Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Life of Three American Families:

Hi, everybody:

I’m very new here to the forum and testing the waters, but I thought I’d start out by posting about a favorite book of mine that i’ve read…mucho times, because the subject matter caught my interest when it first began…in a big way. Here goes:

*Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Life of Three American Families * is about a true cataclysm of events; Boston’s mid to late 1970’s school crisis, how three families coped with and viewed the overall situation, and the role that prominent politicians such as (then) Boston Mayor Kevin H. White, Boston School Committeewomen Louise Day Hicks and Pixie Palladino, the Cardinal, Federal District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity, who, with along with his experts, crafted the mandatory school busing plan that ultimately took Boston by storm, with the turbulence that ensued in its wake, and also the Boston police.

The Twymons, an African-American family, who resided in the South End/Lower Roxbury section of Boston, who’s mother tried hard to get her children out the schools in Lower Roxbury, the South End and Dorchester, in the hopes of getting her children a better education in racially integrated school settings. While some of the boys managed to avoid Charlestown High School altogether, the girls were regularly bussed to Charlestown on guarded buses, under Judge Garrity’s federal courtmandated busing program. The horrors that the Twymons and other non-white students endured while they were at Charlestown High School were monumental, frequently taking the form of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of many white Townie students and parents alike, who clearly did not want them there. While the girls often dated and had romantic relations with men who were much older than they were, the boys frequently got involved with crime. One of her sons stood trial for having raped and sodomized a young white woman at a party and ended up in prison, making it far tougher for their mother, who’d always was a fierce advocate of integration, and who was in extremely poor health on top of everything else.

The McGoffs, an Irish-Catholic family from Charlestown, who resided in a prominent housing project in Charlestown. Like many of the whites residing in Charlestown, many of the McGoffs, including Alice, the mother of seven kids, and her daughter, Lisa, angrily resisted mandatory school busing. Alice and her daughter, Lisa, were frequent attendees of big anti-busing rallies and demonstrations. Some of the boys joined tough fighting gangs that were known for their intense criminal exploits and doing frequent battle with the police, while some of the other McGoffs, although not in favor of busing, were busy with other interests such as sports, etc., and therefore were not interested in resisting busing.

The Divers, an upper-class, Yankee gentry family who’d moved from the suburbs to the South End to help non-whites, had bought up a house, renovated it, and were generally devoted to helping people who’d had a tougher time gaining a stronghold in Boston.

All three of these families, although from different backgrounds, had one thing in common; they had Boston’s school busing crisis to contend with, and they did it in very different ways. While the Divers were the most idealistic of the three families, it was the McGoffs and the Twymons who had the most in common; both were single mothers with a slew of several kids, living in subsidized public housing, and sending their children to take part in a school system which, for many years, had been run by an all-white School Committee that constantly pitted workingclass whites and blacks against each other by helping to keep de facto segregation in Boston’s public schools in tact, by violating the Racial Imbalance law in the most mean-spirited fashion. As a result of years of intransigence by the Boston School Committee, Boston’s African-American leaders were compelled to go the route of a Federal Lawsuit against the Boston School Committee, despite their lingering reservations for a federal lawsuit due to costs. The result was a poorly designed and poorly-executed mandated school busing program that sent age-old, pre-existing racial tensions and hostilities in Boston soaring way up about the boiling point, made many people even more angry, fearful and suspicious of each other, and inflicting deep psychological wounds on people that remained raw and open for years, before any kind of healing began.

Frank Power, an Irish-Catholic, although not from Charlestown, had been the principal of Charlestown High School since mid-year in 1968, was subject to abuse, threats and insults by many white Townie students and parents alike for accepting the court order, and for talking with and listening to the non-white students who were bused in under armed protection everyday and under frequent physical and verbal attack inside the High School. Due to Power’s poor health, which was made worse by the constant stress put on him that year, Frank Power ultimately resigned as Principal of Charlestown High School, being replaced by another principal.

All of the above having been said, I believe that the title of the book is more than adequate and accurate. It’s my favorite book, and I’ve read it many, many times.
Imho, Common Ground doesn’t excuse racist and/or criminal behaviour, the author, J. Anthony Lukas had a capacity for empathy for the various people in the book, treating them as whole human beings, and making a true effort to understand where they were coming from, and why they often acted as they did.

An interesting book worth reading, imho. I highly recommend it, in fact.