Letters From Students on School Busing and Desegregation
Information for Teachers
The Student Letters
In the wake of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education (1954), segregationists scrambled to find loopholes in the law in order to avoid wholesale integration. Despite the court’s subsequent call for “all deliberate speed” to integrate public education, by the late 1960s almost half of Florida’s school districts were still engaged in litigation over desegregation.
School boards throughout the South were particularly angered by court-ordered busing, which sought to integrate public education by shuttling students from African-American neighborhoods to predominately white schools. In a move designed to counter the presidential ambitions of Alabama Governor George Wallace, President Richard M. Nixon supported a constitutional amendment to ban busing across the country.
In Florida, Governor Reubin O’Donovan Askew took a bold step by supporting busing during a 1971 commencement address at the University of Florida. During the speech, Askew explained his position on the moral necessity of desegregation: “The law demands, and rightly so, that we put an end to segregation in our society.” This statement put Askew at odds with many other southern politicians, who, for more than a decade, had framed desegregation as something forced upon an unwilling white majority. Askew’s insertion of “and righty so” signaled to his peers that he did not simply accept desegregation, he supported it.
The public quickly reacted to Askew’s comments, both in favor and against. Results from a referendum included on the presidential primary ballots revealed that the majority of Floridians opposed busing (74%), but supported equality in education (79%). With a few exceptions, busing and integration continued in Florida without incident.
The two letters included here are examples of the reactions Floridians had to Askew’s stand on busing. Both of these letters were written to the Governor by teenage students and represent the voices of young people directly affected by school busing and desegregation.
Use to Illustrate:
- Busing and desegregation.
- Student responses to busing and desegregation.
- The Civil Rights Movement in Florida.
- SS.4.A.1.1: Analyze primary and secondary resources to identify significant individuals and events throughout Florida history.
- SS.4.A.8.1: Identify Florida’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Examples may include, but are not limited to, Tallahassee Bus Boycott, civil disobedience, and the legacy of early civil rights pioneers, Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore.
LACC.68.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
- LACC.68.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.
- LACC.68.RH.2.6: Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).
- LACC.910.RI.2.6: Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.
- LACC.910.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
- LACC.910.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
- LACC.910.RH.3.9: Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.
- LACC.1112.RH.1.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
- LACC.1112.RH.1.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
- LACC.1112.RH.2.5: Analyze in detail how a complex primary source is structured, including how key sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text contribute to the whole.
- LACC.1112.RH.2.6: Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.