Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, 402 U.S. 1 (1971) was a landmark United States Supreme Court case dealing with the busing of students to promote integration in public schools. The Court held that busing was an appropriate remedy for the problem of racial imbalance in schools, even when the imbalance resulted from the selection of students based on geographic proximity to the school rather than from deliberate assignment based on race. This was done to ensure the schools would be “properly” integrated and that all students would receive equal educational opportunities regardless of their race. – Wikipedia
When I was 10 years old, I boarded a bus at 6:30 in the morning and was driven to a very old elementary school on the other side of Charlotte located in a black neighborhood. The school I attended previously and would have attended for two more years was three blocks from my house.
Not only did Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education integrate the student population it also integrated teachers as well or at least it attempted too. My neighborhood school got several black teachers but the school I was bussed too got few, if any, white teachers. They simply refused to teach there.
My parents supported busing and the integration of the schools in Charlotte. They understood that the current system was unbalanced. From grades 1-4, I attended a lily-white school with lily white teachers. That was not a realistic environment or snapshot of the world that we lived in. Unfortunately not everyone in my neighborhood shared that view.
I guess every neighborhood has one. That guy who knows everything, and knows what’s best for everyone. Mr. Ramsey was that guy. When I think back now, Mr. Ramsey was a bully, his four sons were bullies. You never fought one of them, you got your ass kicked by all four. Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education pissed Mr. Ramsey off and he made sure everyone on our street was pissed off too. He had signs made that said “This house is not for sale” and distributed them to anyone with school age kids on our street. The message was, you can’t force us to change our neighborhood. My parents didn’t put one up in our yard.
He organized parents to gather at the bus line at our neighborhood school so when sleepy little six and seven-year old black children got off the bus they had to walk past angry white adults to enter their new school. He held his boys out of school and encouraged other parents to do the same. Some did, mine didn’t.
Eventually the hordes that he had organized lost their will to fight. It was a battle based on intimidation and egged on by one irrational person. The signs came down, the fury subsided and the only people left standing were the Ramsey’s. Eventually the school district forced the Ramsey’s to send their kids back to school and rather than doing so they moved, out of the neighborhood, out of the county, so that his boys could attend a lily-white school like they were entitled too.
I am not a big fan of the intimidation tactic. I am old enough to remember the Ku Klux Klan marches which were less about a show of power and more about displaying what they were capable of, intimidation. It is a strategy of fear, of grasping at that last straw, when all else fails scare the shit out of them.
I will watch tonight’s debate with 1971 in mind. How one man tried to change our neighborhood, our world through intimidation and fear. How one small spark can ignite a flame. But fire requires fuel to continue burning. Mr. Ramsey ran out of fuel. The Ku Klux Klan ran out of fuel. Fear and intimidation can only burn so long. Truth and justice are much more combustible and will always burn brighter and longer.