Teaching Guide: Exploring Busing and School Desegregation in Boston

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Busing & Beyond: School Desegregation in Boston, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. In his opening arguments, what specific arguments did Charles Sumner make on behalf of Sarah Roberts’ request to attend a white school nearer to her home?
  2. “Redlining” and restricting mortgage insurance was a practice used in cities all over the United States to prevent black access to predominantly white neighborhoods. Look at the map of redlining in Miami and the census map of Boston. How do you think the practice of redlining affected a city with distinct neighborhoods like Boston?
  3. Review the oral histories conducted with Lew Finfer and Moe Gillen. How did their age, family circumstances, and neighborhoods affect their perspectives on busing and desegregation?
  4. Consider the broken window, the photo of black teens, and the photo of the anti-busing rally. Read the FBI correspondence and search for the famous “Soiling of Old Glory” photograph that depicts the assault on Ted Landsmark. What emotions do these sources convey?
  5. The 1974 booklet outlines the plan for busing in Boston. The 1974 letter contains criticism of this plan by an outspoken anti-busing advocate. After reading the conclusions on the 1985 report, discuss the challenges that still impeded equality in Boston schools ten years after the implementation of court-ordered busing.

Classroom activities

Although history textbooks pay almost most attention to Little Rock, Arkansas when covering the topic of school desegregation, almost every major American city has its own contentious history of school assignment, segregation, and desegregation. Ask students to find one source or article about school segregation and/or racial inequality in education in a major city in your state, and have them write a short summary to share with the class. Following this, conduct a whole class discussion asking students to compare and contrast the history of school desegregation in their own state to what they learned about Boston’s history of school desegregation.

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