School Zone blog: 57th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education coincides with 40th anniversary of Kalamazoo school busing case
It is important to remember that forced segregation and forced integration are both violations of freedom of association. Voluntary association was not given a chance.
By the time integration came to a head here in 1971, schools segregated because of housing patterns had become a civil rights issue. Moreover, Kalamazoo was a changed city: As blacks from the rural South moved to the urban North in massive numbers, Kalamazoo's black population increased from 2,468 in 1950 to 8,534 by 1970. The city's Northside neighborhood underwent a dramatic transformation from a white, Dutch neighborhood to one that was overwhelmingly African-American.Busing was the single biggest factor in the decline of Kalamazoo. Current Kalamazoo GOP Chairman Al Heilman, who was a county commissioner in the 1970s, recalls that Republicans controlled the commission 15-2. Heilman represented the Westnedge Hill/Crosstown area, which at the time was a solidly Republican district.
In January 1971, the Kalamazoo school board decided to racially balance the high schools that fall and the junior high schools in fall 1972. The plan for the elementary schools, the most controversial and complicated, was put on hold.
But that April, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled busing was an appropriate method to achieve integration. The pressure now increased for the district to desegregate all its schools immediately. School board meetings attracted overflow crowds and tempers flared. Letters to the editor filled full pages of the Kalamazoo Gazette.
On Friday, May 7, 1971 -- 40 years ago this month -- the school board reversed its January decision and voted 4-3 to racially balance all its schools in the fall.
The vote followed days of drama. The board was to vote on Monday, May 3, but so many people attended the meeting at Loy Norrix High School auditorium that the event was adjourned by the fire marshal.
The board reconvened three days later at Miller Auditorium. More than 2,000 people were in the audience and 130 people spoke. However, a court injunction delayed the actual vote until the next day.
The plan was supported by board members Gerard Thomas, Andrew Luff, Edward Thompson and J. Peter Schma; dissenting were Norman Bruez, A.T. Lacy and Allan Tyler.
Voters expressed their opposition in the June school election. The districts operating millage request was defeated by a 2-1 ratio; two anti-busing candidates Dale Pattison and Jack Hoekstra were elected to the school board, each garnering nearly twice as many votes as their pro-busing counterparts.
The new school board majority rescinded the desegregation plan and Superintendent John Cochran was forced to resign.
By late summer, the school board approved a voluntary desegregation plan. Within a week, Richard Enslen -- who later became a federal judge -- filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Kalamazoo NAACP, naming as plaintiffs 11 black schoolchildren. The lead plaintiff was the stepdaughter of Robert Jones, then an Upjohn chemist who went onto become state representative before he died last fall.
The lawsuit sought a court injunction to impose busing that fall. U.S. District Judge Noel Fox issued the injunction, which was upheld by the appellate court. Three days before the start of school, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White refused to hear the Kalamazoo school board's request to overturn Fox's decision.
When schools opened Sept. 7, 1971, about 10,000 of the districts 16,000 students rode school buses, about 4,000 more than the previous school year.
Kalamazoo was one of only two communities in Michigan to have court-ordered bussing -- Pontiac was the other. And for years, even decades, busing was part of the district's identity.
Rather than put up with needlessly long bus rides and liberal social engineering, people began moving to Portage and other outlying areas. Kalamazoo lost a good chunk of its middle class and gradually transformed into a leftist stronghold. Kalamazoo's current depressed condition is largely a result of that decision.
Forty years later, school busing has a mixed record. No question, academic outcomes have improved dramatically for African-Americans, both locally and nationally. In 1970, only 31 percent of U.S. blacks age 25 or older had a high school diploma compared to 54 percent of whites. Today, 84 percent of black adults are high school graduates compared to 87 percent of whites.More diplomas does not mean better education. Former WMU President Diether Haenicke has stated that many graduates of Kalamazoo Central are functionally illiterate.
On the other hand, there's no question that busing fueled white- and middle-class flight out of Kalamazoo Public Schools. Moreover, the fact that many African-American families continue to live in social isolation in low-income neighborhoods, not to mention the concentration of low-income minority students in a handful of Kalamazoo County schools, speaks to the failures of court-ordered busing as a solution to the problems of poverty and racism in America.Sadly, the malefactors behind this decision were rewarded. Richard_Enslen was appointed a federal judge by Jimmy Carter. Robert Jones became mayor of Kalamazoo and and a state representative.
There were plenty of hopes and fears in Kalamazoo 40 years ago. In retrospect, it seems many of the fears were unfounded, but many of the hopes have been unfulfilled.
Regular people continue to be hurt by what Thomas Sowell calls the Vision of the Annointed.