"Not the Bus, but Us": George W. Bush and School Desegregation

By McAndrews, Larry | Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

"Not the Bus, but Us": George W. Bush and School Desegregation

McAndrews, Larry, Notes and Abstracts in American and International Education

In 1982 civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized President Ronald Reagan's attacks on busing to coerce school desegregation for targeting "not the bus, but us" (Wolters, 1996). Two decades later, the United States Supreme Court ended the thirty-two-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina, plan which had launched the era of court-ordered busing (Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools). The same year, President George W. Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act, which authorized federal funding and state testing of the nation's public school students. In lieu of busing, this law was also targeting "us," the largely minority underclass for whom Jackson purported to speak in 1982. Yet this time the Republican president was not implicitly assaulting minorities; he was seeking to aid them. Despite this significant change in policy, however, one outcome remained the same: public schools increasingly divided by race and class.

This article will provide a brief history of the school desegregation policies of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower through Bill Clinton, based on secondary and primary sources, then examine the initial school desegregation efforts of President George W. Bush, based largely on contemporary primary sources. It argues that the early returns on the Bush Presidency show that despite his genuinely good intentions, President Bush, like his predecessors, has been unable to overcome this difficult history of racial segregation in the nation's public schools.

George W. Bush would become the first Republican president to fight a "war on poverty," yet only the latest president of either party to struggle in the battle for school desegregation. In many ways, for a variety of reasons, this battle was over before it began.

The History of Presidents and School Desegregation

Each president in the five decades preceding Bush fought school segregation in his own way. Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy acted belatedly yet forcefully while Lyndon Johnson moved quickly yet ineffectively against de jure school segregation. Richard Nixon virtually eliminated de jure school segregation, but accepted de facto separation. Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, like Nixon, denounced busing to coerce school desegregation, but did little to stop it. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush spoke and acted so firmly against court-ordered busing that Bill Clinton, who also opposed compulsory school desegregation, wouldn't even have to mention it.

On May 17, 1954, in Brown v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court unanimously repudiated de jure school segregation. The enforcement of this decision fell first to Republican president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who disagreed with the ruling as a violation of states' rights and an invitation to the massive resistance which followed (Roark, 2002). Eisenhower much preferred the second Brown v. Board of Education decision a year later, which permitted Southern state governments to desegregate their public schools "with all deliberate speed."

Eisenhower nonetheless dispatched federal troops to enforce Brown at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, desegregated the nation's capital and military bases, and established federal civil rights agencies through the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960. When he left office in 1961, however, only 0.2 percent of Black children in the Deep South attended desegregated schools (Burk, 1984).

After two and one-half years of failing to enact federal aid to elementary and secondary education, in part because of the opposition of Southern conservatives to funding desegregated schools and resistance by Northern liberals to funding segregated schools, Democratic President John F. Kennedy in June 1963 finally opted to separate education from civil rights in proposing a stand-alone civil rights law. With two-thirds of the public now in favor of school desegregation, this bold new approach would be popular (McAndrews, 1991).

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

"Not the Bus, but Us": George W. Bush and School Desegregation


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?