I was honored to know Chuck Willie and experience the wide-ranging personhood described in his obituary, which was published on Martin Luther King Day (“Charles V. Willie, 1927-2022: He crafted desegregation strategy for city’s schools”). However, a few noteworthy pieces of his history are missing from that account.
Willie’s greatest impact on Boston public life began in 1975, a decade before the “controlled choice” approach to desegregation that was described in the obituary. He served as a court-appointed master shaping the first mandatory citywide school desegregation plan. Ray Flynn, then South Boston’s state representative, was one of the plan’s leading opponents, whose resistance fanned public anger.
That plan vindicated the constitutional rights of Boston’s Black students. But elected officials such as Flynn stoked in many the mistaken belief that Boston could be exempt from the federal law applied in other US municipalities. This in turn contributed to the widespread violence and lawlessness that left such a scar on Boston.
It is a tribute to both men that, many years later, Flynn, as mayor, asked Willie to develop a “controlled-choice” plan. But Willie’s huge contribution to Boston’s desegregation history in its first turbulent years deserves inclusion for readers wishing to know the full truth of that critical time in our city’s history.
Eric Van Loon
The writer is one of the lawyers who represented the Black parents and students in the Boston school desegregation case.