early 1975, the anti-busing organization known as ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights) expanded its base of protest from opposing, at times quite violently, the court-ordered desegregation of the Boston public school system. Arguing that "the issue of forced busing is a women's issue," ROAR - whose membership was predominantly female - expanded its focus and began to specifically target the flourishing women 's liberation movement in Boston. The group disrupted various public forums, including Bicentennial events. Throughout, ROAR militants were politicized, as were countless other women in the 1970s. Historian Kathleen Banks Nutter was a teenager living in Boston at the time and personally effected by the events she analyzes in this article.

On Saturday, January 11, 1975, the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women convened at Boston's City Hall, awaiting the arrival of Governor Michael Dukakis who was to sign the proclamation declaring "Massachusetts International Women's Year." But Dukakis never arrived. Instead, according to the Boston Globe, "an angry mob of about 150 antibusing mothers converged at City Hall," and the governor hastily canceled his appearance. There was a lengthy and raucous exchange between those associated with the Commission on the Status of Women and the socalled anti-busing mothers. Trying to restore order, Commission Chair Ann Blackman told the Globe, "Frankly, I do not want any embarrassing things going on when the governor arrives. Please, you're our guests here and you're disrupting this meeting." To this, Elvira (aka Pixie) Palladino of East Boston replied, "No, you're our guests. This City Hall belongs to us and we are here because we want freedom for our children."'

By early 1975 the anti-busing organization known as ROAR (Restore Our Alienated Rights) sought to expand its base of protest from strictly opposing, at times quite violently, the court-ordered desegregation of the Boston public school system. Arguing that, in their words, "the issue of forced busing is a women's issue," the predominately female ROAR specifically targeted the flourishing women's liberation movement in Boston. It ultimately disrupted public forums such as one organized by the governor's office to kick off the International Women's Year as well as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) rallies held in Boston later that spring.' At the same time, in anticipation of the nation's 200th birthday in 1976, ROAR also shifted its attention to the Bicentennial during the spring of 1975, turning the celebratory rhetoric on its head by claiming the right to fight those who, in the minds of many white Bostonians, would deny them their most basic rights as parents.

ROAR women were politicized, as were countless other women in the 1970s. But, the women of ROAR used confrontational tactics honed by anti-war and women's liberation activists in the 1960s, much of which had been first inspired by the black Civil Rights movement, to make their case for segregation in a most virulently racist and class-specific way. Selfproclaimed "conservatives," the ROAR women used radical strategies to maintain what they saw as "traditional" maternal values. It is this potentially disruptive nexus of politics and strategy, shaped by the race, class, and gender concerns of the time that suggests the need for a deeper reexamination of this period.

Much has been written about the tumultuous - and ultimately failed - effort to desegregate the Boston public schools.2 Most accounts emphasize the vital role that social class played in what amounted to a violent racial confrontation between poor blacks and poor whites. As the historian Ronald Formisano has argued, "Antibusing in Boston, especially its organized active expressions, can be seen as a case of reactionary populism, a type of grassroots social movement that has flared frequently in American history'"

Such an argument certainly helps us understand the anti-busing movement's frequent use of Bicentennial rhetoric, but it does not address the important part that white women played in this movement. …

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