Before BROWN V. BOARD OF EDUCATION (1954?1955) was decided, many a southern child rode the bus to school, passing on the way a bus headed in the other direction, loaded with children of another race. The busing of children was "one tool" used to maintain a system of school SEGREGATION. As late as 1970, before the Supreme Court had approved a single busing order, about forty percent of the nation's children rode buses to school. The school bus had permitted the replacement of rural one-room schoolhouses with consolidated schools; in the city, riding the bus had been thought safer than walking. School busing did not become the object of majoritarian anger until the 1970s, when the Supreme Court described it as "one tool" for dismantling a segregated system and affirmed its use not only in the South but also in the cities of the North and West.
In a rural southern county, the simplest form of DESEGREGATION might drastically reduce school busing; racial living patterns would permit integration of the schools through the discontinuation of racial assignments and assignment of children to the schools nearest their homes. In the cities, however, residential segregation had been so thorough that the abandonment of racial assignments and the substitution of a neighborhood school policy would not end the separation of school children by race. The question was asked: Would the Supreme Court insist on more than the end of racial assignments?on the actual mixing of black and white children in the schools?by way of dismantling segregation produced by deliberate official policy? In SWANN V. CHARLOTTE-MECKLENBURG BOARD OF EDUCATION (1971), the Court answered that question affirmatively. Then, in KEYES V. SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 1 (1973) and COLUMBUS BOARD OF EDUCATION V. PENICK (1979), the Court extended Swann 's commands to the North and West, in ways that blurred the DE FACTO / DE JURE distinction. Once a constitutional violation is found, even in remote acts of deliberate segregation by a school board, then as a practical matter the district court's remedial goal becomes "the greatest possible degree of actual desegregation"?and that, in a large city, means the busing of massive numbers of children for the purpose of achieving the maximum practicable RACIAL BALANCE.
Apart from the busing ordered by courts, some busing for integration purposes has resulted from voluntary programs, mostly involving the busing of minority children...