Busing for School Desegregation

Busing as a tool for desegregation involves enrolling Black students in majority white schools, and enrolling white students in majority Black schools. Backlash to busing became most nationally prominent in the mid-1970s when white parents and students violently resisted school desegregation in Boston. But busing has a much longer and more complex history. It was first used as a means of enforcing segregated schools. Activists pushed for its use as a tool of desegregation in the 1960s, and a handful of voluntary busing programs have run successfully for over fifty years. The articles in this collection examine the roots of the controversy, how the issue of busing became a proxy for massive resistance to desegregation in the north after the civil rights movement, and how the issue still shapes political debates over the persistence of residential and school segregation and structural racism today.
Cover of "Why Busing Failed," depicting anti-busing protestors surrounding a school bus.

Why Busing Failed

Getting the history of “busing” right enables us to see more clearly how school segregation and educational inequality continued in the decades after Brown.
This website, a companion to Matt Delmont's book of the same name, offers twelve ways to think about the issue of busing, its origins, and its consequences. For starters, begin in the 1950s, when busing was a tool to enforce segregation in schools. Next, understand that the term "busing" itself was developed as a tool to oppose school desegregation.

How School Desegregation Became the Third Rail of Democratic Politics

White liberals opposed segregation in the South, but fought tooth-and-nail to keep it in the North.
The Senate during the creation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the news media covering the civil rights movement, framed segregation as a regional Southern issue, rather than a nationwide problem. Matt Delmont and Jeanne Theoharis show how this disingenuous narrative enabled northerners to avoid implementing Brown v. Board -- and allows liberal leadership to continue to perpetuate structural inequality today.

Here’s How Deep Biden’s Busing Problem Runs

And why the Democrats can’t use it against him.
Joe Biden's staunch opposition to busing as a Delaware senator in 1974 became an issue in his 2019 presidential campaign. This article discusses the busing debate in Delaware, the government's role in the residential segregation that undergirded it, and Biden's role in policies that perpetuated the segregated status quo.

The Supreme Court Decision That Kept Suburban Schools Segregated

A 1974 Supreme Court decision found that school segregation was allowable if it wasn’t being done on purpose.
Legal history of busing as a means to desegregate schools. After Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg (1971) confirmed that busing across town lines in North Carolina was legal, the NAACP sued Michigan to use busing to desegregate Detroit area schools. In Milliken v. Bradley (1974) the court ruled that busing could not be ordered if the the segregation was caused by anything other than an explicit Jim Crow law. Thus, northern suburbs could use structural racism to perpetuate segregation.

The Massive Liberal Failure on Race, Part I

How the liberal embrace of busing hurt the cause of integration.
This essay argues against the narrative that busing failed because conservative justices rolled back integration efforts. Instead, Tanner Colby argues that busing failed due to the geography of northern residential segregation, liberals' misunderstanding of the difference between desegregation and integration, the complexity of Black public opinion about busing, and the backlash to the decision to bus white students to Black schools.
School buses.

Why Are Schools Still Segregated? The Broken Promise of Brown v. Board of Education

The Brown v. Board of Education ruling opened the floodgates for busing across the country, but what happened when the buses stopped rolling?
Was busing actually successful? The case of Charlotte, North Carolina demonstrates that it succeeded in desegregating schools. Decades later, white parents brought a lawsuit to end busing, resulting in the city's schools becoming de facto segregated once again.

The Utter Inadequacy of America’s Efforts to Desegregate Schools

In 1966, a group of Boston-area parents and administrators created a busing program called METCO to help desegregate schools.
A busing program in Boston, begun in 1966 before the famous controversy, is still in operation. Alana Samuels recounts the experiences of herself and her best friend, an African American student who attended her suburban school through the METCO program. She concludes that despite its challenges and limitations, busing was — and still is — a successful model to combat school segregation and a pathway of opportunity for many individual students.
Black students from West Charlotte High School leave the school bus

How White Americans’ Refusal to Accept Busing Has Kept Schools Segregated

The Supreme Court has refused to force White Americans to confront history.
Even though it is well-documented that government policies deliberately caused residential segregation, the court has since claimed that existing residential segregation makes busing an injustice to whites. Matthew D. Lassiter argues that by refusing to address the government's role in residential segregation, the Supreme Court has closed off avenues for implementing the desegregation required in Brown v. Board, and has sanctioned continued school segregation.