Boston Schools: Past Insights into Present Problems(continued)

by Jeanne Belovitch

1849 when lawyer Charles Sumner argued for the educational rights of Blacks in Boston Public Schools in Roberts vs The City of Boston. The court dismissed the case in 1850, the same year in which Boston was considered the most segregated city in the North. This case set a precedent in American legal history for separate but equal facilities for different races. Blacks and White Abolitionists continued their struggle to integrate the schools. Finally in 1855, Boston schools were desegregated when the Governor signed a provision into law probiting race, color or religion as determinant qualifications of how students will be admitted into the public schools of the Commonwealth.

Running nearly parallel to this half-century of pursuance of quality education was a more liberating scenario taking place for Blacks throughout the Commonwealth. Of all the Northern states prior to the Civil War, Massachusetts was a leader in legal equality. In 1780, the Commonwealth declared all men free and equal. Tax paying Black men were given the right to vote in 1783 while men in New York, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa didn't receive this franchise until 1870. Blacks in Worcester were among the first Northern Blacks to serve as jurors. And in 1839, Massachusetts repealed its laws against intermarriage.

These paradoxical actions taking place between 1780 and 1855 lead insight into why Boston schools don't work in 1991. Blacks in Massachusetts were granted legal equality but were not provided with the tools to achieve economic security. Neither education nor employment came easy to them. It seemed every time Massachusetts took a giant step in racial progress, its citizens and cities lost their balance. This conflict about egalitarianism – so evident during this block of history – persists today in how we educate our urban children.

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