Monday, February 09, 2009

Busing and Boston

It may be the most infamous photo in Boston history, is certainly the most infamous of the post-1960s Civil Rights Movement, and still leaves a lousy mark on a city with a fraught racial history even if it also is a city that has also historically been a beacon for freedom and liberty, in both rhetoric and reality.

Ted Landsmark was an up-and-coming lawyer entering the political realm on April 5, 1976. He was running late for a meeting of the Boston Redevelopment Authority that he was set to chair. He had difficulty finding parking and was rushing to get to his meeting when he was set upon by white thugs, one brandishing an American flag, in front of City Hall. The moment marked the nadir of the city's busing crisis, indeed, a nadir in the city's history.

So it came as a surprise, I'm sure to many (it did to me) top read Landsmark's recent op-ed in which he called for an end to busing to try to achieve equalization in the racial composition of the schools in Boston. And yet his arguments are worth considering.

Busing is a more complex issue than either its opponents or its supporters are willing to acknowledge. When Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education allowed for busing to begin with it was deeply controversial, but not necessarily wrong. But once the court (wrongly, in my mind) decided in Milliken v. Bradley not to allow busing to cross city lines, and thus to give suburbanites the chance to opt out of the system, and to accelerate white flight, and to racialize the inner city, it meant that busing was virtually doomed to fail, at least in those cities that maintained limited geographic boundaries (unlike Charlotte, the home of the Swann decision ironically enough, which continued to expand so that the city and county lines became virtually indistinguishable) because it could not address the systemic geographic roots of so much segregation, especially in the North and particularly in cities and suburbs. The Milliken decision did not alone guarantee Boston's ugly mid-1970s fate, but it contributed. Today black Boston-area students who live in overwhelmingly black communities get up early in the morning to get on buses the majority of which will likely take them to schools that, wherever they are located, are likely to be made up of black and Hispanic students from elsewhere in the city. Ted Landsmark, the most visible victim of Boston's ugliest period, now opposes busing. His words are worth considering, but only after we understand the real reasons why busing failed.

1 comment:

El Aguila said...

A related newspaper story that you will find interesting and may have already read. In defense of Boston and probably all of us in the United States is the story of William Carroll and Evangeline Harper.