Busing and school desegregation in Louisville

October 16, 2010 in 1960s-1970s, Political history, Primary source, Social history

All Aboard!!

In her book I Shared the Dream (pages 268-271) former Kentucky State Senator Georgia Davis Powers relates an anecdote about her legislative experience. She states that after Federal Judge James Gordon ordered the Jefferson County (Louisville, KY) to begin busing students to integrate schools she had a major argument with then governor Julian Carroll about it. The House members passed a bill prohibiting the use of state funds to purchase the necessary buses. Senator Davis secured enough votes to defeat the bill so the governor contacted her about supporting it. His reasoning, which she believed was not genuine, was to get the federal funds to pay for the added expenses associated with busing. She released those who had pledged to their support telling them to “just vote your conscience.” The bill was passed delaying integration of the district.

Senator Powers then wrote that one Helen Bland, speaking at a rally in support of integration, summed up the issue of busing as far as her experience was concerned. This is too good not to be stated in Bland’s own words:

     “Lord, what is it with this bus? When I was growing up in rural Alabama, we weren’t allowed to ride the bus. Rain or shine we had to walk five miles to school, and when the bus carrying the white children passed, we had to scramble up weed-filled banks to keep from having mud splashed all over us.
Then, I moved to Montgomery and Blacks were boycotting the buses, so I still couldn’t ride. Finally, I moved to Louisville where I raised my children and they again walked to school in the neighborhood, even though it was more than a mile- a long walk bad weather. Then, along came the Court order, and they said my children had to ride the bus. They did, and they liked the bus, and got along well at the school they went to. Now, somebody’s trying to turn back the clock and put them off the bus again.
I said, ‘Lord, what is it with this bus? When is it going to stop plaguing my life?’”

Other Resources

Tracy E. K’Meyer, Civil Rights in the Gateway to the South: Louisville, Kentucky 1945-1980. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

YouTube logo
WLKY archive: Bob Whitlock reports on Louisville bus riots in 1975

See also the television coverage of 1975 street riots in Louisville including members of the Ku Klux Klan protesting the use of busing to facilitate the desegregation of the public schools in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

2 responses to Busing and school desegregation in Louisville

  1. I was very interested in Margaret’s comments at the race dialogues Thursday about the busing system in Louisville. It seems like it has provided a more fair education system in Louisville. Glad you researched this issue more.

  2. This is an interesting look at integration/desegregation. So often, we forget that there were almost as many negatives at the time desegregation was implemented, as there were positives. Were it not for the progress made due to the changes that came with it, I wonder how we see it in the positive light that is shed on it now. Power’s idea of the bus being a “plague” is a metaphoric image I imagine extended farther than just her experience, even beyond the African American experience.

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