The Origins of Busing—Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education

A desegregated bus after the Swann decision. Image from The Economist A desegregated bus after the Swann decision. Image from The Economist

 

All this month we’re bringing you stories from North Carolina’s black history. Check back here each week day for a new tidbit from our state’s African American’s past. In 1965, attorney Julius L. Chambers filed suit on behalf of ten pairs of African American parents. The suit—Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education – contended that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education’s assignment plan did not sufficiently eliminate the inequalities of the formerly segregated system. Though the board tried to redo the assignment plan and the district appeared desegregated, the plaintiffs argued decades of discrimination could only be undone through extensive busing. Federal district court judge James B. McMillan agreed. Disagreements between the board and McMillan on the specifics of the plan landed the case in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reaffirmed McMillian’s decision with qualifications. The school board and plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously reaffirmed the ruling in April 1971. The case remained unresolved until July 1975, when McMillan was satisfied that the burden of busing was equally shared between blacks and whites. Though initially quite divisive in the community, many Mecklenburg residents eventually began to take pride in their new schools, and some observers have linked the city's growth and prosperity in the 1980s to the school board's continued commitment to full integration.

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