This is is Part Two of an ongoing year-long series on the impact of court ordered desegregation in Boston.  Part One can be accessed here.  This series is produced and reported in partnership with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.


In 1974, Stevie Wonder’s "InnerVision," won the Grammy for Album of the Year. It was the year Nixon resigned, Patty Hearst was kidnapped, the Celtics won and the Bruins came close. And for Julie Hannigan, 1974 was the year she was bused as an 11-year-old from a largely white section of Dorchester to a largely black area of that vast neighborhood — to the Oliver Wendell Holmes Middle School. Julie’s parents supported desegregation, but before she even got to school she had concerns.

"I was just a little scared,” Hannigan would write in a school essay. Julie was among 31 sixth graders at the Holmes that year whose essays on court ordered desegregation were rediscovered by a Brandeis University research team combing through the papers of former mayor Kevin White. Julie wrote freely about how she was feeling.

"This is the best school year I ever had," she wrote. "Next year really hope I can go to Girls’ Latin. My father will be proud, and I’ll get a much better education, and I can probably go to the college of my choice. Because if I get to college and get my degree and all, I’ll be what I want to be."

But was college even in the cards after Julie and 30 classmates endured a year of deep rooted stereotypes, rocks and bottles thrown by adults, politicians making decisions that left families feeling powerless, and a judge trying to right the wrongs of a school committee that fought to maintain segregation 20 years after Brown vs the Board of Education?

So we were curious: Whatever happened to those 6th graders. Whatever ever happened to Julie, and 30 other students who wrote about their experiences that first year of busing? We found them, or at least some of them, and they shared their reflections on a difficult year. Today at 51, reflecting back to 1974, Hannigan says life did not work out as she expected.

In her essay she wrote about one day becoming "a zoologist or a marine biologist."

But dreams are sometimes deferred.

"I thought I was going to be a scientist," she said. "I thought I was going to a zoologist. But life took a detour as life often does. Hannigan graduated from Boston Latin, went to college for a few years and today works in Vermont. She’s a single mom.

And did busing have any lasting meaning for Julie — whose folks believed in integration?

"For many years I believed that adults should not solve their problems through their children, because it was really violent and scary watching the news," she said.

And it still gets to her.

"I worried about that," she said. "But I calmed down at the Oliver Wendell Holmes School, because I wasn’t experiencing what I was seeing on the news. It was painful. It was difficult when I saw black students going into South Boston and what they went through. All that hate projected at them and I thought it was awful."

Forty years later — a different time perhaps — but race relations are still raw.

"Well, being 40 years later, and seeing what’s gone on with Trayvon Martin, with Ferguson, the man by the chokehold, it blows my mind that this is still happening 40 years later," she said.

Today, her essay is not written with a yellow pencil on a piece of paper sitting in an integrated classroom at the start of busing in Dorchester. Today, this is her essay:

"Yes, we’ve made progress," she said. "Yes, Barack Obama is President. But I’m just dismayed and disheartened that we have not progressed further with social justice and tolerance."

Mark Jaworski, one of Julie’s sixth-grade, white classmates, in his long-lost essay, recalled the first day of being bused from one part of Dorchester to another.

"I didn’t want to go," he wrote.

Jaworksi, now in his early 50’s, was never high on busing, especially that one time when rocks were thrown at the bus he was on as it traversed through a black neighborhood in route to the Holmes.

"All of a sudden you hear things hitting the window and hitting the bus, and you duck down to protect yourself and obviously being a little scared about that," he said. "It happened at least once and that was more than enough."

He was shaken by the experience. Though he made friends with black classmates, Jaworski left the Holmes at the end of the year and finished his schooling at both a white Catholic school and an integrated high school. Jaworski went on to college, became a Boston Globe sports editor — and today?

"I work for the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind.," he said.

Jaworski’s not sure if his one year at the Holmes had any significant impact on his life. But it did one thing for sure.

"It made me more comfortable with different people, which was probably the whole plan to begin with," he said.

Another classmate of Jaworksi and Hannigan's was Joseph Kirnon. Kirnon grew up in a black Caribbean household listening to the island patois; Jaworski heard Boston-accented English spoken at home. Jaworski was bused. Kirnon wasn’t. Today, Kirnon works as assistant magistrate at the Roxbury District Court. Jaworski works in sports journalism. Both men enrolled their children in integrated schools.

"They made the most of it," Jaworski said. "They’ve taken advantage even more so than me."

And Kirnon says diversity is key to getting along.

"That’s the only way I know," he said.

Was he affected by his experience at the Holmes forty years ago?

"It’s still part of me," he said.

But Kirnon’s rich, racially textured experiences there, at Boston Latin and later in college, is not matched by growing segregation in his Dorchester neighborhood.

"I’ve seen the white families leave over time," Kirnon said. "So the majority of this particular area here I would have to say is about 98 percent black at this time. And I saw it change over the years."

So, too, has the Oliver Wendell Holmes school, outside of where we’re sitting right now. The Holmes today is 60 percent black, 38 percent Latino and Asian. Two percent white. Forty years after school desegregation. Kirnon says he’s noticed the changes.

"I drive by here everyday," he said. "Because I still live here."

So does Cynthia Martin. She’s black, 51 As an 11 year-old, 40 years ago, she wrote an essay that began: "I never thought about being bused."

That’s because she wasn’t. But she made friends with students who were bused to the Holmes, students who didn’t look like her — and the impact 40 years on?

"As a parent, it gave me the inspiration that I wanted to insure my children had multiracial experience," Martin said.

Martin today leads an IT team at a U.S. government agency. She sometimes pinches herself, finding it hard to believe that as a teenage mother in high school she’s made it this far. Sitting on a bench on the grounds of what is now the Holmes Elementary School, Cynthia stares at a 40-year-old photo of her sixth grade class.

"Well there’s Joseph, Joseph Kirnon," she said. "I remember Julie. Julie was a lot of fun."

Looking at the yellowed photo, Martin, like Kirnon and Hannigan, is struck by the promises of busing — integration and shared resources — and the reality of race relations today.

"Actually my job doesn’t look that diverse," she said. "Where I work there are perhaps 180 employees and it’s just a handful of people that are of color, maybe ten, if that."

But her one year at the Holmes School — memorialized in student essays that first year of busing in Boston — still informs Martin’s thinking on race.

"I feel very fortunate to have had the experience," she said. "I know I didn’t value it when it was happening and even after. Until now, when you all made me open up the archives and find these rare findings. I feel blessed."

Just one classroom in one school — 31 students were forced to get along, and they did. But for many, race relations since the '70s have stood still: Oprah Winfrey may have dominated TV, "The Cosby Show" may have altered stereotypes and Boston may have become a more welcoming place, but city neighborhoods and schools are still deeply segregated, and the headlines still reflect a seemingly interminable racial divide. Yet in the lives of at least four former sixth graders, the barriers of skin color, if not torn down altogether, became less formidable that one year, 40 years ago.