Busing/Desegregation: What’s In A Name?

Posted: August 26, 2011 by Donna Bivens in Uncategorized

Busing. When I first heard the word in connection with this project, I flinched. I had talked to African American education activists who experienced the word as an insult at best, an assault at worse. For them, the term busing covered over the many decades of struggle for quality education for Black children and other children of color. Busing was a tactic that flowed from a strategy of desegregation of schools. And that strategy was one of many attempted in the mission to obtain quality education for all.

At the same time for many in South Boston and other predominately white working class neighborhoods, busing wasn’t a strong enough term. For them it was “forced busing”. They saw the armed protection of the children sent to their neighborhoods as a military occupation. For them, things were great as they had been and they were being forced into a change they never asked for and one wealthier white suburban communities could escape.

I resisted the term busing because it didn’t seem to speak to the true reality. But then when we talked to people who do truth processes worldwide, they extolled the power of having a word that ignites the feelings and understandings that are festering still and the reason we have undertaken this project.

Even for me, when I really took in  the word, I was catapulted back to 1974–my first year living in Boston after graduating from college. I remembered having a bottle thrown at me and my younger sister in Kenmore Square or being spit at in my own South End neighborhood from a car near Prudential Center. I thought of how excited  my mom still gets when she talks about  getting lost in South Boston when they were on their way to see us up from North Carolina–their fear and how shocked they were when people were kind and helped them find their way.  But most of all, I remember those frightened children and the angry adults throwing rocks at them and waving bananas.

So busing–as those helping to guide the process–is the word we have to feel about. But desegregation is the word we have to think about, study, come to understand. What did it mean for a city to try to grapple with a change that was made legally 20 years before the crisis here only to have it end with a conflagration rivaled only by Little Rock, Arkansas many years earlier?  What did it mean for a society to move from legal segregation in education? What did our way of working through that influence the crises in education we face today. What can we learn? How can we use what we learn to bring change?

In this video by UMN intern Sasha Feliciano, some early supporters of the Project talk about why they think it’s important. (Note: this is not a part of the film Can We Talk?)

  1. Jerome Winegar says:

    This organized process of recalling the desegregation of the Boston Public Schools and listening to those who were actively involved as students, parents, and educators is very important to healing. I was a head master during that time, and I was learning, too, although I was in charge of a school that was struggling. Unfortunately, the racism of white Boston is still in existence. Although Boston is a stronger city now in many ways, the racist attitudes are still visible. Those who ran from school desegregation really didn’t learn much. But those who remained, even if they had no choice, are stronger people. Our school had a very large reunion this past April for all of those who attended during the desegregation years. Over 300 people were in attendance. It was so interesting just to listen and to interact with adults in their late 30s to early 50s who had participated in one of the most difficult periods in Boston’s history. Some truly hated their experience; those were the older adults in their late 40s and early 50s. But the bulk of the crowd told such interesting stories.

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