Reading Morgan V. Hennigan

“Don’t let anybody tell you about it. Read it. Read Tallulah Morgan vs. James Hennigan. That’s the name of Garrity’s decision. Morgan v Hennigan…  Print it out, read it. it’s incredible in explaining the conditions, what was going on.” State Rep. Byron Rushing, March 10th, 2012, Orchard Gardens School.

The Garrity decision that came out in 1974 would forever change the Boston Public School system,. In investigating an accusation of intentional segregation, the judge saw that the school committee wasn’t working fast enough and was in fact part of the reason that the school system was segregated. The decision analyzed the entire school system.  The records showed that the school committee and other people in prominent positions within in the system actively maintained a duel school system.

As a graduate of Boston public schools I believe it is vital that everyone know about the decision. I got on a school bus for 12 years and not once did I question why I had to go across Boston to get an education. It is largely because of that Garrity decision that I had to get on a school bus just to go to school. This was in the name if trying to integrate the school system and trying to get educational equity across the school system. While reading the decision think about how have things change or haven’t in the past 40 years?

Below is my 5 page summary of the 50 plus page decision. This is just a brief overview of the decision, some key points that I thought are important in helping us think about the decision. I’ve included  some direct quotes and the full original document can be found here.

Fabrice Montisol, Intern

Morgan v. Hennigan, 379 F. Supp. 410 (D.C. Mass., June 21, 1974).

GARRITY, District Judge.

THE PLAINTIFFS: The Plaintiffs were a group of Black parents and their children. This section talks about the grievances that the Black parents raised and how they felt Boston Public Schools had tried to maintain a duel school system.

Plaintiffs have alleged that the city defendants have intentionally brought about and maintained racial segregation in the Boston public schools by various actions, including the adoption and maintenance of pupil assignment policies, the establishment and manipulation of attendance areas and district lines reflecting segregated residential patterns, the establishment of grade structures and feeder patterns, the administration of school capacity, enlargement, and construction policies, transportation practices, and by unjustifiably failing to adopt or implement policies reasonably available to eliminate racial segregation in the Boston public schools.  

Plaintiffs further contend that the city defendants and their predecessors have engaged in racial discrimination with respect to the hiring and assignment of faculty and staff, and with respect to curricula and the allocation of instructional materials, and resources; that both the city and state defendants have implemented pupil classification practices which discriminate against some children in admission to certain schools, and have maintained a pattern of lower instructional expenditures in schools attended disproportionately by black children.

THE DEFENDANTS- The defendants were the Boston School Committee, the BPS Superintendent, The Massachusetts Board of  Education  and the Commissioner of Education. The defendants, who were the school committee and other heads of the system, repeatedly denied that there was a duel system, but said that it was the neighborhoods that were segregated, which they had no control over. The defendants even went  further in saying that they’d  been working towards trying to alleviate racial segregation within the school system.

The city defendants have generally denied the allegations of the plaintiffs. They have also argued that to the extent that schools in the Boston system contain disproportionate numbers of whites or blacks, that result is due to residential segregation over which they have no control and also due to the neighborhood school policy, which defendants claim is a constitutionally permissible tool of educational policy.

Massachusetts Racial Imbalance Act- This Act made an effort to alleviate the racial segregation that was rampant in the School system. This would lead to a creation of a committee, whose sole purpose was to help alleviate school segregation across the state.

The Racial Imbalance Act evolved from a report in April 1965 by an advisory committee appointed by the State Board of Education and the Commissioner of Education to study racial segregation in the public schools of Massachusetts generally and of Boston, Springfield, Cambridge, Medford and Worcester individually, named the Kiernan Report after the then Commissioner of Education for the Commonwealth, Dr. Owen B. Kiernan. The report concluded that racial imbalance was educationally harmful and should be eliminated. The report specifically noted that Boston contained 45 ‘imbalanced’ schools– i.e., schools with more than 50% Non-white students, and proposed various methods whereby the city might solve the problem.

The Degree of School Segregation This section outlined then current statistics on the degree of school segregation. It provided and in depth analysis of the ways racial segregation was held in place in Boston by governing entitites.

The Boston public schools are characterized by heavy concentrations of black pupils in some schools and heavy concentrations of white pupils in other schools. As of the 1971-72 school year, during which this action was filed, approximately 96,000 students were enrolled in the system, of whom about 59,300, or 61%, were white; 30,600, or 32% Were black; and 6,500, or 7%, were other minorities. This overall ratio, which still exists, is far out of line with the ratios in most of the system’s schools. Eighty-four percent of Boston’s white students attend schools that are more than 80% White; 62% Of the black students attend schools that are more than 70% Black. At least 80% Of Boston’s schools are segregated in the sense that their racial compositions are sharply out of line with the racial composition of the Boston public school system as a whole

I  Facilities Utilization and New Structures- This section looked at the allocation of schools and resources through a racial lens.
Overcrowding – Overcrowded signified a school with substantially more students in attendance than its capacity as calculated by school officials; underutilized signified a school having a substantial number of vacant seats.

The Boston system is oddly riddled with groupings of school facilities at each grade level that are extremely overcrowded. These overcrowded schools stand in stark contrast to other facilities at all grade levels which operate far under their capacity. Generally, the overcrowded schools are predominantly white and the under-utilized schools are predominantly black. The following tables for the school year 1971-72 demonstrate this condition with several of the more extreme situations in the high schools, junior highs and one middle school.

Deputy Superintendent Meagher did not consider assigning students from overcrowded white schools to black schools with available space because he ‘thought it would create a problem’ of white parents protesting. Assistant Superintendent Griffith did not favor such assignments because he knew that white parents were opposed to such transfers.

Portable Classrooms –Portable classrooms were established as a way to alleviate overcrowding at white schools, because it was mainly predominantly white schools that had the overcrowding issue. This meant that White students could avoid going to predominantly Black schools.

Portable classrooms are semi-mobile, one classroom buildings which are designed for quick temporary service without large capital expenditures. Boston has used them since the 1960’s to alleviate the overcrowding of some schools. The use of these facilities and the defendants’ contradictory statements regarding their use are highly probative.

II Districting and Redistricting –This section talks about how the school committee drew district lines based on the demographic of the city, and where people lived, systematically segregating the school system based on where people lived.

The defendants have not made districting changes which brought about increased segregation where there was none before, with the exception of districting changes pertaining to certain fifth and sixth grades giving advanced work classes leading to the three elite schools, which are too involved to warrant explanation here. [FN16] However the defendants have made districting changes for the purpose of perpetuating racial segregation, and findings will be made about them. The bulk of the findings in this subdivision will describe extreme disparities in the racial composition of adjacent districts and the defendants’ uncompromising resistance to redistricting when it would have reduced racial segregation. Year after year the defendants rejected proposals for redistricting carefully drawn with a view to lessening racial imbalance while at all times displaying awareness of the potential racial impact of their actions. Despite intense pressure from private groups and the state board, including the withholding of millions of dollars in state financial assistance, the defendants defeated or evaded successive redistricting proposals, for the purpose of perpetuating the existing segregated system.

On at least one occasion the committee redistricted with a view to perpetuating racial segregation. This occurred in 1968 when certain streets in the Cleveland junior high district, 91% White, were transferred to the Russell junior high district, 85% White, and to the South Boston high, 99% White.

III Feeder Patterns –The way that feeder patterns work was that students at predominantly black schools would most likely end up at an upper level school that had a very similar racial makeup. The same thing goes for students at predominantly white schools.

Enrollment at high schools is determined by a combination of seat assignments, preferences and options collectively called feeder patterns. They are promulgated in February of each year in superintendent’s circulars which incorporate by reference the geographical boundaries of intermediate school districts.

When the feeder pattern changes for the two school years 1967-68 and 1968-69 are considered together, it is apparent that: (a) graduates of heavily white K-8 schools– Cheverus, Russell and Parkman– were given seat preferences at heavily white coeducational high schools; (b) graduates of heavily black lower schools– Martin, Dearborn and Campbell– were given seat preferences at English for boys and girls or Burke for girls and nowhere else; (c) graduates of lower schools having substantial white percentages who were given seat preferences at English, Girls and Burke– Prince, Thompson and McCormack– were also given options of going to predominantly white high schools either directly or indirectly by way of a predominantly white junior high; (d) when the feeder pattern changes applicable to English started to take effect, students at heavily white Michelangelo which had fed English for several years were given the option of attending heavily white Charlestown; [FN25] and (e) channeling of black students to English, Girls and Burke and away from the grade 10-12 type high schools was facilitated by the selection of two of the most heavily black junior high schools in the city for conversion to middle schools

IV Open Enrollment and Controlled Transfer –This policy helped segregate the school system even more by allowing white students to transfer out of predominantly black school or a school that didn’t have a lot of white students, hence further segregating the system.

The terms open enrollment and controlled transfer refer to school committee policies which permit pupils, on an individual basis and when space is available, to enroll in schools outside of their residential districts or other than those determined by pertinent feeder patterns. In 1961, when open enrollment was first adopted, it was generally thought to be an aid to integration because it enabled black students to attend predominantly white schools if the schools had vacant seats and private transportation could be arranged. It soon became evident, however, that open enrollment was also an aid to segregation because it enabled white students to transfer from schools with racial compositions not to their liking.

V Faculty and Staff – This section investigates the racial makeup of the BPS faculty and staff. Similar to how the students were segregated by the system, so were the faculty members and the staff. Predominantly black schools had a higher percentage of black teachers, and staff—though still few of each.

Specifically, plaintiffs assert a denial of equal educational opportunity, viz., that defendants have knowingly pursued policies resulting in less qualified, less experienced and lower paid teachers in predominantly black schools. A third claim is that defendants have violated the constitutional right of public school students to have the school system operated free of racial discrimination in the recruiting, employment and promotion of teachers and staff.

This section looks at racial demographics among teachers

Black teachers are segregated in black schools. In 1972-73 there were majority black enrollments at 59 of the city’s 201 schools. Of the total of 356 black teachers, permanent and provisional, 244 were stationed at those 59 schools. The percentages of the total number of black teachers in the system who were teaching at majority black schools during the five previous years follow:

Unequal Education – Though predominantly black schools had a higher percentage of black teachers. They also had a higher percentage of lower performing or less experienced white teachers.


The gist of plaintiffs’ claim here is that the defendants’ practices heretofore described result in predominantly black schools being staffed with less qualified and experienced teachers and with ever changing faculties, all to the detriment of black pupils who generally are receiving an education unequal to that being given white pupils. This claim is not geared to the racial composition of the faculty and staff at predominantly black schools but to the quality of education available to students attending them. The facts support plaintiffs’ claim.

Hiring and Promotion This section looks at racial disparities in hiring and promotion. Even though Boston public schools as a system had 32% black students, the faculty didn’t come close to reflecting the demographic of the system.

For 1972-73, there were 4243 permanent teachers in the Boston school system, of whom 231, or 5.4%, were black. A state professional staff survey for 1970-71, the only year as to which such a survey was offered in evidence, gave a racial breakdown of the various administrative positions in the Boston school system for that school year, as follows:

VI  Examination and Vocational Schools and Programs-  This section examines the high degree of segregation at the exam schools, which were deemed the elite schools, and all three schools were predominantly white. A majority of the students at these schools were coming from predominantly white lower schools. Because BPS was so systematically segregated, the best schools in system were bound to be predominantly white.

A high degree of racial segregation also exists in the city’s specialized high schools and vocational programs. Three high schools, Boston Latin, Girls Latin and Boston Technical, have traditionally admitted students only by competitive examination. They offer excellent college preparatory instruction and their graduates matriculate at the nation’s finest colleges and universities; they are called examination schools or elite schools. Their enrollments are heavily white; and the faculties at the three schools from 1967 to 1972 averaged only one black member per school. 

Conclusions of Law-This section lays out the conclusions the Judge came to after considering the above evidence

It is time to turn to the future. Henceforth the defendants are under an ‘affirmative obligation’ to reverse the consequences of their unconstitutional conduct. …The defendants must eliminate all vestiges of the dual system ‘root and branch’…In order to assist the defendants in carrying out their obligations, the court will outline several remedial principles which the Supreme Court has declared to be constitutionally applicable…

Other Resources:

The Massachusetts Historical Society – gives a brief overview of the case

 Boston School Desegregation: The Fallowness of Common Ground, by Robert Dentler – gives a critique of author J. Anthony Lukas’ treatment of the decision.


  1. Paula says:

    Thanks to Fabrice for doing this and BBDP for pulling this information at the time of 50 anniversary of the decision. It puts the focus where it belongs, on people’s demands for access, equity and excellence in the schools for all Bostonians. Thank you !

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