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Posted October 20, 2005 in race relations in Boston
Adam Bernstein, "Louise Day Hicks Dies at 87; Led Anti-Busing Effort in Boston," Washington Post (October 23, 2003)

Louise Day Hicks Dies at 87; Led Anti-Busing Effort in Boston

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2003; Page B06

Louise Day Hicks, 87, who tapped into racial and class discontent to become leader of the anti-busing movement in her native Boston, died Oct. 21. The location and cause of death was not reported. For the last 20 years, she had been a recluse, living in her childhood home.

A judge's daughter, she received her law degree at 39 and climbed swiftly to national attention as chairwoman of Boston's school board in the mid-1960s. She involved herself in one of the most divisive issues of the day, busing black students into white neighborhoods (and vice versa) to end what black leaders and a noted jurist called "de facto" segregation.

With her pointed rhetoric and stalwart manner, Mrs. Hicks galvanized blue-collar and middle-class whites by denouncing civil rights leaders as using children "as pawns" in their fight to correct larger social ills.

Her backers urged her toward greater political ambitions. As a mayoral candidate in 1967, she used the campaign slogan "You know where I stand." The motto not-so-subtly addressed busing.

Her views brought her fame, including a cover story in Newsweek, and condemnation from much of the local and national media. Under constant threat, she sought a gun permit and needed constant bodyguard protection.

She lost a bid to become mayor of Boston to Kevin H. White, the Massachusetts secretary of state, by fewer than 12,000 votes. Two years later, she won election to the City Council.

When then-House Speaker John W. McCormack (D) retired in 1971 after more than 40 years in Congress, Mrs. Hicks, a Democrat, won his seat. She served one term before losing in 1973 to Independent candidate J. Joseph Moakley. Moakley later switched to the Democratic Party and died in office in 2001.

Mrs. Hicks's term in the House had largely been seen as a perch from which to defeat White in the next mayoral race. He beat her soundly.

Back on the City Council, Mrs. Hicks began attacking the 1974 decision by U.S. District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. ordering Boston schools to integrate through busing. As a result of a phased busing plan, there was an exchange of students between largely Irish South Boston and mostly black Roxbury. Mobs formed, men were beaten and school buses carrying black students were pelted with rocks and bottles.

As City Council chairwoman, she painted Garrity as a patrician jurist whose decision "discriminates against the poor." She railed against other powerful forces, calling President Gerald R. Ford, U.S. Attorney General Edward H. Levi and Sens. Edward W. Brooke III and Edward M. Kennedy "apostles of urban neglect."

She did not escape condemnation. Civil rights leader James Farmer called her "the Bull Connor of Boston," referring to the Birmingham police commissioner whose brutal tactics against blacks were widely condemned.

Mrs. Hicks said she was not racist but knew many of her supporters were. "The important thing is that I'm not bigoted," she said. "To me, that word means all the dreadful Southern segregationist, Jim Crow business that's always shocked and revolted me."

In 1976, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review Garrity's busing order and let it stand. By the late 1980s, the system had become overwhelmingly black, making racial balance a virtually impossible goal. Garrity ended his busing order.

Mrs. Hicks, meanwhile, lost her 1977 council race, returned in 1979 to fill a vacancy and tried again unsuccessfully for a seat in 1980. That ended her public career.

Anna Louise Day's mother died at a young age, and she was raised in South Boston by her doting father, a District Court judge. She described him as the biggest influence in her life.

After graduating in 1938 from Wheelock College, she taught first grade and worked in her father's law office. In the 1950s, she received education and law degrees from Boston University.

She began a law practice in the late 1950s with her brother and specialized in property transfers. She also was counsel to the Boston Juvenile Court.

She ran for the Boston School Committee in the early 1960s. After an initially uncontroversial term, she quickly attracted attention for clashes with civil rights leaders bemoaning de facto segregation.

She became known for her protection of neighborhood schools. She also criticized a 1965 state law that required school districts to correct perceived racial imbalances in classrooms. To Mrs. Hicks, the law was one of many "pompous pronouncements of the uninformed." She also organized a group called Mothers for Neighborhood Schools and oversaw a reclassification of Asians from "nonwhite" to "white" to change some of the demographic figures.

Her statements led to brief classroom boycotts by blacks but made her a hero to her political base, which implored her to run for mayor in 1967.

Her husband, John E. Hicks, whom she married in 1942, died of cancer in 1968.

Survivors include a son.

2003 The Washington Post Company

Category: race relations in Boston