The Utter Inadequacy of America’s Efforts to Desegregate Schools []


My best friend in kindergarten, Eddie Linton, did not live in one of the spacious houses on the hill in the Boston suburb where I grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, Belmont, which is best known for its stellar schools and abundance of Harvard professors. Eddie, who is black, lived instead in a brownstone in the South End of Boston, alongside his two American-born sisters, plus grandparents and aunts and godparents from Barbados, the country where his parents were born.

Every morning, Eddie would get up at 6 a.m. and get on a yellow school bus that took him and dozens of other black kids from Boston to Belmont. He’d spend his school day in Belmont, surrounded by kids who did live in those spacious mansions, and then, at the end of the day, he’d get on the bus and go home. “It was a long day, but my parents wanted me to have exposure to a better education system,” he told me recently. While he was gazing out the bus window, watching the scenery change from suburban to urban, wealthy to middle- and low-income, thousands of other black kids across Boston were sitting on similar buses that took them to and from schools in other predominantly white suburbs, such as Newton, Sharon, and Wellesley, areas that white families had embraced to escape the city in the 1960s and 1970s

Eddie was a participant in the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity program, one of the longest-running voluntary school-integration programs in the country. Started in 1966, METCO has bused thousands of students in Massachusetts—at least 200 in the first decade to 3,000 since the 1970s—from predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods in the city of Boston and later Springfield to white, wealthy neighborhoods in the suburbs.

The original idea behind the program was to help black kids access better educational opportunities than those available in Boston, and to give white students in suburbia the opportunity to “share a learning experience with students with differing social, economic, and racial backgrounds,” as program backers put it at the time. Its founders assumed that it wouldn’t be necessary for long—soon, they hoped, housing segregation would dissipate and schools would be places where black and white students were educated alongside one another, without any busing necessary.

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