Out of America: Blacks give low marks to busing

ST LOUIS - To the visitor, it sounds akin to heresy, the betrayal of all that was fought for. The first-ever black mayor of one of America's most racially divided cities is sitting in his vast, softly lit office, half a mile or so from the Mississippi waterfront. Calmly he explains why he wants to scrap a legendary achievement of America's epic struggle for civil rights: the busing of black students to white schools to implement the Supreme Court ruling of almost 40 years ago aimed at desegregating the US school system.

But Freeman Bosley Jr is unrepentant. At 39, he belongs to a new generation of black politicians, not even alive on that May day in 1954 when, in its historic Brown v Board of Education decision, the nine Court justices unanimously concluded that the doctrine of 'separate but equal' schooling for the two races was a hollow sham.

It took nearly three decades for a federal court to force compliance here. But since 1982, the state of Missouri has spent dollars 1bn (pounds 670m) on the city, including the daily transfer of 14,000 black pupils to white schools in suburban St Louis County. Statistically it adds up to the largest, most expensive desegregation programme in the country. But what gains, Mayor Bosley asks, has busing really brought? And at what price?

Out of 50 public schools in the city, 47 are still all-black, starved of resources now spent on officially desegregated schools. Tests, he claims, show no measurable scholastic improvement for children who are bused.

'We're losing some of our best young minds to the suburbs; we're never going to trust our own schools and our own neighbourhoods as long as we keep sending our kids off to the suburbs every morning.' Far better, he says, to spend the money on providing good schools where people actually live, to help restore a sense of community and identity to the battered inner cities.

But for all his self-assurance and political acumen, Mr Bosley is treading on perilous ground. In its late 19th-century heyday this old river metropolis was the gateway to the American West, the geographic hub of a continent. But a tidy Germanic facade always masked one of the most segregated cities in the country. Although nearly half its population is black, until Mr Bosley was elected early this year St Louis had never had a black mayor.

The achievement of the past 11 years has been colossal. A dollars 355m school improvement project is three-quarters complete; the number of black children who travel each day to schools outside the city limits is not far short of the stipulated target of 16,000. New 'magnet schools' designed to attract blacks and whites alike are thriving; their pupil-teacher ratio is close to the required 20 to 1, their teaching staffs are more or less fully integrated. And all this is, technically, on a 'voluntary' basis, whereby the white schools have co-operated without a court order forcing them to do so. 'We're really satisfied with what's been done,' said Eddie Davis, president of the St Louis Board of Education.

So why not proclaim victory, declare that St Louis has attained the 'unitary' education system demanded by the courts and end the formal desegregation programme? For one thing, says Mr Davis, the conditions imposed in 1982 will not be fully met until 1995 at the earliest.

But an older generation of blacks has a deeper fear: that to end mandatory desegregation would merely play into the hands of a white-dominated state government, at heart still racist. Missouri's attorney-general has already applied for the court order to be lifted, saying it has done more than enough. De facto if not de jure, 'separate but equal' would again become education's guiding principle. By suggesting that blacks, too, are fed up with desegregation, Mr Bosley risks giving aid and comfort to the very enemies of civil rights.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power