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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 WW.

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 stripe.

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 Boston.

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 day.

‘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 day!”

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.

Police Charge

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 capitalist needs.”

He added, “We are ready to come back any time in the fight to end racism.”

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 are.”

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 more.”

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 flag.”

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 Bob Young.