Kamala Harris’s busing was instituted by the City of Berkeley. Prior to that happening there were many community meetings and protests. The plan was to bus black children to schools in predominately white neighborhoods. Berkeley also bused white kids to predominately black schools. It took a different approach than Boston. It made schools in the white neighborhoods K to 3 and those in the black neighborhoods 4 to 6.
It worked for a while but with ensuing population shifts and some “white flight” integration became more difficult. “By the early 1980s, 7 out of 12 elementary schools were racially imbalanced with African-Americans constituting over 53% of total enrollment at four of these schools.” In 1994 – over 25 years after the busing plan was put in place – “the Berkeley School Board voted to phase out the 1968 plan and replace it with a new plan that still fostered integration and used buses but also allowed for family choice.” That plan too was revised in 2004 and remains in effect today.
Harris was bused as were all black children in her grade because the second grade was in the white district. Had she been in the fourth grade at the time, the children who would have been bused would have been the white children. It was not the busing that played the major difference, it was that the schools had been integrated and blacks were treated equally with whites. Any lack of a proper education or stigma that may have attached to a kid being in one of the two schools with over 89% (another was over 72%) black enrollment disappeared. At the time blacks believed education in majority black schools was not on par with those in the majority white schools.
Ruth Batson a prominent Boston civil rights worker put it this way: “When we would go to white schools, we’d see these lovely classrooms, with a small number of children in each class. The teachers were permanent. We’d see wonderful materials. When we’d go to our schools, we would see overcrowded classrooms, children sitting out in the corridors, and so forth. And so, then we decided that where there were a large number of white students, that’s where the care went. That’s where the books went. That’s where the money went.” Blacks did not necessary feel they had to go to school with whites to be educated but did strongly believe that if they did not they would be short-changed.
From my experience busing and turmoil it caused did very little, if anything, to improve the education offered the children. They were treated like chess pieces being moved from one place to another with the sole regard being for balancing numbers. I’m not sure any child benefited from busing where it happened under court order who would not have benefited had it never been introduced as a remedy. Ironically, the plan quickly tossed in the waste basket that was first brought up by Paul Ellison of the Boston School Committee would have done a much better job relying upon small magnet schools offering the best teachers and facilities. It was never considered because Judge Garrity for good reason mistrusted the Committee, it would take years to institute such a plan and time was of the essence.
Garrity was in a rush. He could not reconsider. Busing was ongoing when he asked for a Phase 2 plan. He hostility between whites and blacks was at the boiling point. The masters he appointed came up with another plan that was hardly better than the first one. It was changed yearly disrupting families as the number of whites dropped out of the school system.