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20 Years After Integration, South Boston Still Simmers With Racial Tension

May 10, 1993

BOSTON (AP) _ When Mayor Raymond Flynn told a news conference that last week’s rock- throwing brawl at South Boston High School wasn’t racially motivated, people from the neighborhood laughed.

Indeed, the racial roots of conflict in Flynn’s old neighborhood seem to have outlasted nearly 20 years of forced busing to integrate the high school.

And although many white South Boston residents insist they aren’t racist, they blame rising crime on ″outsiders″ and say the media are quicker to report white attacks on blacks than black attacks on whites.

″When we stick up for one another we’re called racists,″ complained Donna Wallace, 52, a white South Boston resident.

The outburst at the high school Thursday capped nearly a week of heightening racial tensions reminiscent of the early days of court-ordered desegregation in the 1970s.

In those days, TV news reports showed black students being pelted with stones. South Boston was seen around the nation as a symbol of resistance to integration.

City officials, vowing not to go through that again, closed the school on Friday and held meetings with parents and students throughout Boston over the weekend.

Despite their efforts, they arrived on campus Sunday morning to find racial slurs against blacks spray-painted on a building.

The school was to reopen to seniors today, and they were to be met by security officers using hand-held metal detectors to search for weapons. Other students were to return later in the week.

Many parents and students had asked for additional security, saying some students were bringing weapons to campus.

Flynn told a news conference Thursday that he thought the security issue, not race, had prompted the brawl. People from the neighborhood laughed, and other officials agreed the problem goes beyond school security.

″South Boston has been going through an era of change,″ said Martin Walsh, director of the Boston office of the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service. ″The majority of people have been able to adjust and adapt. But in any community, you have to worry about those who may disagree with what is happening.″

City Councilor Albert ″Dapper″ O’Neil complained that ″liberal do- gooders″ created the problem when they began integrating schools.

″In 1974, I was right that forced busing would never work in this city,″ he said.

But some black students say the problem is simply racism, not resistance to change.

″It’s the whole South Boston, the entire prejudiced South Boston, and they are proud of it, too,″ said Kion Thomas, 15, a black freshman at South Boston High School.

Some white residents agree.

″There probably are racists around here,″ said Carol Adario, who was born and raised in South Boston and works in an insurance office there. ″I think it’s the kind of a town where they like locals. South Boston just seems to be a white community. There are blacks living here but the whites aren’t very happy about it.″

John Kane, who lives a block from the school, said neighborhood feelings have changed since integration.

″The problem is, they’ve taken the pride out of the school,″ he said. ″South Boston High won the state basketball championship and nobody in Southie cared because there are no white kids on the team.″

But another lifelong resident, Bill McDonough, says South Boston has become a more integrated, tolerant community since integration.

″Is that to say that all the problems are solved?,″ he asked. ″No.

″Racial conflict exists in this country. It’s not a Boston problem, it’s a national and an international issue.″

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