As a child growing up in the 90s, I can remember waking up at 5am to catch a bus that would take me an hour from my neighborhood to attend a primary school on the other side of town.
On the way to my bus stop, I would walk past a school that was a little less than two blocks from my home.
I can remember asking my parents why I couldn’t go to the school next door (and sleep in for an extra hour) instead of trekking across the city. The response was consistently “The school you are going to is better.”
Like many Black students in the United States, I was a victim of forced school busing – America’s asinine response to segregated and underfunded Black schools.
Theoretically, Black students who were bused to white schools would then receive the same quality of education that white students received. The NAACP represented a Black family – the Browns – before the United States Supreme Court to sue the Board of Education for access.
To that effect, in the 1950s the United States Supreme Court ruled that the “separate but equal” notion previously used to justify school segregation was unconstitutional for American public schools and educational facilities. Previously all white schools were then required by law to allow Black students to attend.
The white backlash was immediate and sustained.
In the 1960s, white terrorists bombed schools, Black students were beaten by white mobs, and the United States Military was activated – all to get the first Black students into the doors.
When violence didnt work, in the 1970s white parents adopted tactics used during the Black Civil Rights era and began peacefully protesting while organizing themselves politically. In Boston, Restore Our Alienated Rights (ROAR) was organized by Boston School Committee chairwoman Louise Day Hicks in 1974.
Using tactics modeled on the civil rights movement, ROAR activists led marches in Charlestown and South Boston, public prayers, sit-ins of school buildings and government offices, protests at the homes of prominent Bostonians, mock funerals, and even a small march on Washington DC – all to prevent school integration.
And from the 1980s until today, white families continued to fight against school desegregation. They fled to the suburbs to create racially homogenous districts where new desegregation rules would not apply. When Black parents caught on and attempted to move their children into the new, white school districts, they were thrown in jail.
In 2011, Kelley Williams-Bolar – a Black Mother – was convicted of lying about her residency to get her daughters into a better school district.
For all the blood that Black activists have shed to desegregate schools, for all the productivity lost by students forced to wake up hours earlier to travel across their cities to attend other schools, and for all the donations collected for integrationists organizations, what was gained by the Black community? Unemployed Black teachers, Black institutional divestment, and a brain drain from Black communities.
Forced Busing Disenfranchised The Black Teacher
During segregation, Black teachers taught Black students. These teachers were usually members of the same communities that the students came from. In some cases, several generations were often taught by the same Black teacher.
Teaching constituted an extraordinarily large share of professional employment in Black communities – especially in the South. Teaching was how many fed their families while passing on important values to the next generation.
And then de-segregation happened.
According to a paper submitted to the National Bureau of Economic Research in the United States, archival data from 781 southern school districts observed that between 1964 and 1972 there was a 31.8% reduction in Black teacher employment.
The report also notes that “southern school districts compensated for reduced Black teacher employment by employing fewer total teachers and by increasing their recruitment of white teachers, especially less experienced white teachers and white male teachers.”
In other words, Black teachers were fired en masse, and white teachers were hired to replace them.
While the report cited above also attempts to place the onus for the destruction of the Black teacher outside of desegregation, a more thorough examination by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine had this to say:
Mandated desegregation created conditions that resulted in decreases in the Black teaching force in the South…Our findings suggest that the legacy of mandated desegregation may have created broader institutional conditions in which Black and other minority teachers remain underrepresented in the teaching force.
Today, one-third of public school students are racial and/or ethnic minorities. Yet only 14 per cent of teachers in the United States represent these groups. Thanks to de-segregation and busing, the majority of Black students are now being taught by white teachers with biases towards white values systems.
Desegregation Laid Waste To Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Desegregation provided the opportunity for Blacks to attend traditionally white schools. Naturally, this drew some of the brightest Black students and professors away from traditionally Black colleges in the process.
Fifty years ago, 90 percent of all Black college students went to black colleges. Today, 90 percent of Black students are at mostly white schools. School desegregation and forced busing led to a decline in attendance for historically Black Colleges and Universities.
In 1992, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states were required to dismantle what they called ‘dual higher education systems’ – a direct reference to HBCUs that operated alongside other state accredited institutions. Justice ClarenceThomas, the only African-American on the Court, wrote the following in his concurring opinion:
I think it indisputable that these institutions have succeeded in part because of their distinctive histories and traditions; for many, historically Black colleges have become ‘a symbol of the highest attainments of Black culture’.…It would be ironic, to say the least, if the institutions that sustained Blacks during segregation were themselves destroyed in an effort to combat its vestiges (Leiter & Leiter, 2002, p. 163)
Today, there are 101 historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States – down from 121 before segregation.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Five HBCUs have completely closed since 1989. Several others, including Knoxville College, Barber-Scotia College and Morris Brown College, with only 55 students enrolled, remain open in name only after having been stripped of their accreditation.
The following story from AJC sums up the effects that de-segregation and busing had on HBCUs:
Two years ago, Amelia Smith received the one thing she thought she always wanted – a blue envelope from Spelman College. She had been accepted to what many consider the finest Black college in America.
Her grandmother went to Spelman. So did her mother. And her aunt. And her sister, who’s a senior there now. So Smith wasn’t surprised when she was accepted, too. She is just wrapping up her sophomore year. But not at Spelman. She’s studying biomedical engineering at Georgia Tech.
“I am kind of the black sheep in the family,” Smith said. “When I got accepted into Tech, I felt very proud of myself. My grandmother (a dean at Fort Valley State University) was very proud of me. She said if she had had the opportunity to go to Tech when she was choosing a college, she would have gone. But she never got that chance.”
Amelia Smith’s good fortune is Spelman College’s loss. She is a talented and highly coveted black student who had her pick of any college she could get into and afford. But that hard-won freedom comes at a price for historically black colleges and universities. Predominantly white schools are picking off some of Black colleges’ best prospects.
Ironically, declining enrollments led some schools to market themselves to a broader demographic, with low tuition attracting an increasing number of white students.
School busing placed Black students into white academic pipelines – feeding them into state-run institutions. Black graduates then support the future success of these integrated institutions as part of Alumni associations while depriving those same contributions from Black institutions that so desperately need them: Of the HBCUs that are no longer in existence, all of them closed due to lack of financial support (source).
Forced School Integration Created A Resource Drain From Black Communities
Before segregation, Blacks had no choice but to invest in Black owned and operated businesses – most of the white businesses were off limits. The money that we spent in our community stayed in the community. We tithed it, saved it to send our kids to historically Black colleges, and used it to improve our quality of life. Integration changed all that.
Where we used to spend most of our money with Black businesses, we now only spend an estimated 4% of our money with our own people. 96% of our dollars drive out of town in the pockets of landlords, gas station and grocery store owners, and bankers. In the words of Dr. Kunjufu, “You cannot give 96% of your income away and blame 100% of your problems on someone else”.
Integration and busing has lured our best minds and top earners out of historically Black communities (where their money could do some good) to “better” parts of town. The homes, businesses, and schools that our Great-Grandfathers and Grandmothers built and loved are now rotted out buildings or gentrified beyond recognition.
Lawmakers took forced school integration further in 1965, with an executive order issued by President Lyndon Johnson. Known as ‘affirmative action’ the order required government contractors to “take affirmative action” toward prospective minority employees in all aspects of hiring and employment. This order was later amended in 1967 to cover discrimination on the basis of gender.
But in response, Stokely Carmichael wrote the following in his classic Toward Black Liberation:
According to the the advocates of integration, social justice will be accomplished by integrating the Negro into the mainstream institutions of the society from which he has been traditionally excluded. This concept of integration has to be based on the concept that there is nothing of value in the Negro community and that little of value could be created among Negroes, so the thing to do was siphon off the “acceptable” Negroes into the surrounding middle class white community. – Stokely Carmichael
In deed, as more of our best and brightest were siphoned off, other communities grew stronger while Black communities grew weaker. Black business owners opened shop in white markets – leaving Black communities open to other groups who readily took advantage. Black employees sought job opportunities in hostile white institutions, reducing the talent available to Black employers.
And ultimately, these integrated Blacks relocated to non-Black neighborhoods, thus reducing the tax base necessary for maintaining roads, schools, and programs in their previous all Black districts.
Today, previously Black communities are filled with Korean owned hair stores, Arab owned corner stores, Vietnamese owned nail salons, and Chinese owned restaurants. Our homes are owned by non-Black absentee owners to whom we pay rent. All the while, Black schools have been left understaffed and underfunded.
For generations, the Black community has committed its resources to the wrong objective. Our fight should never have been for integration – it should have been for equality of resources.
The Black community has been distracted by the pursuit of social integration and equality rather than economic integration and equality. Rather than fighting for our children to attend white schools, our fight should have been to secure more funding for our own schools. Instead of fighting for affirmative action, our fight should have been to create favorable conditions for Black businesses to compete and thrive.
Instead of abandoning the Black communities we once lived in to fight for integrated neighborhoods, our fight should have been to buy and hold property in Black communities as a defense against both gentrification and ever higher rent increases to absentee white owners.
The generations-long struggle to keep white schools racially homogenous and well funded has largely been a success for white parents and an utter failure for Black students, Black teachers, and Black institutions.