WW in 1974: Massive militant turnout for Boston march against racism
Published Jun 12, 2008 8:40 PM
Editor’s note: Workers World is in its 50th year of publication.
Throughout the year, we will share with our readers some of the paper’s
content over the past half century. The following article, about a massive
march to counter racist attacks during the desegregation of Boston schools and
busing of Black schoolchildren, ran in the Dec. 20, 1974, issue of
By Andy Stapp
BOSTON, Dec. 14—The most massive and militant demonstration against
racism held anywhere in the United States for a decade took place today in the
city of Boston.
The march was called by the Emergency Committee for a National Mobilization
Against Racism, an organization set up to counter the racist and fascist groups
who have been instigating lynch mob attacks on Black people here under the code
slogan of “fighting busing.”
Participants in the anti-racist demonstration began arriving in Roberto
Clemente Memorial Park at 10 a.m., about three hours before the march was
scheduled to begin. Many were among the estimated 5,000 people who came in
buses from 36 states to join 20,000 local residents of Boston, almost half of
whom were Black, who participated in the action.
March Garners Wide Support
Only seven weeks had passed since the Emergency Committee had begun to build
for the demonstration. During that brief period the idea of a march against the
racist terror gripping Boston gathered very wide support, especially from
labor, despite the utter collapse of the ruling class liberals of the Kennedy
By December 14, half a million leaflets calling for the demonstration had been
handed out in the various neighborhoods of Boston. Shortly before the march,
South Boston itself, an organizing center for the fascists, was heavily
postered by workers from the Emergency Committee.
A number of gay women, several of whom live in South Boston, took the lead in
this and in one night pasted over 100 posters over the racist epithets, KKK
slogans and swastikas that every morning have confronted the Black school
children being bused into the area.
By 12:45, the park was a sea of color as thousands of demonstrators massed with
green banners and flags denouncing racism. Although it was cold and threatening
to rain, the crowd was in high spirits. Even before the march began, those
present could see it would be larger than anything the racists had been able to
organize—despite almost a decade of segregationist organizing in South
As more and more demonstrators poured into the assembly area it was clear on
people’s faces: they knew history was being made in Boston this
‘KKK–It’s Not Your Day!’
The racists—the Klan, Nazis and the notorious ROAR [Restore Our Alienated
Rights] group led by Louise Day Hicks—had threatened to use violence to
stop the march only a few weeks ago. In the face of the large and militant
crowd that gathered today, however, not one racist dared show his face. Cheers
rippled through the field as a group of demonstrators hung Hicks in effigy. The
jubilant anti-racist crowd began to chant, “KKK—it’s not your
Less than a week before, 600 of the most vicious racists had trapped 100 Black
children inside South Boston High School for four hours, threatening to kill
them if they tried to go home.
The media spread the news of this vile attack across the country. The
television networks showed the hate-distorted faces of these racists, while
commentators implied that this was how the majority in Boston feel about Black
people trying to get equal rights.
The demonstration today exposed this lie and dramatically showed the majority
of people have nothing in common with the lynchers.
The crowd in the park swelled to 20,000. Shortly before 1 p.m., a contingent
under the leadership of the Socialist Workers Party broke away from the
majority and marched ahead to the Boston Common, but relatively few left with
the SWP, and even some of these seem to have been confused.
To make matters worse the SWP faction marched down what they proclaimed as the
“legal” route, while the Black leadership were still attempting to
pressure the police for a better one.
Crowd Gets Even Larger
At 1:40 p.m., the march was off. “We say NO to racism,” the crowd
chanted as it surged up the street. By now the march was so large that a person
standing in the midsection could not see either the front or rear. A group from
South Boston was there, too, marching with Black people from Roxbury.
Many of the marchers had come many hundreds of miles from the South to help the
people of Boston fight the racists, just as 10 years ago many from Boston went
South to aid in the struggle there.
It had been announced for several days that the march would proceed down
Boylston Street, a route the racists have often used in their
“anti-busing” marches. But Boston’s liberal mayor, Kevin
White, uses a different rulebook for Black people and their white supporters
than the one for Hicks, Kerrigan and the other local racist politicians.
When the march reached the intersection of Boylston and Massachusetts Avenue, a
massive police barricade appeared. Dozens of mounted cops, backed up by over
100 riot police and scores of cop cars and vans, blocked the way.
The marchers protested being denied the use of Boylston Street, which had
always been open for the right-wing demonstrations. But Boylston is the main
shopping street and probably the richest in the whole state of Massachusetts,
and capitalists who had welcomed the racists with open arms were adamant
against letting an anti-racist march use the route.
The December 15 Boston Globe admitted this, writing, “Deputy Police
Superintendent Joseph Jordan told reporters that Boylston Street businessmen
had complained,” and therefore the march could not go through.
For about 20 minutes, the cops and demonstrators confronted each other, the
marchers demanding the street be opened, the cops refusing. Suddenly, the
mounted police charged, clubbing and pushing. Six of the marchers were
arrested, but the line held.
The marchers then turned left and proceeded to Commonwealth Avenue and then to
the Boston Common rally site. When the head of the march reached the
speakers’ platform at the Common, the hundreds of banners of the
Emergency Committee proclaiming, “We say no to racism—we say no to
racist mob violence,” stretched back for more than a mile all the way
back to the starting point.
For almost an hour the marchers streamed into the Boston Common, and by the
time Mtangulizi, the chairman of the rally, introduced Ralph Abernathy, 25,000
people had massed in the Common.
Abernathy was warmly applauded by the crowd when he said, “We have come
to Boston to say that Hicks and all her gang should be jailed.” He went
on to attack President Ford and said of poor whites, “Their struggle is
our struggle. Let us get together and let the racists know we are not going to
be turned back or turned around.”
subhead: Dick Gregory Nails the Rich
He was followed on the podium by Dick Gregory, who pointed the finger at the
wealthy interests who have been behind the racist attacks, saying,
“We’re going to see to it that these few rich elite stop tricking
white folks. The Rockefellers and the power class in this country
wouldn’t walk their dogs through the poor white neighborhoods or wash
their feet in the pots poor whites cook in.”
Jesús López of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party spoke next. “We
are participating in this rally,” López stated, “to raise the
voice of the Puerto Rican people who are fighting the same enemy, U.S.
imperialism. Our struggle is for the destruction of the reactionary capitalist
system. This system uses racism to keep large sections of the people oppressed
and exploited. The enemy is a small minority, the capitalists who leech off the
blood and sweat of the workers all over the world. The Hicks, the Fords, the
Rockefellers are using racism to divide the people.”
Ellen Moves Camp, representing the American Indian Movement, followed
López. Moves Camp called on all people to “stand as one against
racism in the U.S.” and asked support for the Native Americans being
framed up in the Eagle Bay case.
‘We Are Ready!’
Bill Lucy, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, spoke next.
Lucy told the crowd that, “The time has come to put human needs over
He added, “We are ready to come back any time in the fight to end
John Boone, a leader in the fight against the concentration camp conditions in
U.S. prisons, followed Lucy. Boone called the prison system “the second
slave system.” He introduced the wife of a prisoner who said,
“It’s time for people like myself to say we can’t live with
racism. I’m convinced that together we can do it.”
Two high school students spoke next. Marguerita Skinner, a Black student
attending school in South Boston, was warmly applauded when she stated,
“We ought to be allowed to go to school there just like they
White Student Against Racism
Linda Lawrence, a white high school student, spoke next and said that many of
the white kids weren’t against going to school with the Black students
but that their parents were making them stay out. She said that “deep
imbedded racism” runs rampant where she lives and that she had been
threatened for being seen with Black children.
“Racism, like a huge cloud, hangs over Boston today,” she said, but
added, “The clouds must eventually break and the sun shine through once
Claudette Furlonge followed the two students on the speakers’ platform. A
national coordinator for Women United For Action, Furlonge urged the people
massed in the Commons to dig deep into the economic system itself to find those
who promote racism. “Our demonstration here today must answer the racist
mobs, show them we can’t be intimidated, can’t be beaten down. Our
presence has shown them that they can’t stop the struggle of Black people
for freedom and justice. But it isn’t just the racist mobs we must
answer. We must set our sights on the big shots behind them or we will fall
short of our mark. We must get to those who instigate the violence, finance the
organizing, those who find it so very, very profitable to have poor fighting
poor when a depression is coming on.”
‘Stand Up Or Lie Down And Die Like Dogs’
The next speaker was state Sen. Bill Owens, the first Black state senator of
Massachusetts and chairman of the Emergency Committee. Owens said, “At
some point we have to make a decision. Stand up or lie down and die like
dogs.” Calling the attacks on Black school children the epitome of racial
oppression, Owens went on to denounce Mayor White for acceding to the Boylston
Street millionaire demands to bar the march. Owens stated, “Mayor White
had the audacity to turn loose his militia on us this morning. The mayor of the
city of Boston was willing to sacrifice all of us in favor of capitalism and
big business. They were willing to trample us with horses. Big business did
everything in its power to stop this march. The police department made up its
mind we wouldn’t come here.” It was apparent from the size of the
crowd that the mayor, the cops and the right wing had failed on all counts.
The speaking program wound up with Imamu Baraka, leader of the Congress of
Afrikan People, and Professor George Wald, Nobel laureate in physiology.
On Friday, the night before the march, the Student Committee held a teach-in at
nearby Harvard with nearly 1,000 in attendance.
Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond; the Reverend Vernon Carter, a famous civil
rights fighter of the sixties; and Jonathan Kozol, author of “Death at an
Early Age,” addressed the crowd. Kozol received a standing ovation for
his heartfelt indictment of the racist system.
Julian Bond said the racism was “cheered and encouraged by a parochial
president” and “wrapped in and sanctified by the American
Richard Wallace, a Black junior high school student, told a vivid story of how
racist parents had sent their kids running through his school with white sheets
on, screaming that they were the KKK.
Boston was not alone on Dec. 14 in the fight against racism. Support rallies
were held in Seattle, San Francisco, Pasadena, Houston, Dubuque, Portland,
Youngstown, Milwaukee and Denver.
Mtangulizi closed the Boston rally by congratulating the staff of the Emergency
Committee, naming Chuck Harris, Claudette Furlonge, Pam Kirkland, Nick Frankel,
Mwanafunzi, Brian Becker, Leslie Feinberg, Henry Kubick, Akoua, Gary Wilson and
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