Busing as a means of acheiving desegregation in schools was a policy that was popular in theory, but in practice was overwhelmingly opposed by the vast majority of white parents, and supported by only a slim majority of black parents. (And black parents often changed their minds after their experiences with busing.)
The policy’s opponents undoubtedly understood that such forced mixture would increase racial animosity, not alleviate it. They also recognized that sending one’s children to the local school was what encouraged community spirit, local patriotism, and civic virtue, and that tearing children away from their familiar surroundings in order to bus them hours each way to a school chosen for them by an education bureaucrat was morally wrong. As Professors Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom explain, parents wanted their kids, especially the youngest ones, in schools close by.
Families who had scrimped and saved to buy housing in what seemed to them orderly, clean, safe neighborhoods naturally looked with great dismay at the prospect of having their children bused to schools on the other side of town in neighborhoods that not even their own residents celebrated. And then, too, parents took for granted that they had choices about their children’s education. . . . As a result of desegregation suits, basic decisions about how the schools operated were removed from officials responsive to majority opinion and put in the hands of just one person, a federal judge who was politically protected by lifetime tenure and had no educational expertise.
It is hard to imagine how forced busing, particularly when undertaken in the manner of U.S. District Court Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr., in Boston, could not have resulted in increased racial tension and animosity. In 1974, in response to a suit brought by the NAACP, Judge Garrity decided upon a massive citywide busing plan to bring about greater racial mixture in the schools. One of the most controversial and ill-considered aspects of the plan involved a student exchange between Roxbury High, deep within the ghetto, and South Boston High, whose mainly working-class white students belonged to what has been described as “Boston’s most insular Irish Catholic neighborhood.” The entire junior class of South Boston High would be bused to Roxbury High, and half of South Boston’s sophomore class would be composed of students from Roxbury.
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