Since Kamala Harris pointed out that Joe Biden worked with segregationists in the Democrat Party to oppose school busing, all hell has broken loose. Biden surrogates are walking a tightrope explaining why Biden was right then, taking a “states rights” position also used to justify slavery, not needing to apologize now. Biden is getting support from unlikely sources on the right, bringing up everything wrong with busing and why it was the policy was bad, and it wasn’t racist at all. They say people just wanted their children to go to school close to home and didn’t mind integration the least little bit. They’re half right.
People, black and white, did want their children to go to schools close to home. Unfortunately, white people generally didn’t want black people in their neighborhoods. Redlining was in place in major cities long before the Supreme Court theoretically ended school segregation in Brown v Board of Education in 1954. Black people couldn’t buy homes in white neighborhoods, and nearby schools equaled segregation. While the Court basically said segregation is bad, they didn’t make any recommendations until the following year, waiting to absorb the negative reaction from Southern states. Over a hundred members of Congress formally objected to the decision, issuing the “Southern Manifesto” promising to do everything they could to fight school desegregation.
“This unwarranted exercise of power by the Court, contrary to the Constitution, is creating chaos and confusion in the States principally affected. It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”
When the Court did address finally make its recommendations to accompany the original ruling. The infamously decided schools should be desegregated, “with all deliberate speed.” giving local school districts as long as they pleased to end segregation.
“[T]he cases are remanded to the District Courts to take such proceedings and enter such orders and decrees consistent with this opinion as are necessary and proper to admit to public schools on a racially nondiscriminatory basis with all deliberate speed the parties to these cases.” Earl Warren
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe wrote, “The forced busing of schoolchildren for purposes of racial desegregation was a wretched, wrongheaded policy. It failed in every respect and caused far more harm than good.” He doesn’t mention why busing was implemented in the first place. Almost twenty years after Brown v Board of Education, very little had been done to make changes. Schools were nearly as segregated as before, with no change in sight. People were sending their children to schools close to home. The neighborhoods were still segregated, so were the schools. In 1971, Swann v Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education found the Federal government could use busing as a tool to achieve racial parity. And so it began.
Many of the attacks on busing challenge the effectiveness and failure to significantly change the racial makeup of schools. What wasn’t accounted for was a white flight to the suburbs creating brand new segregated schools and white parents sending their kids to private schools. And because “all deliberate speed” was undefined, efforts to integrate schools were neither urgent or comprehensive. If school desegregation was failing, it was not so much a function of busing but a lack of will of the local school boards and the refusal to participate by a large percentage of white parents.
The students who were bused were definitely inconvenienced by the process, spending an additional hour or more out of their day getting to and from school. Time they never got back. It was also a time for socializing, doing homework, and sometimes acting up. In addition to riding on school buses, many children took public transportation at their families own cost to go outside their district. One of those children was me. The reason black parents were willing to disregard inconvenience and cost to send their children across town was the vast difference in the quality of the schools. Separate but equal was just a saying, never actually implemented in America.
The naysayers about school busing who decry the inconvenience, don’t mention that it was borne almost wholly by black and poor white students. White students weren’t nearly as often bussed to black schools because either the buildings were inferior and the schools closed or the districts were drawn to keep the historically black schools in the inner-city black. My city of Minneapolis had predominantly black Central High on the Southside and North High on the North. These schools had a lot of tradition and often had caring teachers who made an extra effort to help their students grow. Just as often, parents wanted their children to have what they perceived as a better chance and were grateful for the chance to send their kids to a different environment. Of course, the wealthy white parents had other options and often exercised them.
The title of this piece states that opposing forced school busing was mostly racist. The opposition mostly wasn’t about the inconvenience but due to a desire to maintain the status quo. It’s why the segregationists were opposed to it, why 101 members of Congress swore they would undo it. Why school boards failed to implement it. It wasn’t until the Federal government began filing lawsuits against local school boards, forcing them into Consent Decrees which often involved busing that they began to get serious. Not just in the South but all across the land; Orlando, Tulsa, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and dozens of other major cities. Fighting for “neighborhood schools” sounded much better than fighting against your child sitting next to a black child in the classroom, playing together on athletic teams, and heaven forbid… attending the same prom.
Joe Biden joined with another segregationist, Jesse Helms, in supporting a bill to end Federal oversight of busing.
“I have become convinced that busing is a bankrupt concept,” Joe Biden
Edward Brooke, the only black member of the Senate at the time, called Biden’s amendment:
“The greatest symbolic defeat for civil rights since 1964.”
Of all those opposing school busing and calling it a failure, where is their record of suggesting a different path for achieving integration. Did they favor integration at all? Or was the racist segregationist system that the Supreme Court grudgingly said cannot stand… just fine?