Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Forced Busing and Other Unpopular Court Orders

Yesterday's ruling struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act, making progressives purple with rage. The Left has justified its opposition to the Supreme Court of the United State by a thousand minuscule arguments, few of which are very consequential. The 5-4 decision handed down by a deeply divided court has been and will be parsed in a multitude of separate ways. Few, to my reckoning, really have much to do with what has actually taken place.

I don't much like Justice Scalia and Thomas, either, but my distaste for their positions and political convictions has not led me down the road of sour indignation. Over the past twenty-four hours, I've listened to commentators and the so-called experts, who sometimes seem to see malicious intent and potential catastrophe around every corner. To some, one might think this ruling re-legalized racism by way of loophole and subterfuge. 

I have no further words to say about the legality or illegality of the recent high court action, but I would like to draw a parallel to another time. Forty years ago, one of the most unpopular programs ever enacted on behalf of the Civil Rights Movement was forced busing, or, as some called it, desegregation busing. Attempts to establish racial parity in public schools followed sweeping legislation instituted a few short years before which sought to give minorities the right to vote. Equality proceeded in the form of steps, one after another, but what we forget in our day is that not every attempt at racial equality succeeded.

With forced busing, certain white students across the entire country were, by court order, often required to be bused to schools of substandard quality. Many of these had once been primarily peopled exclusively by blacks. By contrast, black students were sent to more affluent schools whose student bodies had once been primarily comprised by whites. Though the intentions behind forced busing may have been worthwhile, the results were a disaster.

In a Gallup poll taken in the early 1970s, very low percentages of whites (4 percent) and blacks (9 percent) supported busing outside of local neighborhoods.

By 1972, Alabama Governor George Wallace, who was then in contention for the Democratic nomination for President, latched onto this issue. A decade before, Wallace had been seen as the figurehead for segregation, general resistance to integration, and state's rights. He now won supporters from all over the country.

These new devotees saw him in a very different light. Arguably, had Wallace not been paralyzed by assassin's bullets in the middle of the 1972 campaign, he might have stood a chance of going up against Republican incumbent Richard Nixon in the fall. Forced busing for a time allowed Wallace the ability to re-invent himself in the eyes of the nation.

Regardless of good intentions, forced busing was a heavy-handed measure that failed miserably. It was such a colossal problem from the outset that it is today conspicuously never mentioned beyond the footnotes of a history book. Yet, it must be understood to see yesterday's ruling in the proper context.

A study of forced busing insists that we as a society recognize that we must learn from our mistakes. Here, our mistakes were well-meaning, but no less incorrect. As a nation, we were surely not seeking to keep an unfair system in place, but we still fell short. Before we pause to pat ourselves on the back for past successes we have long since romanticized, we need to analyze the whole of the historical record.    

Due to patterns of residential segregation, a principal tool for racial integration was the use of busing. In the 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had the discretion to include busing as a desegregation tool to achieve racial balance. While the Swann decision addressed de jure segregation in the South, it failed to address de facto segregation which persisted elsewhere in the country.

Forced busing had another surprising opponent, a Southern Democrat who would himself become President in a couple of years. 

In Georgia, Governor Jimmy Carter saw that Swann was, in his words, "clearly a one-sided decision; the Court is still talking about the South, the North is still going free." In the 1974 Milliken v. Bradley decision, the U.S. Supreme Court placed an important limitation on Swann when they ruled that students could be bused across district lines only when evidence of de jure segregation across multiple school districts existed.

The future Chief Executive's words continue to speak for millions of Southerners, especially today. As for other Americans who lived in different regions of the country, the legal fallout and the two-faced attitudes that perpetuated it were voiced by a folk singer, protest songwriter, and satirist. Phil Ochs addressed forced busing in his 1966 song "Love Me, I'm a Liberal."

The people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can't understand how their minds work
What's the matter don't they watch Les Crain?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal

Desegregation busing opponents could be found all over the country. A particularly strong chapter existed in Boston, Massachusetts, where it was called Restore Our Alienated Rights. Springfield, Massachusetts, Kansas City, Missouri, Las Vegas, Nevada, Los Angeles, California, Pasadena, California, Prince George's County, Maryland, and Wilmington County, Delaware, were also hotbeds of resistance. Not a single one of these cities and counties are located within the boundaries of the South.

The hypocrisy of forced busing, even among staunch liberals, is, in part, why it failed.

During the 1970s, 60 Minutes reported that some members of Congress, government, and the press who supported busing most vociferously sent their own children to private schools, including Senator Edward Kennedy, George McGovern, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Phil Hart, Ben Bradlee, Senator Birch Bayh, Tom Wicker, Philip Geyelin, and Donald Fraser. Many of the judges who ordered busing also sent their children to private schools.

To this day, liberals talk about equality in public school as they enroll their children in private school. The real issue has little to do with what eventually ends up in litigation and the judicial system. The real concern present here poses whether or not we as a people really want to live, work, and exist next to each other. Do whites and blacks prefer to segregate themselves, or are we truly committed to doing the hard work of integration, which continues in a different form today? And if we aren't, then we shouldn't punish some parts of the country for doing as we say, not as we do.

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