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Busing Spurs White Flight to Private Schools

On February 14, 1972, Augusta's Richmond County School District implemented a desegregation policy handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Alexander A. Lawrence. The ruling mandated that the city bus students to various schools throughout the district in order to attain a 60-40 ratio of white to black students in each school—a ratio mirroring the demographics of Richmond County. On the first day of this new initiative, members of “Citizens for Neighborhood Schools” as well as many other white parents staged a boycott of Richmond County schools, which kept over half of the student population at home.

This WSB-TV report features a bus unloading African American students followed by the opinions of two Augusta mothers. The black woman favors busing while the white mother opposes the plan. A white speaker uses a bullhorn to address a large crowd of protesting adults. The group members argue that the forced busing plan has violated their rights to make choices about their children's educations. The report concludes with an interview of the principal of a private school opened specifically to accommodate white students whose parents oppose forced busing.

Roy Rollins, superintendent of the Richmond County School District at the time of the policy's implementation, described himself to a New York Times reporter as a staunch segregationist. While many parents pointed to the inconvenience and discomfort that traveling across town caused their children as the motivation for their opposition, Rollins admitted that for many adults the desire not to mix with black communities actually spurred their hostility to the busing measure. He argued that he had received no complaints toward the forced busing plans that sent white students across town to another white school because of overcrowding.

Nor did all black leaders favor forced busing. In fact, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), considered a moderate group, preferred to argue for better accommodations in black schools rather than forced busing. CORE pressured school systems to live up to the "separate but equal" creed, by proposing to route some suburban taxes toward inner city schools. Although almost twenty years had passed since the courts had mandated school integration, many regarded forced busing as a last resort.

As a result of forced busing, many parents enrolled their children in all-white private schools rather than patronizing the public system. In the nine months following the implementation of forced busing, more than three thousand white students left the Richmond County School System, to attend newly formed private schools. At Lucy C. Laney High School, one of Augusta’s public schools, the registered number of white students dropped from 381 to 85 in the years directly following the implementation of forced busing. The black student population, on the other hand, jumped from 668 to 888.

In hindsight, many have questioned the effectiveness of busing and other integration attempts. Jonathan Kozol’s book, The Shame of the Nation (2005), exposes the presence of segregated education in school systems across the United States. Kozol discusses the large percentages of schools in the North and the South whose racial demographics no longer reflect the progress of civil rights activism. According to his book, during the 1990s, the proportion of black students at majority white schools decreased to a level lower than in any year since 1968. He also notes that almost seventy-five percent of black and Latino students attend predominately minority schools. Often underfunded, these schools are often located in poor areas where the tax base insufficiently compensates for the students needs.

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Discussion Questions

1. What effect did the movement of white students from public to newly formed private schools have on the desegregation effort? Why do some parents enroll their children in private schools today?

2. Because of zoning, the racial and socioeconomic composition of neighborhoods affects school populations. What other methods could communities devise to diversify or integrate their schools?

3. Do you think integrated schools are a good idea? Is this viable for today's schools? Consider whether separation based on race, gender, or aptitude might make a difference in how students learn.

4. Many public officials supported the school boycott in Augusta. What does this demonstrate about the influence of the Civil Rights Movement in 1972?

Take it to the Streets!

This WSB-TV report asks us to question the utility of forced busing, which was implemented in order to provide children of all races with equal educational opportunities. The black mother in the clip provides the most compelling argument, perhaps, in defense of integrated schools. She states, “Well, as I can understand it...some material has been handed out in the white schools that we don’t even know anything about. So if they are together, now they will know together.”

In light of this mother's comments, examine your own community. Has school resegregation occurred in your town? Brainstorm solutions to today’s resegregation problem. Make a list of possible solutions on a local and national level. Write a letter to a political leader in your area addressing and providing possible solutions to school resegregation.

Writers: Bonnie Claxton, Morgan Copper, Anna Hasty, Grace Lee, and Kathleen Yapp in Professor Barbara McCaskill's ENGL 4860 (The Civil Rights Movement in American Literature), Fall 2007.

Editors and Researchers: Kamille Bostick, Christina L. Davis, and Professor Barbara McCaskill

Web Site Designer: William Weems

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