Black communities wanted better schools, and busing was the tool the law offered, even though it never promised to accomplish much.
There are many reasons to believe that Joe Biden should not be the next president — but his 1970s-era opposition to busing as a means to school desegregation should not be one of them.
There’s little doubt that this could prove to be a litmus test for the current generation of race-conscious Democrats. Northwestern history professor Brett Gadsden has begun to make this case against Biden in Politico: “A sincere critique of Biden’s busing record would require a broader reckoning of the Democratic Party’s — and by extension the nation’s — abandonment of this central goal of the civil rights movement.” Of course, to agree one must accept the idea that busing was rightly a central civil-rights goal — and that those who opposed it were irredeemably racist.
That was, to be sure, my own view as school desegregation began in Boston, in the fall of 1974. I was a young reporter for a left-wing weekly newspaper, the Boston Phoenix, and was convinced that I was seeing a northern version of the “segregation now, segregation forever” George Wallace had endorsed. (Indeed, Wallace actually carried the city of Boston in the 1976 Democratic presidential primary.) It was only over time, as I became exposed to the anti-busing movement, and to the neighborhoods where it was strong, that my views “evolved,” as is said these days. It became clear that there were not only competing values at stake but that the blue-collar Democrats in South Boston, Charlestown, and East Boston who took up the slogan “bus the liberals” had a good point.
Howard Husock is vice president for policy research and publications at the Manhattan Institute.
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