THE HARDEST LESSON: Personal Accounts of a School Desegregation Crisis by Pamela & Judith Stoia Bullard
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THE HARDEST LESSON: Personal Accounts of a School Desegregation Crisis

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Two journalists who covered the Boston school desegregation troubles in the 1970s recreate the experiences of 13 individuals directly, and often terrifyingly, affected. Bullard and Stoia begin, shrewdly and compellingly, with a black girl's first day in South Boston (""Southie""), and her return home on a bus bombarded by brick- and rock-throwing crowds. Here and throughout, the details of thought and conversation are necessarily fictionalized, but they never for a moment seem so; each voice sounds a different note and adds to the total picture. We hear from a black boy in a large group that's hustled out a school's back door by police as murderous white mobs in front call for Rigger blood; from a Charlestown trouble-maker spoiling to ""get me a nigger"" and, when he's foiled, settling for attacking cops instead; from a policeman from South Boston reluctantly enforcing the law as incredulous old neighbors jeer and shove; from a ""little-guy"" home-owner genuinely puzzled that, despite his political loyalty, his son must leave an already integrated high school and spend his senior year in the city's ""worst"" (the boy ends up registering in a suburban school with an aunt's address). The presentation varies too, long before monotony might threaten: a Boston Latin School student's experience tutoring a badly deficient new black kid is put in diary form; and a black teacher from a magnet school explains the desegregation decision to a polite, uneasy white parents' group, Large points are made with small, deft touches: the chapter on a non-racist white nurse, who is viciously beaten by a gang of black teenagers, ends with her cringing while a black male nurse attends her in the hospital. In an introduction the authors blame politicians and the media for stirring up the anti-integrationists, and they note that the neighborhoods are quieter today. Their last two stories, then, are encouraging ones: a tough and able coach gets an interracial football team working together; and a white senior with a chance to return to Charlestown chooses to finish at black ""Roxie"" with its superior, Harvard-designed program. But Bullard and Stoia don't use these cases as an excuse for bland optimism: the boy who returned is one of two white kids at Roxie, and the other won't last. Nor do they try to interpret the feelings and behavior they so dramatically and affectingly delineate. The 13 revealing, face-to-face encounters have impact and implication enough.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1980
Publisher: Little, Brown