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Big Yellow Bus
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I wonder how many people remember the “Forced Busing” catchphrase of the late 70’s and the firestorm that surrounded the whole desegregation process and mythology of the time.

I was teaching in an all-Black (African American is now the politically correct term, I believe, as if I should be called Welsh American) school in a part of town called colloquially “the jungle.” It had been a middle class white neighborhood with tended front lawns, small suburban clapboard houses and well-kept apartment buildings graced with sparkling pools. The white tenants and apartment managers fled within a few months and the absentee landlords ceased to do more than collect the rents. Many single mothers, themselves escaping the gang-infested neighborhoods, moved in.

My children (I served as teacher, nurse, counselor, friend in loco parentis) were just ordinary children, as special as children always are and as ordinary as bologna sandwiches. They entered kindergarten wide-eyed and enthusiastic, but by fourth grade they were warped by the poverty of too many hours in front of the television and the paucity of quality teaching (the teachers had transferred to white schools). The streets were so dangerous they were instructed by their mothers to go straight from school to the apartment, lock the door and watch television. This is a kind of poverty that money can’t fix.

The first year of busing was an experience for all of us. I remember our first bus ride—my class got on the bus first, then we went to a “white” school to pick up our corresponding class of fourth graders. Each one of my children sat alone on a seat, so a new arrival could sit next to them. I remember one of my students saying in a stage whisper, as the first of the newcomers boarded the bus, “They’re WHITE!” It then hit me that they had never seen a white child in person—and it turned out that the reverse was true of the other class, too.

What an incredible thing, that there should be shoulder-by-shoulder communities in the same city who have never seen members of the other inhabitants. My kids were scared and it took a while for the other teacher and me to reassure them. Once the ice was broken, though, we had a grand time on our field trip—to The Los Angeles Times, as I remember, and then to a picnic in a nearby park and then back to the school just in time for dismissal, where they went back to their empty apartments and ate leftover cold pizza for dinner. Every trip from then on, it was as though the kids had known each other their whole lives. You know how kids are.

Yes, desegregation had to happen, monumental demographic changes transformed our city of African Americans, white, Asian, Hispanic and everything else. Our county is now 50% Hispanic, whites and Africans about 12% each, Asian about 8% and a myriad of other peoples make up the rest. We don’t talk so much about minorities; we talk about people of color.

Was there forced busing? No. Children did not have to ride the buses if their parents did not want them to. Many carpooled or found other ways to get to school. But a large number did, and still do, ride the yellow buses to special schools to get the best public school education available. And, under Judge Egly’s court order, we continue to pursue and promote a multicultural community. Nowadays, there is nothing stranger than seeing a restaurant with an all-white clientele.

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