The first day of busing at South Boston’s Gavin School, 1974. Northern white communities fiercely resisted busing to integrate public schools. (Phil Preston/Boston Globe/Getty Images)
Taking their cue from virulent opposition to civil rights in the South, white communities in the North launched a forceful backlash against integration after the United States Supreme Court struck down segregregated schools in Brown v. Board of Education.
Racial separation in Northern schools was achieved through widespread housing segregation. Neighborhood schools, whose populations were determined by residential boundaries, reflected racial segregation in their communities. Federal courts enforcing Brown ordered Northern cities to achieve integration by transporting students to schools outside their local school districts. “Busing” was used mainly in segregated urban school systems, including in Boston, Cleveland, San Francisco, and Detroit.
Busing increased African American students’ access to educational funding and opportunity typically reserved for white students. But many white parents and officials in the North fiercely resisted “forced busing,” insisting that it was unfair and unsafe. In Boston, white parents protested busing by picketing, marching, throwing rocks and trash at buses filled with black children, and burning a bus. New York State tried (and failed) to ban busing in 1969. In 1968, Dearborn, Michigan, mayor Orville Hubbard warned that integration would lead to “a mongrel race” and “the end of civilization.”
Northern opposition to desegregation led to declining public school enrollment, increased support for private schools, and launched an exodus of white families from cities to suburbs. Busing and other desegregation programs ended in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, many urban school districts have re-segregated due to ongoing racial segregation in housing.