While doing some reading this morning, I came across a couple of stories that touched on Brown v. Board of Education and desgregation in American public schools.
The first is a story from Retro Report:
A story of America’s school integration and what happened when the buses stopped rolling.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, busing became a dirty word to parents of many school age children around the country, especially in the South. And no place attracted more attention than Charlotte, North Carolina, whose long fight over mandatory busing landed it in a closely-watched test case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The landmark 1971 ruling mandated that federal courts could impose a host of remedies, including busing, to force school integration in Charlotte, and opened the floodgates for busing students in hundreds of school districts across the country over the next decade.
On the face of it, busing seemed a logical solution to implementing the long overdue school desegregation promised by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education more than 15 years earlier. But implementation turned out to be anything but easy.
Some whites feared racial integration; others wondered what might happen to their kids when they were bused far from home. But blacks also were uncomfortable with the prospect. For many, their fight had always been more about long-denied education resources — money, teachers, books and facilities — than a desire to sit next to white children in schools way across town.
All of these fears played out in Charlotte as the nation watched. The nightly news and the newspapers led with stories of “race riots” where white and non-white students, mostly blacks back then, had suddenly been thrust together. There were bomb threats and vandalism at schools on opening day. The parents of many kids, mostly white students, chose to keep their children home.
Then something curious happened. Over time, by fits and starts, mandatory busing began to succeed in Charlotte. Young whites and young blacks worked things out, both in the classroom and out on the playing fields. Charlotte became a national darling in the drive to integrate, and a symbol of what was possible when people gave forced busing a chance.
But that’s not where the story of busing ends. Retro Report took a look back at Charlotte’s busing struggle, along with the nation’s struggle at large, digging through research and interviewing some of those whose lives were shaped by this historic effort to make good on the promise of Brown v. Board of Education. What we found is both reassuring and disturbing at turns, and proof that the struggle for school equality is far from over.
Reporter’s Notebook: The Battle for Busing by B. Drummond Ayres, Jr.
Roll Call: What happened when busing stopped?
New York Times: Desegregation and the Public Schools
EdSource: Schools resegregate after end of mandatory busing programs
Conversations with Thinkers interviewed co-producer B. Drummond Ayres Jr.:
My mother experienced school segregation as a child in Greenville, South Carolina, and then later busing when she moved to Montclair, New Jersey. My dad, on the other hand, always attended neighborhood, integrated schools in Brooklyn, New York, and Linden, New Jersey. Somehow, my mother’s experience seemed so extremely foreign and wrong and scary to me.
I attended small, private Christian schools my whole life with a mix of kids. I am grateful for that. I can’t imagine my life without my diverse group of friends.
But as this story shows, desegregation is not a simple matter. Fast forward to the late 90’s and many Black parents were calling for the end of forced busing. There is a huge matter of economics and class segregation. And there’s no denying that many of the most segregated schools are up north, including in my dad’s hometown of NYC.
Yesterday I was wearing the “Their Eyes Were Watching God” tee I picked up while down in Virginia, and that got me thinking about the author, Zora Neale Hurston. I found my way on to her Wiki page (after a stroll down George Eliot’s very interesting Wiki by way of The New Yorker) and read how Ms. Hurston was quite opposed to the Brown ruling:
Hurston opposed the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case of 1954. She felt that if separate schools were truly equal (and she believed that they were rapidly becoming so), educating black students in physical proximity to white students would not result in better education. In addition, she worried about the demise of black schools and black teachers as a way to pass on cultural tradition to future generations of African Americans. She voiced this opposition in a letter, “Court Order Can’t Make the Races Mix”, that was published in the Orlando Sentinel in August 1955. Hurston had not reversed her long-time opposition to segregation.
How libertarian of her. But I can’t help but think that maybe she had a point. As Retro Report highlights, many white parents simply moved away or enrolled their kids in all white private academies, resulting in segregated schools anyway. So sixty years on, what’s the solution. Will there ever be a solution?