TEXT ON SCREEN: April 20, 1971
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 10-12-70):WALTER CRONKITE: Many communities are struggling with the highly complex and highly emotional problem of busing.
NARRATION: In 1971, Charlotte, North Carolina opened the door for busing across the country, forcing the nation to confront a history of old prejudices, well-honed politics…
ARCHIVAL:PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON: I am against busing. Thats forced integration.
NARRATION: …and long-held fears of change.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 9-6-70):WOMAN: Its not integration, its Communism!
NARRATION: Charlotte overcame these hurdles, becoming a national symbol of what was possible.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 10-22-74):REPORTER: On the whole, integration has gone more smoothly here and has been more successful than many people imagined.
NARRATION: But decades later, the story of Charlottes integration has taken a decidedly different turn.
In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education, that schools divided along racial lines were inherently unequal. But over the next decade only about one percent of Blacks in the South ended up attending integrated schools. Arthur Griffin was among the students affected by the slow pace of change.
ARTHUR GRIFFIN (FORMER SCHOOL BOARD CHAIRMAN, CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG COUNTY): My elementary schooling was all Black. There was a morning session from 8 to 12 and there was an afternoon session from 12 to 4. Because it was overcrowded, we had those two shifts. My high school was all Black. We had old books. We had old football uniforms and we had old band uniforms. This went on for years.
NARRATION: This inequality in Charlotte led to a federal lawsuit. When the Supreme Court ruling finally came in 1971, the effects rippled across the country.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 4-20-71):WALTER CRONKITE: A unanimous Supreme Court today affirmed the principle of busing school children to desegregate schools.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 4-20-71):NEWS REPORT: In fact the court said almost anything was alright if it served this purpose.
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: The effects of this decision are almost incalculable.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 9-6-71):WOMAN: How many are going to keep their children home? Home! Home! Not on a bus. Nowhere but home!
NARRATION: Charlotte’s desegregation program had already been set in motion by a federal judge a year and a half before.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 9-3-70):WILLIAM BOOE (CONCERNED PARENTS ASSOCIATION): The people of this community will not accept nor comply with these oppressive orders.
ARCHIVAL:REPORTER: What happens if the school board should bring legal action against you for keeping him home?WOMAN: Uh, I guess I’ll get, uh, free board and meals.
NARRATION: To keep whites in the school district, most of the students who were bused were Black. The students sent to West Charlotte High the pride of the Black community were an exception.
ARTHUR GRIFFIN: Immediately, when the decision was made that white kids would now be bused into West Charlotte, it was like a community joke, like, overnight the gravel parking lot was paved. The athletic facilities, in terms of the football stadium, the basketball and gymnasium stuff was upgraded. It was like overnight someone had written a check for a million dollars.
NARRATION: That first year was not an easy one, as Black and white students found themselves under a microscope, walking down halls with other races for the first time.
JANET HAMBRIGHT (FORMER STUDENT, WEST CHARLOTTE HIGH): I had come from this lily-white neighborhood and I never knew that there was so much color.
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: West Charlotte High School used to be all Black, and during that first year, there was racial fighting and boycotts by some whites.
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: Students were injured during some of the incidents, as tension between Black and white students grew.
JANET HAMBRIGHT: It had always been a Black school and they had very much pride, which I understand. You know, they were proud of their football team and proud of their cheerleaders and proud of their majorettes. Because I was a majorette, I had five girls jump me one day. It was very unsettling. I didn’t realize that there were good things to come. It was just going to take time.
ARCHIVAL:NEWS REPORT: It has been three years since the Supreme Court handed down its historic decision requiring extensive cross-town busing of students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. In fact, attendance for the first day was near a record for the public schools.
TIM GIBBS (FORMER STUDENT, WEST CHARLOTTE HIGH): I don’t think the parents adjusted to the integration as quickly as the kids did, because we were down there in the trenches dealing with each other day to day. If you look at it as a battle being fought, we were the ones that were actually the soldiers and we were on the front line.
NARRATION: The example set at West Charlotte High School turned it into a darling of the national media.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 10-22-74):WALTER CRONKITE: Four students from Boston schools plagued by a busing controversy were in class in Charlotte, North Carolina today.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 10-15-74):NEWS REPORT: Students have been promoting school spirit and togetherness.
ARCHIVAL (NBC NEWS, 10-22-74):ANCHOR: And while desegregation hasn’t worked perfectly in Charlotte, it has worked.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 10-15-74):TINA GOUGE (STUDENT): We were thrown together at first, but we learned to adjust to each other and we all get along a whole lot better.
ARTHUR GRIFFIN: I think busing was a tremendous success. The fact that my children and my neighbors children, even to this day, are friends. And, as you can see Im African American, my neighbors children were white.
JANET HAMBRIGHT: I don’t know how you could have changed anything if it had not been for busing.
NARRATION: In the decades since Charlottes integration, the debate has raged over the long-term effect of busing. Researchers like Professor Roslyn Mickelson have sought to answer that question, through her analysis of a massive database of studies at the University of North Carolina.
ROSLYN MICKELSON (PROFESSOR OF SOCIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHARLOTTE): Children who attended diverse schools scored better on tests, they were more likely to graduate, to avoid crime. They are more likely to go to college, graduate from college. There is growing evidence that white middle-class children and middle-class children from all ethnic and racial backgrounds also benefit both academically and socially from going to integrated schools.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 9-10-99):PETER JENNINGS: Good evening, we are going to begin this evening with the most deeply vexing issue in the history of America.
NARRATION: In 1999, a new generation began to confront the legacy of busing and the TV cameras turned again to Charlotte. In response to a lawsuit, a federal judge said that the districts busing program had been a success. But his ruling didn’t stop there.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 9-10-99):REPORTER: Federal Judge Robert Potter essentially said the district had met its constitutional duty by successfully creating a single school system serving all children regardless of race, and he said that no more need be done.LEE PARKS (PLAINTIFFS LAWYER): It’s going to now be the quality of education being prioritized over the racial quotas.
NARRATION: The parents who had brought the suit were white, some of them transplants from other cities where busing hadnt been done. But some Black residents also had reservations. Academics had improved, but not always as much as parents had hoped. And as the city spread out, many grew tired of the logistical pretzel that busing had become.
Charlotte wasnt alone. A series of Supreme Court decisions in the 1990s led to hundreds of desegregation orders and plans being dismantled across the country.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 10-2-97):TED KOPPEL: School districts are asking other courts for permission to go back to the old neighborhood school system.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 12-3-06):TERRENCE PELL (CENTER FOR INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS): We need to get school officials out of the business of racial engineering and into the business of providing an adequate education for all students.
ARCHIVAL (ABC NEWS, 10-2-97):ELAINE FORD (ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PRINCIPAL): Our babies need our parents. They need that-that ownership. They need to know that mom, dad, uncle, aunt, grandma are just a step away.
NARRATION: Arthur Griffin was against Charlotte’s decision to stop mandatory busing.
ARTHUR GRIFFIN: I just decided not to run for school board anymore simply because I was out of step. So, rather than obstructing the course of events, I said I will just step aside, and I won’t try to stop you and we’ll see what happens. And it took a year or two or three before West Charlotte actually got to the point that it is today.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS, 6-29-07):NEWS REPORT: In the 1970s West Charlotte was a national model for school integration: 40 percent Black, 60 percent white. Today, its 88 percent Black, one percent white.JOHN MODEST (PRINCIPAL, WEST CHARLOTTE HIGH SCHOOL): I think you saw some white flight and some bright flight.BYRON PITTS (REPORTER): I’m sorry. Say that again? What kinda flight?JOHN MODEST: White, white flight and bright flight, where the Black, middle class were leaving, too.
ARTHUR GRIFFIN: It wasn’t an instant death, but you allow great teachers to leave. You allowed great numbers of students with great needs to bubble up to West Charlotte, and the resources were not there to help those kids be successful.
NARRATION: Another benefit of busing mixing students of different income levels and social classes has also been dismantled. Like most school systems, West Charlotte today has more Hispanic and Asian American students, but the student body remains economically disadvantaged.
A recent report warned, the growth of racial and economic segregation in todays schools is placing the promise of Brown at grave risk.”
ARTHUR GRIFFIN: We basically have two systems going on right now, one for the haves and one for the have nots. We are a lot more segregated, both racially and economically, than I think anyone would’ve imagined would occur.