Freedom North explores the major impact grassroots activism had on civil rights movements during the years 1940-1980. Grassroots is defined as "the ordinary people in an organization, rather than the leaders" by the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, 2001 edition. The influence of grassroots activism is clearly evident in the Northern citizens struggle to promote black unity and to improve the living conditions of the black community, "At the grassroots, economics were not divorceable from civil rights (for black activists or white segregationists), even if historians and politicians in recent decades have begun to split them." (Freedom North, Jeanne F. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard 7).
In the essay "I"d Rather Go to School in the South": How Boston's School Desegregation Complicates the Civil Rights Paradigm by Jeanne Theoharis, black parents in Boston joined together in the grassroots struggle for equality in the education system. This movement was led mainly by women, "That this was a grassroots struggle organized largely by local women-with the most charismatic leader being a woman-does not fit with prevalent conceptions of what the black freedom struggle looked like." (Freedom North, Jeanne F. Theoharis and Komozi Woodard 138).Political activists Ruth Batson and Ellen Jackson were instrumental in attempting to bridge the gap between the educational disparities in predominantly black schools and the traditionally white schools. .
Segregation in the schools was a major cause of concern because it put black children at an extreme disadvantage. Many parents expressed outrage about the poor conditions their children were being educated under and the lack of resources that were available to black students. Black schools were overcrowded, badly equipped, received very little funding and had outdated curriculums. The teachers at many of these schools were often underpaid and poorly trained with significantly less classroom experience than those who taught at white schools.