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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 951

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This is the grave of Louise Day Hicks.

Unfortunately born in 1916 in Boston, Louise Day Hicks would become the symbol of how northern whites were opposed to civil rights as southern whites if asked to do a single thing to increase racial equality, something that continues with the ways northern whites talk about schools today.

Louise Day grew up rich, despite her Irish Catholic salt of the corned beef earth pose later. Her father was a big time lawyer and judge, one of the wealthiest people in the Boston Irish community. She went to Simmons to study home economics and then got a teaching certificate at Wheelock. She taught first grade for a bit, but then married an engineer named John Hicks and became a housewife, raising two children. One would later be charged with kidnapping and then disappeared, never to be seen again. Maybe it’s because she was his mom. Anyway, she was restless. So she decided to go get a real degree, at Boston University. She then graduated from the BU Law School in 1952.

Hicks was a racist. This defined her, along with being a Catholic mother. She would create a political career on fighting the integration of Boston schools, something that would make her a hero in the South Boston Irish community. Now, there’s no way she would send her kids to public schools. Ha ha ha, no way. Little Johnny and Billy just deserved the BEST schools; after all, if you sent your kids to schools with those kids, your child might turn into a kidnapper….. So they went to Catholic schools. But she still ran for the Boston School Committee in 1961 claiming she was “the only mother on the ballot.” I don’t know whether that was true, but her kids were not in the public schools! This is incredible to me. Except that it’s not. Because even at this time, she was basically running on the racism that would empower northern urban whites to throw bricks at Martin Luther King in Chicago in 1966 and vote for George Wallace in the 1972 Democratic primary. She not only won but became the chairwoman of the committee in 1963. It was that year when the NAACP demanded the desegregation of Boston schools. There were 13 schools in the city at the time that were at least 90% Black. There was basically very little difference between Boston and Alabama. But the school committee refused to acknowledge this or do anything about it. There was in fact real support for doing something. But Hicks as chair made sure nothing was done. She also realized she could have a real political career as a racist.

Hicks demagogued her way right into the national spotlight. She relished being the lightning of white resentment Boston. Some loved her, others hated her; many thought she was an embarrassment, just as many saw her as channeling their own outrage. Basically she’s a key proto-Trump figure. In 1965, when the courts moved toward busing as a plan to integrate the schools, Day became the nationally known voice of white anger over having to send little Tammy and David to schools with those kids. She simply said that there was no such thing as segregation in Boston schools and said that kids were the pawns of racial politics. Of course, this is the claim that those who live in de facto instead of de jure segregation always make. They just happen to live in those neighborhoods. My kids live in a different neighborhood. Thus, neighborhood schools! The massive dishonesty of this argument does not get in the way of it being used by racists to justify their own choices about schools all the way to the present.

Now, Massachusetts had passed a law called the Racial Imbalance Act to commit the state to some level of integrationist policies. The state warned Hicks and the other racists on the school committee to approve of busing plans or risk legal action. Hicks and her allies appealed the Racial Imbalance Act all the way to the Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.

So Hicks decided to run for office. She nearly won the mayoral race in 1967 against Kevin White, with her slogan “You know where I stand.” As subtle as George Wallace or Donald Trump. She ran again in 1971 but lost by a larger margin. But don’t let this make you think she was actually unpopular. That’s because she was in Congress, having replaced a retriring congressman in 1970. She only served one term. And yes, she was a Democrat. She always was. She wasn’t even close to abandoning the party. In fact, other than being an unrepentant racist, she wasn’t bad on her voting, being a big supporter of the Equal Rights Act and environmentalism. But her being in Congress really was an embarrassment to the state and national Democratic Party so they went all in to defeat in her, running an independent in the general election since they couldn’t get her out in the primary. Joe Moakley ran an independent campaign from her left and defeated her.

But this by no means ended Hicks’ voice in Boston politics. She still remained the voice of school segregation in the north. She tried to claim that she wasn’t like George Wallace or any of those people. She was just protecting her home and her kids, you know what I mean, wink wink. Meanwhile, the federal government was cracking down on Boston’s racism. The state cut off funding to the city schools, the NAACP sued the city. Then, Judge Arthur Garrity issued his court-ordered busing plan that caused riots in the streets of south Boston. Hicks started a new organization called Restore our Alienated Rights (ROAR). She got all sorts of national attention by this time. She became president of the Boston City Council, in case you were wondering if any of this had hurt her in supposedly liberal Boston. It did not. Between 1974 and 1976, at least 40 separate race riots took place in Boston over school desegregation. Garrity continued to push busing through the resistance of Boston whites, and for awhile at least, Boston schools did become less segregated.

By 1977, the city was tiring of the riots. Hicks narrowly lost her city council seat that fall. She lost again in 1981 after she filled a vacancy in 1979. Her health had begun to decline anyway. But she lived long enough to see busing ultimately fail in the face of white hostility and a fading federal commitment to racial equality. Today, Boston schools remain extremely segregated. But hey, these people can’t be racist. They voted for Hillary and Biden! They just want little Maddie and Connor to have the best education at their local schools!

Hicks died in 2003. She was 87 years old.

Louise Day Hicks is buried in Saint Joseph Cemetery, West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other racists around school issues, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. George Wallace is in Montgomery, Alabama and Erwin Griswold, who has Solicitor General, advocated for the government’s do-nothing policy in Swann v. Mecklenburg County, is in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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