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Morgan vs. Hennigan


sitting alone at recess
“She stayed back after all her classmates left for recess,” reads the title of this 1971 photograph, portraying the real meaning of segregation and separation. Courtesy Boston Public Library

In 1970, parents of black children alleged that the Boston School Committee intentionally violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution by its deliberate policy of racial segregation. The parents filed a class action suit in the United States District Court for Massachusetts.

taking the bus to school
Ultimately, the Court’s decision most affected the children who were in the middle of this storm.
Courtesy Boston Public Library

After a long trial, Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. found in 1974 that the School Committee had “knowingly carried out a systematic program of segregation affecting all of the city’s students, teachers and school facilities.” The ruling, unanimously affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals, ordered the School Committee to desegregate Boston schools by instituting student assignment, teacher employment, and facility improvement procedures, as well as the use of busing on a citywide basis.

In 1994, the District Court issued its final judgment, permanently prohibiting the School Committee from practicing racial discrimination in the public schools.




Twenty years later...
Challenging Judge Garrity’s court decision in 1996 and 1998, two complaints alleged that the students, Julia McLaughlin and Sarah Wessman, were denied admission to the Boston Latin School because of a racially conscious admissions policy that violated the United States Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

In 1998, Chief Judge Joseph Tauro of the United States District Court of Massachusetts ruled that achieving a racially diverse student body does not violate the United States Constitution, and that the admissions policy was justified because of the Boston School Committee’s remaining racially discriminating practices. The United States Court of Appeals, however, reversed the ruling, holding the policy unconstitutional.

As a result, fewer African American and Hispanic students now attend Boston Latin School and Boston Latin Academy than during the years of court-ordered school desegregation.


Articles courtesy The Boston Globe


Judge W. Arthur Garrity
Courtesy Archives and Special Collections Department, Healey Library, University of Massachusetts at Boston

After his Boston public school desegregation decision, Judge Garrity and other public figures received hundreds of letters, reflecting the deep range of emotions and opinions about his ruling: from support to fear and bigotry—and every shading in between.
Letters to Judge Garrity courtesy University of Massachusetts, Boston, Archives and Special Collections

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Thomas I. Atkins
(born 1939)
Lawyer, scholar and civil rights activist, Thomas Atkins served as Associate Trial Counsel for the plaintiffs in Morgan v. Hennigan.
Courtesy The Bay State Banner

J. Harold (Nick) Flannery
J. Harold (Nick) Flannery was the lead counsel for the plaintiffs in Morgan v. Hennigan. He later served on the Massachusetts Superior and Appeals Courts.
Photograph by Harvard Studios. Courtesy Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly