Justice  /  Debunk

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.
Cover of "Why Busing Failed," depicting anti-busing protestors surrounding a school bus.

My goal in writing Why Busing Failed is to change how we talk about and teach the history of "busing" for school desegregation. Rather than using "busing" as a politically neutral word, we need to understand that this term developed as a selective way to label and oppose school desegregation. My hope is that by seeing the history of "busing" clearly and speaking honestly about the history of civil rights, people who care about educational equality can chart a more just future. This companion website—drawing on images, video clips, and other research materials from Why Busing Failed—highlights new ways to teach the history of "busing."  


1) Talk about busing to maintain segregated schools before "busing"  Millions of students rode school buses to school before "busing" became a political issue.  More importantly, school buses had long been used in the South and as well as New York, Boston, and many other northern cities, to maintain segregation. Students rode buses past closer neighborhood schools to more distant segregated schools. Read more...

2) Start in 1950s New York rather than 1970s Boston While most people associate "busing" with Boston in the mid-1970s, the battles over "busing" first emerged in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. Resistance to school desegregation developed alongside civil rights protests in New York in the decade after Brown, with white parents and politicians first objecting to rumored plans to bus students between Harlem and Staten Island and then organizing rallies to oppose plans to transfer students between predominantly black and Puerto Rican schools and white schools. Read more... 

3) Study the antibusing provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was landmark legislation that promoted racial equality, but it also included language added by Northern congressmen that drew a sharp distinction between segregation by law in the South and so-called "racial imbalance." These amendments and antibusing provisions were designed to keep federal civil rights enforcement of school desegregation focused away from the North, and white politicians and parents in Boston, Chicago, New York and elsewhere regularly pointed to the 1964 Civil Act to justify the maintenance of white schools. Read more...