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Boston leaders work to erase city's image as a center for racial strife

By Luix OverbeaStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 19, 1982



Boston

Bostonians still recall with regret an incident seven years ago, when a white protester wielding the American flag as his weapon led an attack on a black man in front of City Hall.

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Many here say: Never again!

The 1975 incident sprang from a demonstration over forced busing, part of court-ordered school desegregation in Boston.

To shake the city's racist image - dramatized effectively on the nation's television screens and newspapers' front pages - people and organizations are beating the drum for Boston as a city of interracial good will.

Boston is promoting its schools through billboards around the nation - a gift to the city from a local advertising firm. The signs feature a multiracial, multiethnic group of students, spotlighting their national honors ranging from -science to chess.

Nevertheless, black visitors from around the nation - whether attending a civil-rights convention, a conference on housing, or a gathering of a volunteer organization - are warned bluntly through word of mouth: Boston is racist, be careful where you go.

In addition, the sprawling Boston standard metropolitan area, 2.6 million people, slightly more than 5 percent black, includes many suburbs that are near replicas of Boston in ethnic makeup, often reflecting the tensions of the city itself.

Boston's effort to erase the image of racial discord has centered, first, on regaining control of its public schools, said to be the barometer of local race relations.

US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr. is winding down his control over city schools, which have been under his supervision since 1974. Schools opened quietly this fall after eight troubled years that began with a white boycott of forced busing, white outrage over what some viewed as the destruction of neighborhood schools, and open hostility between black and white students at several high schools.

Other actions designed to reduce racial tensions include:

* A two-day conference on dealing with racial and anti-Semitic violence, vandalism, and hatred, held in October by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the New England Anti-Defamation League. The meeting emphasized the role of education in reducing prejudice. At the gathering, John H. Lawson, Massachusetts educational commissioner, pledged, ''We will move on this issue (race relations).'' He said his office is developing a human-relations curriculum, is planning an annual Brotherhood Day, will form a speakers bureau, and will monitor racial incidents.

* The Boston Police Department's Community Disorders Unit, which investigates racial incidents, now has five times the staff it had when it was set up in 1977 . ''We don't have a 100 percent track record, but our unit is effective because it has the support of (Police) Commissioner (Joseph) Jordan,'' says Sgt. Mickey Roach, the unit's commander. ''And we conduct an ongoing program to train other officers on the force in race relations.''

* Various organizations - including the Massachusetts Civic Leadership Conference, The Boston Committee, and the Corporation of Boston - have been formed to combat racism beyond the city limits. Nearby communities are also acting individually by holding meetings, socials, and workshops, to improve race relations.

In spite of these activities, recent incidents - vandalism against blacks moving into predominantly white neighborhoods, black youths retaliating with attacks on whites, antiblack graffiti, anti-Semitic activities in nearby suburbs , and a more visible public presence of the Ku Klux Klan - are reinforcing the Hub's image of intolerance.