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A History Of School Busing

At the Democratic presidential debate this past week, Senator Kamala Harris of California criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for his opposition to court-ordered busing to desegregate schools in the 1970s. Harris, as she pointed out, was herself bused to a mostly white school as a child. Joining us now to talk about busing is Matt Delmont, professor of history at Dartmouth College. He's also the author of "Why Busing Failed: Race, Media And The National Resistance To School Desegregation."


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So remind us - what was the busing program?

DELMONT: Busing programs were efforts to try to desegregate America's schools. These programs started initially voluntarily, primarily in northern cities - so as early as the late 1950s. The one that Harris was involved in was in Berkeley, Calif., in the late 1960s. There were one tool among many that school districts used to try to integrate their schools.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so that was basically taking African American kids from certain neighborhoods, putting them on buses and putting them into schools that were predominantly white.

DELMONT: Exactly. And I should clarify that school buses have long been used in America's schools. It's what made the modern school districts possible. That kind of busing was never controversial. It wasn't controversial until it got linked to school desegregation. So the kind of program that showed up in the 1950s, '60s and '70s were either one-way programs, where they would bus minority students - black, Latino students - from predominately minority schools to white schools, or two-way programs, where they would have across-town busing.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there was a lot of pushback to it from both the left and the right.

DELMONT: That's true. Among white politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, there was a lot of anti-busing sentiment. And what they were picking up on was a lot of concerns among white parents. They were concerned that they were going to lose the kind of privileges they had to better-resourced schools and more - better-resourced neighborhoods.

Read entire article at NPR