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Busing Ended 20 Years Ago. Today Our Schools Are Segregated Once Again


When Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, in 1954, uprooted the racial segregation begun under Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the battle over segregation did not end. First, the Supreme Court ruled segregated public schools were unconstitutional. Then, in 1955, the Court decided the lesser-known Brown II case, requiring public schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” They didn’t.

Instead, white parents left for the suburbs, created Christian schools, formed White Citizens’ Councils and filed lawsuits. Virginia even closed its public schools to avoid desegregation. In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of busing as a way to end racial segregation because African-American children were still attending segregated schools. White children had been riding school buses for decades, but the idea of using the same mechanism to desegregate public schools triggered violent protests.

My hometown of Kansas City, Mo., fought desegregation, though not as viciously as Boston, where adults attacked buses carrying African-American children desegregating white schools. Still, I awoke before sunrise and rode school busses crisscrossing Kansas City. Strangers appeared in my high school classrooms with clipboards, asking questions. After they left, African-American students were moved next to white students. I was asked to run for class office and an African-American teacher was promoted to vice-principal. The strangers had been civil rights attorneys trying to erase vestiges of segregation.

Decades later, as a civil rights attorney myself, I watched the busses crisscross Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s 546 square miles. I checked for signs of racial inequality in classrooms, libraries, teacher salaries and extracurricular activities. The diverse student population inside Charlotte-Mecklenburg buildings belied its racially segregated classrooms. Instead of skin color, test scores and vocational tracking became a way to keep the color line. African-American children were disproportionally expelled. There remained work to do.

Read entire article at Time