Before Busing

A History of Boston's Long Black Freedom Struggle

By Zebulon Vance Miletsky

280 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6277-0
    Published: December 2022
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6276-3
    Published: December 2022
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-6278-7
    Published: November 2022
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5989-1
    Published: November 2022

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit
In many histories of Boston, African Americans have remained almost invisible. Partly as a result, when the 1972 crisis over school desegregation and busing erupted, many observers professed shock at the overt racism on display in the "cradle of liberty." Yet the city has long been divided over matters of race, and it was also home to a far older Black organizing tradition than many realize. A community of Black activists had fought segregated education since the origins of public schooling and racial inequality since the end of northern slavery.

Before Busing tells the story of the men and women who struggled and demonstrated to make school desegregation a reality in Boston. It reveals the legal efforts and battles over tactics that played out locally and influenced the national Black freedom struggle. And the book gives credit to the Black organizers, parents, and children who fought long and hard battles for justice that have been left out of the standard narratives of the civil rights movement. What emerges is a clear picture of the long and hard-fought campaigns to break the back of Jim Crow education in the North and make Boston into a better, more democratic city—a fight that continues to this day.

About the Author

Zebulon Vance Miletsky is associate professor of Africana Studies at Stony Brook University.
For more information about Zebulon Vance Miletsky, visit the Author Page.


"Impressive . . . .Before Busing resoundingly reaffirms that a second glance at places we do not assume to be home to dramatic freedom struggles may actually be cradles of radical grassroots reform.”—Black Perspectives

"[A] balanced and powerful work. . . . What sets this treatment apart from others is the author's ability to give faces to the struggle. Writing hard history, Miletsky makes his narrative far more vivid and important through portraits of fighters, including Black jurists, teachers, and civil rights advocates like Hubie Jones, and white people on all sides of the story, underscoring the reality that the struggle is not over. Those wanting depth and detail on Boston’s racial history would do well to dive into this authoritative treatment."—CHOICE

"This is a history of Black and white Bostonians in all their variations in ethnicity and national origin that few others, if any, could have written. Before Busing begins at the origins and guides us through victories and defeats, competing goals and contradictory strategies. There is a galaxy of personalities: some well known, many revealed for the first time. Strong throughout, brilliant when combining existing scholarship and archival research with interviews and insights gained from personal experience, Before Busing gets Boston 'right.'"—John H. Bracey, University of Massachusetts at Amherst

"This is a significant contribution, which will do much to shift discussion around Black America’s long struggle for civil rights from the South to the North, and to expose how African Americans in the North, particularly urban Boston, used their particular environments, politics, and social conditions to respond to the rapidly changing social and political conditions. It skillfully shows how the community of Black Bostonians unified and built coalitions to define freedom, citizenship and equality."—Shawn Leigh Alexander, author of An Army of Lions: The Struggle for Civil Rights before the NAACP