By Jim Smith
BOSTON — Federal judge W. Arthur Garrity, who ordered school busing in Boston in 1974, died of cancer last Thursday at his home in Wellesley at the age of 79.
Garrity’s decision to transport children out of their neighborhoods into schools across the city in order to achieve desegregation inflamed racial tensions. It also ushered in a turbulent era that saw rioting in the streets of South Boston under the spotlight of a national media that, to many local observers, seemed eager to portray dissenting and vociferous parents as unenlightened bigots.
News of Garrity’s death elicited a wide range of reaction, from those who praised him for his courage to those who blamed him for destroying the city’s neighborhoods and public schools.
Sen. Edward Kennedy issued a statement hailing Garrity as "a profile in courage in the law" who had a passionate commitment "to the fundamental constitutional principle of equal protection of the laws for all our citizens."
An editorial in the Boston Herald lamented that Garrity "never deserved the personal threats that dogged his life for years. . . . But it’s important to be clear that . . . massive busing of students across the city was a disaster for the city. . . . Sadly, Judge Garrity’s best-known decision will be studied for lessons in what judges should not try to do."
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Former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn told reporters: "I only wish that the decision he made about the Boston public schools didn’t disrupt the education of our children and the stability of our city as it did. In my opinion, public schools in Boston still haven’t recovered from that decision."
As reported in last week’s Echo, a predominantly Irish-American group of community activists, Boston’s Children First, filed a federal lawsuit in June claiming that forced busing is unconstitutional and discriminatory against white students. That action prompted the school committee in July to propose an end to forced busing in the year 2000, signaling the end to a tumultuous chapter in the city’s history.
Garrity, whose great-grandfather was from County Sligo, was buried Monday after a Mass at St. James Church in Wellesley.