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Tracy O'Connell Novick @TracyNovick
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When the term and concept of segregation academies hit the national news cycle, there was the back and forth online about the South.…
As was pointed out by many, this is (as always) not one that the rest of the country gets to "oh the South" on.
Nikole Hannah-Jones specifically noted the 1849 Roberts v. City of Boston case
If you aren’t familiar, quick link. Note that the quandry of Black families in Boston essentially walked through struggles of student treatment, separate but equal, and access.…
It's also important to note that the Roberts family LOST in court; the issue of enrollment segregated by race was taken up by the state legislature in 1855.

(Also, there's a children's book about Sarah Roberts, which more of us in #MAEdu should know:…)
This tends to be the point when New Englanders take a deep breath and think that we’ve neatly tidied away school segregation, and even managed to do so pre-Civil War.
Not at all.
The images that come to mind for most of us as the exception are those of the Boston bussing case (which was in 1974, for those who think ancient history).
It’s easy enough to pick on Boston.
But Boston schools could only have bussing as an attempt to bring racial balance because the city schools had kids of color in schools in the first place.
Most of Massachusetts didn’t. And doesn’t.
This is the image that has been with me this week.
This is a map of Boston.
The star is Brookline.
Crazy, right?
So why ISN’T Brookline part of Boston?
Brookline is often cited as the place where the suburbs won.
More here (and lots more elsewhere):…
To vastly oversimplify (as suburbanization is of course a whole field of study), the argument was cities have lots of services (streetcars! electricity! water piped in!) that towns didn’t and might not have money to provide.
So did those wealthy (men) who worked downtown want to have those luxuries at home?
Well...not if it meant turning their government over to those (cough*Irish*cough) scalawags running the city.
Here’s a taste of the argument of the era (this from a Boston Adveriser editorial of 1873, as quoted in Alfred Dupont Chandler’s Opening Argument for the Town of Brookline)
(Google books has that here:…)
To be strictly fair, it had to be shocking to be a Bostonian from the 1840-60’s. Per the @MHS1791:
“In 1845 the city of Boston had a population of 114,366 people, about 8,000 of whom had been born in Ireland. In the following ten years the city’s Irish-born population soared to 46,237, constituting almost the entire increase in Boston’s population over that decade.”
So in 1873, Brookline and Charlestown were both offered the chance to join Boston: Charlestown said yes; Brookline said no.
Let’s be clear that bigotry—not racism, but bigotry—certainly played a role in the 1873 vote for Brookline to remain independent.
A hundred years later, then, Brookline can remain placidly above the fray, while Charlestown is making national news like this:
(Frank Hill photograph in the Northeastern collection)
So, close to fifty years on from then:
Boston schools are majority children of color (here’s last year’s stats per DESE). There was absolutely significant white flight post-bussing.
And because it is Massachusetts, a white family “fleeing” doesn’t have to go that far. While Boston is close to 90 square miles, that isn’t *that* large a school district elsewhere.
(There are larger districts in Massachusetts, even, in terms of square miles.)
So if that family zipped over that town line into Brookline, they’d have chosen a school district that (same year) looks like this:
In the 2010 census, the Brookline town population was 71% white; Boston was 45.4% white.

That doesn’t happen accidentally or all by itself.
The other reason this is currently relevant: Boston is of course having these #buildBPS deliberations, in part (in PART) because BPS enrollment looks like this:
Here’s Brookline’s over the same period (this is 7288 to 7801 students):
So while Boston is tying itself into knots over shrinking enrollment and probably too many buildings, Brookline is scrambling to find a place to stick a ninth school in the 6.8 square miles it has.
In most of the rest of the country, the two above things would cancel each other out, because those wouldn’t be two school districts.
Now, lest this seem as though I am only picking on Brookline, let’s look a bit further...
Periodically the idea of a true “greater Boston” comes back up; I found the most recent revival from just last month…
We humans tend to find lines and edges (the current weird Boston border aside), so one naturally seeks the next border:
Every year, there is a push in the Legislature to fund METCO, which takes 3300 students of color (mostly from Boston, though also from Springfield) and buses them to surrounding (majority white) districts.
This is about $22M this year.

I will confess to not really understanding this.
What’s interesting, though, is that while we are doing that, the whole area inside of 128 is about 180 square miles.

And that sounds like a lot.
...until you look at the rest of the state (let alone the rest of the country):
Massachusetts has regionalized for to provide vocational education and to concentrate services over large spaces. And it was done voluntarily (with state encouragement).
What Massachusetts never has done is regionalize to desegregate. We pat ourselves on the back about not being Mississippi, when the only desegregation effort we have is a few dozen kids that are shipped to the suburbs daily.
We are a very segregated state.
We have very segregated schools.
And we have created both of those in such a way that white suburbs can ignore it if they choose to.

(But I mean it on welcoming reading recommendations!)
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