The U.S. Supreme Court School Busing Ruling of Forty Years Ago Continues To Affect Detroit Schools Today.

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The U.S. Supreme Court School Busing Ruling of Forty Years Ago Continues To Affect Detroit Schools Today.


Like so many other cities in the United States, Detroit was heavily embroiled in school desegregation. Forty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a case that went on to become a landmark. The the issue was busing of children to school to achieve desegregation. The case involved busing students between Detroit, with its large African American population, and the white suburbs.


The Supreme Court ended up striking down Detroit’s busing plan 5 to 4.  The Court stated that the suburbs had not caused Detroit’s problems, therefore did not have to be part of the solution.


The court´s ruling helped galvanize and perpetuate, the differences between urban schools and suburban schools. Their decision continues to affect Detroit Public Schools today.


 Like in other cities across America, ours included, white flight was in full swing in the early 1970s. Most Detroit neighborhoods were racially segregated and race relations were tense everywhere. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan blew up 10 school buses in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac to stop black  students from integrating white schools.

In it’s attempt to desegregate Detroit’s schools, the school board redrew boundary lines so that schools would be racially and economically integrated. The Michigan state legislatue, stepped in and killed the school boards desegregation plan.


Detroit parent Ray Litt, who thought diversity had been a great component of his old Detroit school, fought to make sure that his children had the same experience he had. Consequently, Litt and a group of Detroiters went to court in an attempt to force the state to desegregate Detroit’s schools.


That lawsuit became Milliken v. Bradley and went to the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs won and  a federal judge ordered that Detroit’s schools be desegregated. The judge  ordered children from Detroit to be bused into the suburbs and vice versa. After decades of “white flight” Detroit did not have enough white students to make desegregation possible.


Many opposed the desegregation plan and cited the upheaval it would cause for their children.


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. Like almost every school in Detroit, nearly all the students are African-American.


According to National Public Radio, Joyce Baugh a civil rights professor at Central Michigan University and one who 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 thinks the Milliken decision motivated people to move away from urban schools.

They were able to outrun desegregation. And ever since Milliken, the Supreme Court has not been a friendly place for desegregation.  In the past few years, Kansas City, Mo. Louisville, Ky.; and Seattle all have had desegregation plans struck down by the Supreme Court.


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