Busing recently came under headlines due to the heated exchange that took place between Democratic Presidential candidates, whereas the issue is much bigger than just a 5-minute debate. The second round of the first Democratic primary debate was summed up by the heated exchange that took place between Senator Kamala Harris and Former Vice President Joe Biden. The exchange took place over the stance of Joe Biden, against federally-mandated ‘school busing‘.
“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country and it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing,”said Sen. Kamala Harris to Joe Biden on his record of working relationship with segregationist senators.
“You know there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public school, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me,” she said.
I did not oppose Busing in America. What I opposed is Busing ordered by the Department of Education” responded Biden to Kamala’s remarks.
In 1974, the Federal Court at Wilmington, Delaware (Joe Biden’s constituency) addressed the issue of racial segregation in housing. Following the judgment, many white voters panicked over the prospect of a Busing plan being implemented in the future.
This situation gave rise to a dilemma for Biden, who, until 1972, favoured Busing programs and was someone who was committed to the larger cause of upholding principles of the Brown ruling and that of the Civil Rights Act.After consecutive narrow margin victories in the 1972-1973 senate elections, Biden tilted towards an anti-busing slant under the pressure of white constituents.
Biden remains a staunch critique of federally mandated busing, during a Senate hearing in 1981 on busing Biden said, “The courts have taken it upon themselves to go beyond simply dismantling deliberate segregation as an illegal government policy”.
In his political career, Biden opposed busing but has stayed a strong supporter of racial integration.
Busing a practice first recommended by the U.S. Supreme Court, to address the issue of de facto/de jur racial segregation in American schools, in its decision in the Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education of 1971.
The 1954’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education judgment, which declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional, paved the way for Busing. Though, in its ruling in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that federal courts could use Busing as a mean to end desegregation in schools.
Busing was a system of assigning school transportation buses, to a student either inside or outside of one’s own, generally racially, segregated neighbourhood. Since schools with Black students tended to be poor in terms of resources and facilities due to historical reasons, busing was seen as a tool to achieve racial integration. Students sometimes were transported from their de facto racially segregated neighbourhood, to a school in a different district to curb the ongoing racial segregation.
‘Forced Busing‘ was the term that was used by many skeptics of the Busing legislation. Though the state provided zero-fare transportation to students, sometimes the assigned school was hours away from the student’s residence. Many parents disliked the idea of sending their children into a school that is miles away from their home when they could send them to a school that is a few doorsteps away. Many, predominantly white, families deflected the busing legislation by fleeing away from urban areas which had a majority black population, to primarily white suburbs, this phenomenon was termed as ‘white flight’.
‘White flight’ in return drained away all rich white families out of urban areas of the city, which, along with themselves, took away high taxpayers and resources, and that degraded public funding in already poor neighbourhoods.
As other parents who oppose Busing migrated towards private schooling, these measures in return withered the effectiveness of Busing.
Southern legislators were the chief opponents of the bill, sighting Busing as an attack on freedom of choice and the inconvenience caused by ‘forced busing’. Opponents of the bill often cited Jim Crow Law which existed since the 18th century in the Southern American states, for the state to enact racial integration. Following the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision, a total of 101 Southern congressmen drafted a bill named Declaration of Constitutional Principles formally known as The Southern Manifesto. Two years following the Brown ruling, this bill was presented as an opposition to the idea of racial desegregation in public places.
Southern states were not the only ones hostile to the Busing program. The Busing legislation received a heavy backlash in the Northern States as well. Many anti-busing protests broke out throughout northern cities of New York, Chicago, Boston, Detroit. The backlash to Busing sometimes came in the form of stone-pelting, violence, vandalism, riots, assault from dissidents of the bill. Bricks and stones were thrown against buses that carried students and police protection was sent along buses transporting them.
By the end of 1939, a large number of agrarian workers migrated towards American cities to fill the labour vacuum created by the high manufacturing demand jobs following WWII. The black population moved towards the urban centres, and the white community moved towards suburban white neighbourhoods. The ongoing Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s acted as a catalyst to the cause of racial integration. It also gave direction to the indelible judgment of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The historic Brown case was successfully argued by the esteemed Thurgood Marshall in 1954. Later, T.Marshall goes on to become the First African-American Justice in 1967, nominated by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Thurgood Marshall consecutively fought against racial desegregation in the Institutional American education system and remained one of the initial warriors who fought against racial discrimination and rose through the ranks.
While the practice of federally mandated busing declined since the 1980s, some schools are still under a court order to continue busing, and some do it voluntarily. Most desegregation efforts came to a halt after the 1990s after a Supreme Court ruling that suggested, integration plans were not supposed to be enforced indefinitely. This decision homogenised public schools even more to the extent that pushed the marginalised communities further down.
A recent study conducted by University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) in 2019, found that after 64 years following the Brown ruling, the dynamics of race has changed.
White students still dominate the share in the number of students, followed by Latinos who account for more than half of the students of colour. Black students account for the third-largest racial group. Asian students are the fourth largest group in this multiracial reality. The present scenario is quite different from the time of Brown judgement.
Segregation of resources is still prevalent in modern times. The aforementioned report highlights that Black and Latino students are more likely to struggle for better resources in the public education system. It also suggested that Black and Latino students are more homogeneously mixed into a non-white school. Meanwhile, white and Asian American students are more likely to attend affluent schools with better resources.