N.Y. Times, Sept. 9, 2013
By Michael Winerip
In many northern cities, the 1974 United States Supreme Court decision Milliken v. Bradley killed any hopes of integrating the public schools. That ruling, involving Detroit and its suburbs, said that a mandatory plan to achieve integration by busing black children from Detroit across district lines to mainly white suburbs was unconstitutional. The result accelerated white flight to the suburbs, leaving the schools in urban centers even more segregated than they had been.
See the 10-minute video here: Retro Report: The Battle for Busing
Most famously, this happened in Boston, where court-ordered integration resulted in a busing plan that wound up mainly moving children of color around the city.
But busing had greater success in some places, particularly those where the plans were carried out countywide, reducing the chances of white flight. They included Louisville/Jefferson County, Raleigh/Wake County and Charlotte/Mecklenberg County.
This week’s Retro Report video, “The Battle for Busing,” follows the story of the Charlotte/Mecklenberg district, which became a national model for racial integration for 30 years only to resegregate about a decade ago, after a court ruling lifted the mandatory integration plan.
When the Charlotte busing plan began in 1971, there were whites who threatened to go to jail before they would let their children attend schools with blacks. The open racism voiced by whites in the Retro Report’s archival footage is vicious and ugly; students were injured when fistfights broke out between whites and blacks.
But by 1974, the district was being singled out in the news media as a national model, particularly West Charlotte High, which had previously been all black. The impact of integration was visible almost immediately at the school. When whites arrived, the facilities were upgraded, said a former chairman of the school board, Arthur Griffin. A gravel parking lot was paved, and the football stadium and the gymnasium were renovated.
Over the years, researchers like Prof. Roslyn Mickelson at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, conducted studies concluding that children of any race who attended diverse schools were more likely to succeed, in areas like graduating, avoiding crime and attending college.
But in the end, the same federal courts that had ushered in integration helped kill it. In the late 1990s, Judge Robert D. Potter of Federal District Court essentially said that the Charlotte district had met its constitutional duty by successfully creating a single school system serving all children regardless of race and that no more need be done.
In a few years’ time, West Charlotte High, which had been roughly 40 percent black and 60 percent white in the 1970s, became 88 percent black and 1 percent white. And it wasn’t just Charlotte. Today, nearly two-thirds of the school districts that had been ordered to desegregate are no longer required to do so, including Seminole County, Fla. (2006); Little Rock, Ark. (2007); and Galveston County, Tex. (2009).
The New York City system is more segregated than it was in the 1980s: half the schools are more than 90 percent black and Hispanic. For more about the nation’s “steady and massive resegregation,” see this Reporter’s Notebook from Retro Report.
N.Y. Times, Sept. 9, 2013