How Court's Bus Ruling Sealed Differences In Detroit Schools | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

How Court's Bus Ruling Sealed Differences In Detroit Schools

Play associated audio

It was 40 years ago today that the Supreme Court accepted what became a landmark case about school desegregation. The case was controversial because it involved busing student between a largely African-American city — Detroit — and its white suburban areas. The ruling helped cement differences between urban schools and suburban neighborhoods.

White flight out of the city was already in full swing in the early 1970s, and Detroit neighborhoods were racially segregated. Race relations were tense; Stevie Wonder had released a Motown record with the line, "You can't tell me nothing white man." That same year, Ku Klux Klan members blew up 10 school buses in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac rather than let them be used to bus black and white students to integrate the schools.

There was considerable urgency to desegregate Detroit's schools, and the school board redrew boundary lines so that schools would be racially and economically integrated. But the state Legislature stepped in and killed the plan. Detroit parent Ray Litt thought diversity was one of the best things about his old Detroit school, and he wanted that for his kids. So Litt and a group of Detroiters went to court in an attempt to force the state to desegregate Detroit's schools.

"The original lawsuit was filed by NAACP, and my three kids, Daniel, Deborah and Sandy, were listed as plaintiffs," Litt recalled.

That lawsuit became Milliken v. Bradley, and it went to the Supreme Court after a federal judge agreed that Detroit's schools needed to be desegregated. He ordered kids from Detroit to be bused into the suburbs and vice versa, since Detroit didn't have enough white students to make desegregation work.

Some were opposed to busing, with many citing the upheaval it would cause for their children. The Supreme Court ended up striking down the lawsuit and Detroit's busing plan 5-4, saying that since the suburbs did not cause Detroit's problems, they did not have to be part of the solution.

Frank Kelley was then Michigan's attorney general and argued against busing before the Supreme Court. He thinks the court made the right call.

"This case was 80 percent political, and the other factor, one thing that you want to remember, that the discrimination the judge found in Detroit had nothing to do with anything in modern times," Kelley said.

Now, 40 years after Litt brought this desegregation case to the Supreme Court, the school where his son went — Vandenberg Elementary — has been turned into a charter school. And, like almost every school in Detroit, nearly all the students are African-American.

"Every time I hear about education and the need that we have to do things to make sure the young people get developed in a way that makes them able to be successful, happy, knowledgeable, the one word that gets left out is desegregation," Litt said.

Joyce Baugh teaches civil rights at Central Michigan University and has written extensively about Milliken v. Bradley.

"The Detroit public school system is in dire straits, in large part because of that decision. I don't think enough people realize the impact of that case. Not just in Detroit, but across the country," Baugh said.

Baugh thinks the Milliken decision motivated people to move away from urban schools to, in effect, outrun desegregation. And ever since Milliken, the Supreme Court has not been an especially friendly place for school desegregation efforts, even those without forced busing. In the past few years, Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; and Seattle all have had desegregation plans struck down by the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2013 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit http://michiganradio.org/.

NPR

WWI Diaries Of Poet Siegfried Sassoon Go Public For First Time

Nearly a dozen notebooks and journals by the author, who fought in the British Army during the war, are being released to coincide with the centenary of the start of the conflict.
NPR

These Ivory Coast Cacao Farmers Had Never Tasted Chocolate

Ivory Coast is the world's No. 1 producer of the cacao beans that are the base of our beloved chocolate bars. But as a TV report shows, some cacao farmers have never enjoyed the final product.
NPR

Panel Says Plan To Cut Army Strength Goes Too Far

The Pentagon has recommended cutting troop strength to 450,000, but a bi-partisan report says that given the global threats, the reduction is too big.
NPR

Simmering Online Debate Shows Emoji Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

A report from a local Philadelphia TV station is re-igniting a debate and getting people all up in arms. (Or should we say, up in hands?)

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.