Kamala Is Dead Wrong on Busing
And the Milwaukee busing plan was a dramatic example of this.
Kamala Harris will need a strong turnout by Milwaukee’s (and Wisconsin’s) African American voters to prevail in next year’s Wisconsin’s primary election. In advance of a visit to the state, she might read up on the Milwaukee’s disastrous experience with busing to desegregate the schools, a failed “progressive” policy carried out to the distinct disadvantage of black families.
Harris has put some space between her and other challengers with this verbal swipe, in a recent debate, at frontrunner Joe Biden: “…[D]o you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing” for school desegregation?” When it became clear the attack had legs with liberal Democrats, her campaign website began featuring a T-shirt with a picture of her as a young girl. The image evokes her line during the debate — “that little girl was me” — about her personal experience with busing.
It’s been two decades since citizens reached a consensus that Milwaukee’s forced busing program was a failure. Consider this from a 1999 Journal Sentinel article:
Matching a nationwide…trend, Milwaukee-area residents strongly oppose the practice of busing children from one neighborhood to an other for the purpose of integration, according to results of an extensive Journal Sentinel poll.
Of the 800 adults polled…in the metropolitan Milwaukee area, 73% said they did not support busing for integration – a resounding condemnation of two decades’ worth of social policy in the city.
Opposition to busing was slightly less strong among respondents who live in the city (66%) but still represented a solid majority. By race, 78% of white respondents opposed busing; 56% of blacks opposed the policy.
After being confronted in the debate by Harris, Biden has conducted a pitiful campaign of bobbing and weaving. Instead of answering “NO” to her question, he has backpedaled into a spate of unpresidential waffling. He should have disputed her history and gone on to cite experiences in cities such as Milwaukee and Boston to justify his skepticism about forced busing.
Following the Harris-Biden exchange, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby wrote a column under the headline “Biden was right. Busing was wrong.” He said:
The forced busing of schoolchildren for purposes of racial desegregation was a wretched, wrongheaded policy that caused far more harm than good. As a young, liberal Democratic senator 45 years ago, Biden firmly opposed busing, and he was right to do so.
In the days following the [Harris-Biden exchange], the liberal media chorus declared that of course opposition to forced busing was wrong, of course Biden had been on “the wrong side of history,” and of course he should acknowledge the error of his ways. A visitor from Mars could be forgiven for assuming that racial busing had been wise and beneficial, and that no reasonable mind could deny it.
On June 21, 1974, US District Judge W. Arthur Garrity issued an order to desegregate Boston’s public schools through massive crosstown busing of the city’s schoolchildren. It was the first of what would add up to some 400 orders signed by Garrity over the next 11 years, and it had the staunch support of Boston’s most important institutional voice of racially enlightened liberalism: The Boston Globe.
Twenty years later, the Globe’s support had vanished.
“Busing has been a failure in Boston,” the editorial board concluded bluntly in June 1994. “It achieved neither integration nor better schooling.” Repudiating the “delusions and pretensions that drove the busing controversy,” the Globe called for an end to the “obsessive, dead-end tinkering with racial proportions”…
…In 1982, a Globe poll found that only 14 percent of black Boston parents still favored busing. The overwhelming majority preferred a free-choice plan, allowing parents to send their children to any public school in the city. In practice, that would have meant schools their kids could walk to.
White opposition to forced busing scared Milwaukee’s leaders, who created a very different plan in response to a federal court order to desegregate the schools. The plan launched in 1976 allowed white students to chose integration at magnet schools with specialized programs, while putting the burden of forced busing on black students, as research by Lois Quinn and the Metropolitan Integration Research Center documented a few years later. In the early 1980s Howard Fuller began building opposition to the disruptive and disproportionate burden placed on black families and children with the supposedly “peaceful” desegregation plan implemented in Milwaukee. His later doctoral thesis at Marquette University helped blow a hole in sanitized and misleading reporting by the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel, which supported the busing program. Maps that I included in a study expanding on Quinn’ research showed students from individual neighborhood schools were being bused to as many as 100 separate schools across the city.
Subsequent research by James Kenneth Nelsen, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, offered a clear description of how the system worked:
There was no room in the [Black] school[s] — [they were] usually overcrowded to begin with…Black students had to move to accommodate whites. Some African American parents complained about waiting lists to get into what had been their neighborhood schools… Now that their schools had more desirable programs [for white students], they could no longer attend them.
It was not until the late 1990s that David Bennett, a deputy to former MPS Superintendent Lee McMurrin admitted that the forced busing plan he and McMurrin developed was built around “white benefit,” namely, the goal of reducing “white flight.” Bennett’s stunning confirmation produced exactly one story in the local press, at which point the editors and the rest of Milwaukee’s establishment “moved on.”
While the Boston and Milwaukee busing plans were designed very differently, it’s clear neither worked. So when Kamala Harris visits Milwaukee and Wisconsin, will the Journal Sentinel — or anyone in the media — step up and ask her to reconcile her rose-colored vision of busing with the reality of its experience in Wisconsin?