For more than half of the twentieth century state laws in the south and southwest required students of various races to attend segregated schools. Despite being located within neighborhoods contiguous with whites, African-American, and in the southwest Latino students, should ostensibly have attended the same schools as their neighbors. By law, called de facto discrimination, minority students were required to attend separate schools from those attended by the majority population. With the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, 349 U.S. 294 (1954) decision, the United States Supreme Court declared that de jure segregation (segregation that was the direct result of legislation) was in direct violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. By asserting itself into the realm of public education through the decisions in Brown II, Griffin, Alexander, Green, and Swann cases, the United States Supreme Court attempted to move the nations' schools from a dual system based on race to a unitary system more equitable regarding race. Those decisions opened the door to racial and class tensions, starting in the home of the American Revolution--Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1954 the United States Supreme Court handed down the decision Brown v. Board of Education. In this decision, the Supreme Court overturned years of precedent holding that separate facilities for whites and blacks were constitutionally protected. The court declared that "Segregation of white and Negro children in the public schools of a state solely on the basis of race"denies Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendmentth (United States Supreme Court 1955). The Brown decision established several terms that would set the precedent for the efforts over the next 40 years to integrate public schools. The court's decision established that the presence of de jure segregation, that is segregation required by state or local law, was in direct violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It was therefore incumbent upon the school systems to end the practice and ameliorate the effects of such a system. Finally, these school systems had to make efforts to create a unified system that would provide equal protection under the laws for all students regardless of race. It was this last provision of Brown v. Board of Education, the development of a unified school system, that would generate anger, hatred, inaction, and eventually a boisterous effort by the United States Supreme Court to ensure that school systems would comply with the court's findings.
What the nine Supreme Court Justices immediately realized upon handing down their decision was the far reaching consequences and fundamental political and philosophical opposition that would arise from the Brown v. Board of Education. In addition, the court was cognizant of the vagaries of local problems related to implementation of such a far-reaching judicial decision. In light of these concerns, the Supreme Court requested further argument in an effort to help spell out for the lower federal courts how best to implement Brown. In 1955, the court's decision, which is referred to as Brown II, promulgated several stipulations to ensure that localities complied with the implementation of a unitary school system proscribed in the original Brown decision and to do so "with all deliberate speed.th Allowing for the variety of demographic, geographic, political, and monetary realities of the numerous localities impacted by the unconstitutionality of their systems of segregated public schools, the Court remanded the implementation of Brown back to the federal district courts and instructed them to oversee the fair and timely transition to a unitary school system. To further guide the decision-making of the judges, Chief Justice Warren required that they practice "flexibility in shaping its remedies,th and exercise "a facility for adjusting and reconciling public and private needsth (United States Supreme Court 1955). In reality, the Brown II decision created several other consequences associated with the tenuous process of integrating public schools.
What Brown II would establish was a two-fold process, the first of which was unintended and the second unprecedented. First, Brown II allowed individual school districts, as will be clarified below, to develop timetables and plans that would in essence sidestep the judicial dictates to move from a dual to a unitary school system. This consequence was unintended, since the court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education was a constitutional act of government, but the court misjudged the vituperative degree of southern resistance. Second, Brown II provided an avenue by which the Judicial Branch of the Federal government could continue to intervene in the efforts of states and localities to comply with the Brown v. Board of Education decision. This degree of direct federal involvement in state and local decisions was unprecedented in United States History. Empowering Federal Judges to oversee and essentially manage the traditional functions of school boards, school superintendents, and state legislatures was a dramatic shift in the nature of American Federalism. Although not obvious in 1955, the semantics of this decision would lead to the implementation of busing as a solution to the problem of school segregation.
The widespread resistance to Brown I and II is best exemplified in the case of Griffin v. School Board of Prince Edward County 377 U.S. 218 (1964). First argued in 1951, prior to Brown, Griffin provides an in-depth examination of the efforts made by Prince Edward County, Virginia to resist the efforts of the United States Supreme Court to enforce the desegregation of public schools. Through a series of legislative maneuvers, the Prince Edward school system refused to provide the funds to operate their public schools, which remained closed in 1963, allowed a private foundation to provide the funds to operate the public schools for white students, and offered state funded tuition grants for white students to attend private schools. The school system even went so far as to extend the state's pension system to cover benefits for the teachers in the newly created private schools (Wolters 1984). After being continually reprimanded by the Federal District Courts, the Prince Edward School system abandoned many of the aforementioned vehicles of resistance and adopted a "freedom of choice planth (Wolters 1984). This plan and many others throughout the American South essentially allowed parents to choose which school to send their child. White parents sent their children to the town's traditionally white school, while the preponderance of African American parents, fearing the treatment their children would receive as a repercussion of integration, sent their children to the traditionally minority school. The justices of the Supreme Court then opened up a new phase in the desegregation of America's public schools. This decision was the judicial tocsin in the night. It stated unequivocally that school districts needed to make substantive efforts to end dual school systems and a lack of effort would incur the presence of a more involved, activist, and quasi-legislative court.
The Supreme Court again stepped to center stage in the national debate on desegregation when it ruled on the case of Green v. County School Board of New Kent County, 391 U.S. 430 (1968). Here, the public school system in New Kent County, Virginia, had developed a "freedom of choiceth program to aid in the implementation of the Brown desegregation plan. As concocted, students in the New Kent County system could annually choose which school they would prefer to attend. As stated in the court's ruling, "During the plan's three years of operation no white student has chosen to attend the all-Negro school, and although 115 Negro pupils enrolled in the formerly all-white school, 85% of the Negro students in the system still attend the all-Negro schoolth (United States Supreme Court 1968). In addition, it became obvious that since there existed no residential segregation in the county and that school buses overlapped each other as they shuffled students of varying races to the schools, that although perhaps well intentioned, the "freedom of choice plansth had actually failed to end the dual system of education admonished in Brown. The court stated, "In other words, the school system remains a dual system. Rather than further dismantle the dual system, the plan has operated simply to burden children and their parentsth (United States Supreme Court 1968). As a result of Green, the widespread use of "freedom of choice plansth would have to be replaced with more substantive and effective efforts to comply with the Brown decisions. With the removal of the unintended consequence of Brown II, the southern creativity in resisting the creation of unitary school systems, direct pressure was now being placed on school districts to truly integrate. Finally, the unprecedented consequence of an active and legislative Federal judiciary was becoming more of a reality.
By the early 1970's, with the precedents set in Green and Alexander, the opportunity for the Warren court to further assert itself in the enforcement of the Brown decisions appeared in an unlikely place, the small southern city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike its neighbor Virginia or some of the states within the Deep South, the state of North Carolina never resorted to the use of private tuition grants or closing public schools in an effort to suppress the dictates of Brown. In fact, Charlotte "shrewdly captured national publicity as a pioneering Southern city on race issues without making any real commitment to school desegregation (Douglas 1995). Charlotte, as author Davison Douglas points out, hoped to resist desegregation in a way that would forgo any further judicial interference and forestall any more "race-mixingth (76).
Into this semi-urban, semi-rural 550 square mile school district of 101 schools and 84,000 pupils (29% of whom were African American sequestered in one section of the city), the true implications of the Green and Alexander decisions bore fruit (Hall 1992). In Charlotte, James Swann, the son of Vera and Darius Swann, expressed his desire to attend Seversville Elementary School. This integrated school, in addition to being academically effective, was also the closest school to the Swanns' home. Despite this, the school system's board of education refused to allow James to attend Seversville Elementary and forced him to attend a majority-minority school further away from their residence (Schwartz 1986). Federal District Court judge James B. McMillian, who had been overseeing a plan to insure the integration of public schools, heard the Swann case and quickly scorned a policy that "required pupils (to) be transported far away from their natural habitat so that some artificial"racial balance (could) be maintainedth (Schwartz 1986). In light of the precedent set in the Green decision, Judge McMillan ordered the Charlotte school system to begin busing 13,000 children, using 100 new busses at a cost of 1.5 million dollars in the first year (Schwartz 1986). Because of the moderating efforts made by Charlotte politicians and the overall lack of true integration in the city, McMillian felt compelled to make busing the primary vehicle for integration. This court-ordered effort at developing a unitary school system was immediately tested in Swann v. Mecklenberg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971).
Ruling 9-0, Chief Justice Warren Burger upheld the plan implemented by District Court Judge James McMillian. In a precisely worded ruling Justice Berger was careful to state that the objective of the court since Brown II has been to insure that "all vestiges of state imposed segregationth were removed. The Chief Justice stated, "Our objective in dealing with the issues presented by these cases (desegregation) is to see that school authorities exclude no pupil of a racial minority from any school, directly or indirectly, on account of raceth (United States Supreme Court 1971). The Justice continued, stating, "the constitutional command to desegregate schools does not mean that every school in every community must always reflect the racial composition of the school system as a whole"th but, "It should be clear that the existence of some small number of one race, or virtually one-race, schools within a district is not in and of itself the mark of a system that still practices segregation by law.th In addition, Berger wrote that if a school system does not suffer from a history of racial discrimination within its school system, then assigning students to the closest school would be acceptable. But in the case of Charlotte, which prior to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas had demonstrated a long history of segregated schools, the city showed a less overt resistance to integration after the Brown II decision. Finally, Swann provided the judicial support for Judge McMillian's order to utilize busing as a remedy for school integration, when Justice Berger wrote, "In these circumstances, we find no basis for holding that the local school authorities may not be required to employ bus transportation as one tool of school desegregation. Desegregation plans cannot be limited to the walk-in schoolth (United States Supreme Court 1971). So, in 1971, the United States Supreme Court had sufficiently moved from the arbiter of the Constitution as it applied to segregation and the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause into a quasi-legislative position of directing and allowing Federal judges to directly manage the desegregation of public schools. It was this unprecedented assumption of power that for many overrode the importance of integrated schools in fear of a disproportionately powerful Supreme Court. Stemming from this decision, a dramatic change in the approach that northern and western schools took towards desegregation emerged.
Busing, the practical remedy supported in Swann, was attempted in many locations, but none so visibly as Boston. The origins of busing in Boston stemmed from the debate over whether the racial imbalance in Boston's public schools stemmed from de jure or de facto segregation. For whites in South Boston and Charleston, predominately working class Irish-American neighborhoods, the racial imbalance that defined the city school system was the result of choice rather than law. Advocates such as school board leader Louise Day Hicks argued in the early 1960s that whites and blacks in Boston had chosen to self segregate by neighborhood and therefore were not required to comply with the dictates of Brown, which dealt with de jure rather than de facto segregation (Formisano 1-37). African American Bostonians, located in Roxbury predominately, believed that the manipulation of school boundaries and distribution of resources, material and human, resulted in a racially imbalanced school system created through direct governmental action rather than simple choice (Lupo 154-157). For Boston blacks the racial situation in the public schools was de jure, and exactly what Brown outlawed. Much of the mid-1960s was an effort by the all-white school board to sidestep the issue of de facto or de jure segregation and a concomitant effort by African American leaders to draw attention to the same. In June of 1963, African Americans, under the leadership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) staged a "Stay Out For Freedomth boycott of public schools. The event, attended by 3000 African-American students, drew attention to the racial disparities in Boston's public schools (http://www.lib.neu.edu/archives/freedom_house/Birmingham.htm). Taking advantage of the cultural climate of the United States, which was open to changes in the laws and practices guiding race relations, Boston's African American community worked stridently to change the racial situation in Boston's public schools.
In 1965, the organized efforts of Boston's blacks bore significant fruit. The Boston City Council passed the Racial Imbalance Act (RIA), which defined a school with over fifty percent non-white students as racially imbalanced. If a school was marked as imbalanced, the school system could lose state funds if the situation was not rectified (Formisano 35-36). Well before the Supreme Court's ruling in Swann, civic leaders in South Boston, lead by Louise Hicks, reacted to the passage of the RIA by raising the specter of busing as the natural outgrowth of the legislation and rallied South Bostonians to lobby for a repeal of the act (Formisano, 40-61). As white Bostonians led an effort to have the RIA repealed, African Americans took their case to the federal courts.
Emboldened by the Supreme Court's sanctioning of busing as a potential remedy to segregated schools in Swann, Boston's black community filed the case of Morgan v. Hannigan. Here, advocates for a racially balanced school system asked the United States District Court to determine if Boston's public schools were in fact the result of de jure segregation (Formisano, 60-69). On June 24, 1974, Judge Arthur Garrity declared exactly that when he stated, "the school committee had used covert techniques to segregate the system, and had done so with segregative intentth (http://www.watson.org/~lisa/blackhistory/school-integration/boston/backgnd.html). With the announcement of Judge Garrity's decision being made only hours after the conclusion of the school year, the court had a short summer to design the remedy.
The short-term solution, named Phase One, bused students from the two poorest sections of Boston, Roxbury and South Boston (Tugend). It did not address the full number of schools in violation of the now repealed RIA and only involved a handful of students from the most strident communities opposing and supporting busing. What emerged out of the rushed Phase One was daily attendance hovering around 50-65%, increasing racial tensions both inside and outside of school, and escalating levels of violence. State Police officers were stationed in South Boston High School, where they remained for three years. Student boycotts were prevalent, buses transporting African American students were attacked, and racial graffiti became increasingly more visible (Formisano, 75-79). The violence that ensued, called the "Battle for Bostonth by historian Ronald Formisano, was a result of busing black students into South Boston and Charleston and White students into Roxbury.
The media on both the local and national level captured the tensions resulting from Phase One. Called "the plan that blew up the city,th Phase One increased the tensions between whites and blacks in Boston and "destabilized the cityth (Tugend). One of the most famous incidents occurred in April of 1976. While the nation was celebrating its 200th anniversary, Boston was still embroiled in violence and protest of Judge Garrity's busing program. On a warm April day, African-American lawyer Theodore Landsmark was heading to Boston's city hall for a case. In the plaza outside of City Hall, and not distant from the site of the Boston Massacre 200 years earlier, he encountered over one hundred and fifty anti-busing youths from South Boston and Charleston protesting the decision to bus in students from Roxbury. Crossing through the demonstration, Landsmark was attacked with an American flag, and the fists and feet of angry protesters (Lukas, 323-326). A photo of the incident won freelance photographer Stanley J. Forman of the Boston Herald a Pulitzer Prize, and the image came to symbolize the racist overtones of the anti-busing movement in Boston.
As Phase One was engendering violent opposition, Judge Garrity recruited two education professors to draw up Phase Two. This plan divided the city into slices, and shifted races within the slice to create racially balanced schools. In addition, the plan called for one citywide magnet school that would also work to balance racial composition. Perhaps most importantly, Phase Two ended the busing between Roxbury and South Boston, the site of the most violent opposition (Lukas, 238-251). With the reduction of the impact of busing on South Boston and Charlestown, Phase Two was met with less overt violence. Nonetheless, busing remained a divisive program in Boston and would encounter both passive and active resistance until its demise in the late 1990s.
Despite the best intentions of both the Supreme Court and Federal Judge Garrity, the end result of the busing in Boston was a panicky "white flightth to the suburbs, a drop in enrollment from 96,696 students in 1970 to 60,189 in 1980, and below 50,000 in 1990 (Tugend). In addition, Boston has dealt with negative stereotypes for its levels of racial intolerance, and a school system that is today more racially imbalanced, poor, and unsuccessful in developing young students than it was in the early 1960s. Busing nationally came to a halt at the turn of the twenty-first century and leaves in its wake new problems and unresolved old ones.
Desegregation: Integration-Moving Towards Quality Integrated Education and an Integrated Society. Report of the 18th Annual NEA Conference on Human and Civil Rights in Education. Washington, DC: The National Education Association, 1980.
Douglas Graglia, Lino. Disaster By Decree: The Supreme Court Decisions on Race and the Schools. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.
Metcalf, George. From Little Rock to Boston: The History of School Desegregation. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1983.
Orfield, Gary and Susan E. Eaton. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown v. Board of Education. New York: The New Press, 1996.
Schwartz, Bernard. Swann's Way: The School Busing Case and the Supreme Court. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Wolters, Raymond. The Burden of Brown: Thirty Years of School Desegregation. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.
Formisano, Ronald. Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
In the first serious historical treatment of the busing controversy, Formisano attempts to move beyond the emotional and personal descriptions of the events surrounding the busing controversy to a more analytical and contextual examination. First, Formisano places the conflict over busing in the context of Boston race relations of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Analyzing the debates over what many African Americans saw as de facto segregation in Boston, Formisano argues that it was whites, in reaction to this debate that first promoted and perpetuated the possibility of busing to achieve racial balance in Boston's public schools. This effort to focus on a solution not even being discussed yet nationally, created what the author labeled "reactionary populism," a groundswell of resistance among poor whites in South Boston, to the idea of forced integration that mixed racial and class antagonisms. The book then traces the evolution of the busing controversy, from Judge Arthur Garritty's order, to the organizational reactions of white and black communities, and eventually to the violence that dominated the headlines for much of 1975 through 1977. Formisano argues that the busing issues was a war without a victor and that the whites in particular were more driven by class antagonisms than pure racial hatred.
Lukas, Anthony. Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. New York: Random House, 1986.
A Pulitzer Prizing winning narrative of the Boston busing saga, Lukas' book focuses the reader on the humanity of the judicial decision to integrate Boston's public schools. Using two working class families in Boston, one Irish-American and one African-American, and a middle class white liberal couple, Lukas traverses from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. through the devastating anti-busing riots of the mid-1970s. The novel, told through chapters that examine the racial and class issues in Boston enables the reader to understand the views of all parties involved in the struggle for integrated schools, and understand the "common groundth that united each family to the others. Like Formisano, Lukas argues that class tensions were more influential than race in defining the positions and actions of the anti-busers. A stellar read!
Lupo, Alan. Liberty's Chosen Home: The Politics of Violence in Boston. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1977.
An early attempt to discuss the anti-busing movement in Boston, journalist Lupo attempts to examine the causes and consequences of the violent reaction to forced busing in Boston. A plodding narrative attempts to provide the reader with a context for the political decisions made leading up to, during, and in the early aftermath of the implementation of Phase One of the busing program in Boston. Overtly anti-South Boston and hostile to the motivations and efforts of the anti-busers, Lupo's work is definitely journalism rather than history.
Tugend, Alina. "A Tumultuous Decade of Desegregation: Boston's Court Case Draws to a Close." Education Week. March 13, 1985.
An early overview of the causes, course, and consequences of Busing in Boston, Tugend's article allows for some analysis in addition to a solid narrative overview. Critical and condemning of busing in its tone, the article tends to focus on the failures and shortcomings of busing as a concept and Judge Garrity's decision making. The article does provide some preliminary evidence of the impact of busing on school enrollment, "white flight," and the diversification of the teaching staffs in Boston's Public Schools.
The Soiling of Old Glory
Photograph Taken by Stanley J. Foreman, 1976
Taken in April of 1976, the photograph utilized in the lesson is of Theodore Landsmark an African American lawyer heading to Boston's city hall for a case. Here he encountered over one hundred and fifty anti-busing youths from South Boston and Charleston protesting the decision to bus in students from Roxbury, an African American suburb. Entering into this, Landsmark was attacked, ironically, with an American flag, in Boston, home of the Revolution, on the 200th anniversary of the United States. The photo won freelance photographer Stanley J. Forman of the Boston Herald American a Pulitzer Prize.
Video News Clips: Ten O'Clock News
These have been compiled by WGBH in Boston and represents a smattering of the newscasts occurring in Boston in the mid-1970s. The majority of the clips come from The Ten O'clock News, a nightly news program produced and broadcast by WGBH, and the shows that preceded it, The Reporters and Evening Compass.
Judge Garrity Letters
University of Massachusetts, Boston, Archives and Special Collections
The two letters utilized in the lesson are taken from the Massachusetts Historical Society's web exhibit entitled, "Long Road to Justice: The African American Experience in Massachusetts Courts" found at http://www.masshist.org/longroad/02education/morgan.htm. The letters, both written to Judge Arthur Garrity in reaction to his decision to use busing to address the racial imbalance in Boston's public schools.
What's Going On? : A Guide Booklet Prepared Especially for Students and Their Parents to Help Them with School Problems and the Law (1975)
Freedom House, Inc., records
1941-1996 (bulk 1949-1986)
Archives and Special Collections Department
Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
Box 72, folder 1-4.
This can be found at the Northeastern University webpage at http://www.lib.neu.edu/archives/freedom_house/full_text/what_cover.htm. The site is dedicated to documenting the efforts of the Freedom House program in Boston. The Freedom House worked to aid African Americans in their battle for Civil Rights recognition. The booklet utilized was published after the first year of busing to enable African American students and parents to be more aware of their rights.
Louise Day Hicks, Icon of Tumult, Dies
October 22, 2003
The obituary of Louise Hicks is taken from an electronic version posted by the Boston Globe. It can be located at http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2003/10/22/louise_day_hicks_icon_of_tumult_dies/.