Memories of Busing in Richmond

by Dr. Robert A. Pratt

Busing was one of the most divisive social issues of the 1970s and would remain steeped in controversy for the rest of the twentieth century. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Swann v.Charlotte-Mecklenburg (1971), understood that busing was necessary in order for meaningful desegregation to occur, mainly because a history of segregated housing patterns made it impossible for neighborhood schools to be desegregated. Busing, therefore, would mean busing white children into black neighborhoods and black children into white neighborhoods.

For many reasons, busing was never popular, with whites or blacks. For many whites, especially those who were opposed to desegregation in the first place, busing became an easy scapegoat, and they could often couch their prejudiced views in anti-busing rhetoric.

Blacks, on the other hand, had always been more concerned about equality of educational opportunities, rather than “integration” per se. But most blacks came to embrace desegregation when it became obvious that “separate” would never be “equal.” While blacks tended to support busing more than whites, blacks began to have second thoughts when it became apparent that they were shouldering the burdens of busing. Eventually, as whites began to abandon the public schools in droves, busing — at least for the purpose of achieving a “racial balance” — was no longer necessary.

Yet, despite how one feels about the busing experience in Richmond, the heroic actions of many of the key players should never be forgotten. Then Governor Linwood Holton voluntarily accepted the city’s busing decree and tried to set a positive example, but his actions were the exception rather than the rule, and his future career in politics would end because of his progressive leadership.

Judge Robert Merhige was publicly vilified because he happened to believe that busing was consistent with the principles espoused in the Brown decision. The law firm of Hill, Tucker, and Marsh, along with other NAACP attorneys, led the legal assault on segregated schools in Richmond.

And then, of course, there were the students themselves who, along with their teachers, tried to adjust to new racial realities, which was not always easy given that the public schools were often the major battlegrounds of the civil rights movement. Those who were inclined to support busing generally believed that, in the words of Thurgood Marshall, if our society expects blacks and whites to work together and live together as adults, then they should play together and learn together as children. As it turned out, they greatly underestimated the opposition.


Busing Glossary

This glossary was compiled as an easy reference for vocabulary used throughout these web pages.


This glossary was compiled as an easy reference for        vocabulary used throughout these web pages.

Busing                 The transporting of students across school-district boundaries, usually court-ordered,        to make schools more racially balanced.
Civil Rights                 The personal freedoms of citizens guaranteed by the 13th and 14th amendments      to the US Constitution.
Civil Rights Act of 1964                 The federal laws making it illegal for schools and businesses to treat people      differently on the basis of their race, religion or the country of their      birth.

Class action suit                 A lawsuit filed by one person on behalf of a group of people who have the        same complaint.
Desegregation                 The ending of the separation of members of one race from members of another      race.
Discrimination                 The unfair treatment of one group of people by another group because they      are of a different race, gender, religion or culture.
Dual attendance zones                 There was a directory of Richmond City Schools that listed all                   the white schools in one division and all the black schools in                   another one. Therefore it looked like there were “dual attendance                   zones.” The Pupil Placement Board used this directory to make                   their pupil assignments.
Fair Housing Act of 1968                 The federal law that makes it illegal for businesses to discriminate against      or treat unfairly different races in the sale of rental of places to live.
Freedom of choice                 In Richmond, students requested which school they would like to attend, which      would then be approved by the Virginia Pupil Placement Board.
Grade-pairing/Feeder schools                 This plan was created to reduce busing and keep students together                   through their entire public education. After finishing elementary                   school, children would attend a nearby middle school; after middle                   school children would attend one central high school.
Gray Plan                 The collection of recommendations made by Senator Garland Gray and his committee.      The committee suggested that the local school boards be given the right decide      which students would be assigned to which schools. It also suggested that      money be given to parents to send their child to segregated private schools      instead of integrated public schools.
HEW                 United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare. This federal organization      set up new desegregation guidelines in the mid 1960s. If any school districts      resisted integration, they would cut off federal funds to the schools.
Integration                 The process of bringing together different races in order for all people      to enjoy the same benefits in society.
Interposition                 The state’s right to resist federal laws that the state considers unconstitutional.
K-5 Plan (1978)                 A desegregation plan created by Richmond Public School Superintendent Richard      C. Hunter that attempted to keep white families in the city by keeping their      younger children in neighborhood schools.
Massive Resistance                 A plan to persuade white people to avoid court-ordered desegregation through      the passage of state laws.
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)                 An organization started in 1909 in New York City to improve the                   quality of life for African-Americans.

Passive Resistance                 To challenge laws by using nonviolent methods.

Plan G (1979-86)                   A plan to prevent the closing of Richmond area high schools by merging the          seven schools into three: Marshall-Walker, Armstrong-Kennedy, and Jefferson-Huguenot-Wythe.
Prejudice                   The dislike or distrust of people because they are of another race, religion      or country.
Pupil Placement Board (Virginia)                   A committee that had the right to decide what school a student attended.      This decision was based on the students race.
Racism                   The belief that a particular race of people is superior to other                   races.
Segregation                   The separation one group of people from another group through peer pressure,      laws or personal preference.
“Separate but equal”                   A concept that gives states the right to segregate races of people in public      transportation. This idea was extended to allow races to have separate but      of similar quality facilities, like schools and restaurants.
Southern Manifesto                   A public declaration by Southern congressmen of their intentions to resist      desegregation.
Strike                   To cause work to stop so that attention will be placed on a grievance or      complaint.
The Stanley Plan                   A collection of 13 acts that were passed to keep schools from integrating.
Tokenism                   Pretending to meet public pressure or legal requirements for nondiscrimination      by hiring, promoting, or including for membership one or a few minorities      or women.
Tuition grants                   During massive resistance, Virginia was allowed to give money from public      funds to parents to send their child to private schools to prevent integration.
White-flight             A term used to describe the trend of white families out of neighborhoods      that black families have moved into