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SCHOOLS MORE SEGREGATED NOW THAN IN ’74

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Twenty years after a federal judge shook Boston with his order to desegregate public schools through busing, the system is far more segregated than it was in the first place.

Blacks have access to programs and schools that were once the domain of whites, but many white families have responded by enrolling children in private and parochial schools, or by leaving the city altogether.A system that once had 85,000 students, 49 percent of them white, has about 64,000 students, 19 percent of whom are white.

U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr., who oversaw desegregation for two decades after his June 21, 1974, ruling, said he has no regrets about forced busing, which sparked violence in the city's largely white South Boston section when black students were brought to South Boston High School.

"I never have thought of what I would do differently," Garrity said recently. "What I did was what I thought was consistently based on the applicable statutes and laws in effect at the time, as well as the evidence presented to me."

Garrity, 73, was assigned Tallulah Morgan vs. James Hennigan on March 15, 1972, when his name was selected by lottery. The case was named for the original plaintiff and defendant, a black woman and the white School Committee chairman.

Garrity issued a 75-page opinion in Morgan's favor two years later. Monumental changes followed.

There were riots at South Boston High. While racial conflict subsided in subsequent years, the case remained open until May 1990. Even today, Garrity said he is "tying up loose ends."

Thomas Atkins, a law school graduate and former president of the Boston NAACP chapter, told Boston Magazine in 1975 that the ruling was "the most thoroughly documented, tightly reasoned opinion on school desegregation I have ever seen."

At one point, Garrity wrote: "Eighty-four percent of Boston's white students attend schools that are more than 80 percent white; 62 percent of the black students attend schools that are more than 70 percent black . . . Racial segregation permeates schools in all areas of the city, all grade levels and all types of schools."

To remedy that, Garrity ordered implementation of an $8.8 million desegregation plan, starting in the fall of 1974. About 45,000 students were sent to schools outside their neighborhoods, including 18,200 who were bused to school for the first time.