What I Remember of METCO

Thirty years ago this September, I started Kindergarten in Needham, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. What I didn't notice then (how could I? I was four and half years old, and had known nothing else) was that the town was predominantly white. There were black kids at school, sure; and by first or second grade, I think, I was aware that they took the bus to school. I'm not sure when I learned that they didn't live in Needham.

I must've known by fifth grade, because after school one day I saw a girl who was a year ahead of me walking across the softball field toward the edge of the school grounds, and was immediately concerned. "She's going to miss her bus!" I said to my friend. The friend replied, "She lives here." Me: "Really?" I think this was my first inkling that a black family lived in Needham, that black kids didn't just arrive on buses.

By eighth grade, I knew that a couple of my friends lived in Roxbury, but I still didn't know that Roxbury was predominantly black, and I wouldn't learn until high school that it was considered a place where white people just didn't go. I got it confused with West Roxbury, where my grandmother was in the hospital and where some of my mom's piano students lived.

I'm not sure when I learned the term "METCO kids", but certainly I knew it by ninth grade. I remember the METCO buses lining up on Webster Avenue behind the school to drop students off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, and that some days the buses left later so that METCO kids could participate in after-school activities.

I must've known by tenth grade that one of the goals of METCO was integration, because I remember thinking when I passed the three or four tables of METCO kids all sitting together in the cafeteria at lunch that it wasn't working very well. I still saw my friend Chris from eighth grade in the halls sometimes, and I was immensely proud of him for his success on the basketball team, but I'd lost track of my friend Robert. I didn't participate in sports myself (not that the jocks seemed particularly well integrated, either), and all of my close friends were white.

When I announced that I was moving to North Carolina in 1984, one of the black kids in my class told me he'd never want to live in the south. "Black people are different down there," he said. My cousin, who had moved to Needham from Florida a couple years before, had voiced a similar sentiment, and I had thought he was just being a racist southerner.

What I didn't know until maybe 6 or 7 years ago, when I saw a television movie about busing in Boston, was that Boston was more racist than the South in many ways. In the South, people were just more open about their racism. In the North, you could live in a white suburb, and you never had to tell anyone what you really thought (and believe me, when it was suddenly kosher to voice negative opinions about other races, I got an earful—from a member of my own family, to my great shock). But back to busing: I'd had no idea how acrimonious the issue had been. I know I was young, but how could I have been so oblivious to this?

Thirty years ago, Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. of Federal District Court found that Boston school officials had deliberately created a dual public school system, one that discriminated against black students. He ordered forced busing to desegregate. Violence erupted as white parents threw rocks at buses carrying black children to their neighborhood schools. Thousands of white students left the system and enrolled in parochial schools. [full article (free registration required)]

I knew that many kids in my town attended parochial schools, but I hadn't realized that it had been caused by busing. As it turns out, it wasn't. What I learned today was that all the fighting was over a forced busing plan in the city of Boston. METCO was completely voluntary, and it was founded in 1966, almost a decade before Judge Garrity's ruling.

Once again, I feel as uninformed about the events of my own childhood as I did when I saw that movie on busing. It was only in trying to find the definition of METCO on Google that I've discovered as much as I have, and now I want to find out more. I've put The Other Boston Busing Story: What's Won and Lost Across the Boundary Line on my Amazon Wish List for that reason.

I'm also starting to wonder if it's time for another trip to Needham, this time with an archaeological goal in mind. I've been to Hunter, NY and Rochester, NY with each of my parents to discover their personal histories; maybe it's time to explore my own.

Posted by Lori in scrapbook at 12:16 PM on April 25, 2003

Comments (6)

Stephanie:

Yea, I feel you. I didn't know what racism was until after high school. Having been a METCO student since age 5, all I knew was "cool" white people. Whites never made me feel 'less-than' or 'unequal' until well into my adult years. I attended school in Lincoln Mass for eons, then of course Lincoln Sudbury High School; it wasn't until maybe 5 or 6 years ago that I realized that white people really don't like me (well, not that deep, but something like that.)
Too late for them, I already have my foundation via METCO; I certainly cannot begin to feel less- than, not at this point.
METCO was a great experience for me and I canít remember any of the other Black students feeling otherwise. It is because of my METCO experience that whites Ďcanít get to me,í the way they seem to get to others. Their racism doesnít even faze me, because I know Iím equal, and I grew up knowing that I was equal.
One thing I would recommend is that any METCO graduates attend one of the predominantly Black colleges, because I donít remember ANY Black history being taught in Lincoln Mass:)

peace-out....

Dale:

Thanks to both Lori and Stephanie for bringing back the memories. I attended Needham High (class of 88') via Metco - truly grateful for the experience. Growing up in such a culturally diverse, yet segregated state was difficult, yet Needham seemed like such a nice town.
I never felt out of place due to racism - our high school Principal was African Amercian. I believe classism had an impact. I was amazed at the amount of educational advancements that Needham and surrounding Suburban towns were awarded... I knew the education was exceptional. I was one of the lucky ones. In Boston you either had to be in Metco, test into Boston Tech, or one of the Latin schools to get a real education. Why was it that public schools in Boston were (and still are!!!) in shambles, barely accredited - while schools in the wealthy towns of Wellesley, Sharon, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Needham had state of the art equipment and the best staff money could buy?
Yes, I am thankful for the experience and the knowledge that students in inner-city schools receive less of an education in America - regardless of race.
I live in New Mexico (jumped on a plane five years ago) and realize how difficult life was in Boston. I miss Harvard Square, late nights in Chinatown, riding the "free" trolley to Mattapan and buying Jamaican patties "down Dudley". I don't miss seeing so many people struggling to get by in communities like Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury while affluent suburbia continues to flourish.

Anita Richardson:

I was a "Metco" kid in Framingham, Ma from 1970 - 1975. I went to Hastings Elementary School & later to Cameron High School.The educational experience was great and set a pattern of success that I have enjoyed to date. However, I have never been accepted by my own kind--Blacks (because I talked "so white") and whites merely tolerated me because I was "safer" to employ than "regular" blacks. I have been an outcast since the Metco experience--but I don't regret having participated in the program. I often wonder if others have had this same experience.

Dave:

We live in strange times, but someday I think we will look back on all of this and marvel at how crazy it was. God, I hope so. I sure wouldn't want this insanity to become the norm.

Lori:

Just saw Dale's comments, and realized the principal he's referring to must be Mr. Freedie, who was my housemaster before becoming principal. A truly great guy and outstanding educational administrator.

Regarding the well-financed suburban schools: it probably has something to do with the tax base. As long as schools continue to be financed by property taxes, they'll suck in less-affluent areas -- or areas where property taxes are less than they should be (witness the California school funding problems, which are a direct result of the tax revolt of the late 80s).

I also agree with Dale about the classism issues in Needham. They were evident to a much greater extent than racism (perhaps, as I mentioned in the post, because racism doesn't come up so much when the entire town is white). I remember during the early 80s, when our family's income level would have put us solidly in the upper middle class, we were told by a neighbor that we "really wouldn't fit in" at the Pool & Raquet Club. I suspect it was because my dad was an auto mechanic at the time. There's a snootiness in New England that sometimes reminds me of Old England.

Caitlin:

Hello Lori and others... I am researching the Metco program and stumbled across this blog entry. I found it REALLY interesting and informative and was wondering if you'd be interested in corresponding with me for a bit regarding what you remember about Metco. Please email me and let me know.

Comments

Yea, I feel you. I didn't know what racism was until after high school. Having been a METCO student since age 5, all I knew was "cool" white people. Whites never made me feel 'less-than' or 'unequal' until well into my adult years. I attended school in Lincoln Mass for eons, then of course Lincoln Sudbury High School; it wasn't until maybe 5 or 6 years ago that I realized that white people really don't like me (well, not that deep, but something like that.)
Too late for them, I already have my foundation via METCO; I certainly cannot begin to feel less- than, not at this point.
METCO was a great experience for me and I canít remember any of the other Black students feeling otherwise. It is because of my METCO experience that whites Ďcanít get to me,í the way they seem to get to others. Their racism doesnít even faze me, because I know Iím equal, and I grew up knowing that I was equal.
One thing I would recommend is that any METCO graduates attend one of the predominantly Black colleges, because I donít remember ANY Black history being taught in Lincoln Mass:)

peace-out....

Posted by: Stephanie at June 22, 2003 6:20 PM

Thanks to both Lori and Stephanie for bringing back the memories. I attended Needham High (class of 88') via Metco - truly grateful for the experience. Growing up in such a culturally diverse, yet segregated state was difficult, yet Needham seemed like such a nice town.
I never felt out of place due to racism - our high school Principal was African Amercian. I believe classism had an impact. I was amazed at the amount of educational advancements that Needham and surrounding Suburban towns were awarded... I knew the education was exceptional. I was one of the lucky ones. In Boston you either had to be in Metco, test into Boston Tech, or one of the Latin schools to get a real education. Why was it that public schools in Boston were (and still are!!!) in shambles, barely accredited - while schools in the wealthy towns of Wellesley, Sharon, Lexington, Lincoln, Newton and Needham had state of the art equipment and the best staff money could buy?
Yes, I am thankful for the experience and the knowledge that students in inner-city schools receive less of an education in America - regardless of race.
I live in New Mexico (jumped on a plane five years ago) and realize how difficult life was in Boston. I miss Harvard Square, late nights in Chinatown, riding the "free" trolley to Mattapan and buying Jamaican patties "down Dudley". I don't miss seeing so many people struggling to get by in communities like Dorchester, Mattapan and Roxbury while affluent suburbia continues to flourish.

Posted by: Dale at June 26, 2003 5:40 PM

I was a "Metco" kid in Framingham, Ma from 1970 - 1975. I went to Hastings Elementary School & later to Cameron High School.The educational experience was great and set a pattern of success that I have enjoyed to date. However, I have never been accepted by my own kind--Blacks (because I talked "so white") and whites merely tolerated me because I was "safer" to employ than "regular" blacks. I have been an outcast since the Metco experience--but I don't regret having participated in the program. I often wonder if others have had this same experience.

Posted by: Anita Richardson at October 4, 2003 1:17 AM

We live in strange times, but someday I think we will look back on all of this and marvel at how crazy it was. God, I hope so. I sure wouldn't want this insanity to become the norm.

Posted by: Dave at October 4, 2003 1:43 PM

Just saw Dale's comments, and realized the principal he's referring to must be Mr. Freedie, who was my housemaster before becoming principal. A truly great guy and outstanding educational administrator.

Regarding the well-financed suburban schools: it probably has something to do with the tax base. As long as schools continue to be financed by property taxes, they'll suck in less-affluent areas -- or areas where property taxes are less than they should be (witness the California school funding problems, which are a direct result of the tax revolt of the late 80s).

I also agree with Dale about the classism issues in Needham. They were evident to a much greater extent than racism (perhaps, as I mentioned in the post, because racism doesn't come up so much when the entire town is white). I remember during the early 80s, when our family's income level would have put us solidly in the upper middle class, we were told by a neighbor that we "really wouldn't fit in" at the Pool & Raquet Club. I suspect it was because my dad was an auto mechanic at the time. There's a snootiness in New England that sometimes reminds me of Old England.

Posted by: Lori at October 22, 2003 12:44 PM

Hello Lori and others... I am researching the Metco program and stumbled across this blog entry. I found it REALLY interesting and informative and was wondering if you'd be interested in corresponding with me for a bit regarding what you remember about Metco. Please email me and let me know.

Posted by: Caitlin at November 19, 2003 10:31 PM

Comments are now closed.