The Rabbit Inn

265 ½ Dorchester Street, South Boston

A small bar directly across the street from the Old Colony Housing Project, the Rabbit Inn and its White clientele were victims of police brutality. That it took place when and where it did was related to the often violent protests in opposition to what was popularly known as busing or forced busing, a federal-court-ordered program launched in September 1974 to desegregate the Boston Public Schools.

Around 8pm on Saturday, October 5, 1974, about 14 members of the Boston Police Department’s Tactical Patrol Force (TPF)—allegedly in response to “officer in trouble” phone calls from the bar—entered the Rabbit Inn after removing their badges. Using their billy clubs, Boston’s elite police squad proceeded to destroy much of the interior and assault the bar’s patrons—as well as individuals who happened to be in front of the building, including a 17-year-old on his way to buy milk. The attack lasted approximately five minutes and resulted in at least 10 individuals going to the hospital for head injuries, and about $20,000 in damage to the tavern.

Former site of the Rabbit Inn, April 2016. The bar was located in the left side of the building. Photo by Joseph Nevins.

The attack appears to have been revenge for what transpired the previous evening: someone had thrown a rock through the windshield of a TPF vehicle parked outside the bar. When three TPF officers tried to arrest a suspect, 25-30 people ran out of the Rabbit Inn and assaulted them.

The Rabbit Inn incident resulted in a City Council hearing, and investigations by the Boston Police Department’s Internal Affairs division and the FBI. While twelve TPF members were charged and tried in court, it appears that none were convicted.

Most TPF members (almost all of whom were White) were strongly opposed to busing. However, as the police officers often on the front lines of law and order in anti-busing strongholds and almost exclusively White neighborhoods such as South Boston and Charlestown, they became very unpopular in these areas as they clashed with protestors. Many in these neighborhoods referred to them by nicknames such as “the goon squad” and “Garrity’s Gestapo”—the latter a reference to W. Arthur Garrity, the federal judge who mandated and designed the desegregation effort.

The site of the Rabbit Inn is now a private home, and the TPF was disbanded in 1978.

Getting there:

Red Line to Andrew Station.  The former site of the Rabbit Inn is about 0.4 miles away (approximately a 7-minute walk).

To learn more:

J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families, New York: Knopf, 1985.

David Rogers, “Conflicting Stories Told in South Boston bar incident,” The Boston Evening Globe, October 7, 1974: 3.

David Rogers and Bob Jordan, “Police brutal, City Council told,” The Boston Globe, Oct 8, 1974: 1+.

Jerry Taylor, “Civil Service lifts TPF suspensions in Rabbit Inn case,” The Boston Globe, July 8, 1976: 1+.

There are several school desegregation- and busing-related sites in A People’s Guide to Greater Boston. Among them are South Boston Heights Academy, Carson Beach, Charlestown High School football field, and the Christopher Gibson School.

Nearby site of interest:

St. Augustine Chapel (the oldest Catholic church building still standing in Boston), 181 Dorchester Street.

2 Replies to “The Rabbit Inn”

  1. I was a dentist in 1974 operating at 254 Dorchester street South Boston directly across from Rabbit Inn next to MattyCohens Bells market. Many children and adults from South Boston came to me including patrons of Sullivans Tavern and Rabbit Adam’s place including James Bulger bringing in a child for treatment and the later author of “all Souls” and his siblings. Things got very conflicted as bussing occurred with police conflicting with patrons and motorcycle leading busses to St Augistins School. Each day was like a civil conflict and blacks were at risk of assault should they appear in the area. I have many events to recount about those days

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