From time to time, I am contacted by a member of the public who had recently purchased something that they think we’ll be interested in accepting into our collection. So, when I received a call from a potential donor saying that he had just purchased a bunch of old records and he thought we might be interested in one of the records, I was intrigued. The record in question was a two-sided 45 rpm record that has two songs, “A Concerned Parents Plea” and “Tomorrow or Today” both by a local musician named Kenny James. Additionally, the donor said there was a newsletter with the record for an organization called the National Organization to Preserve and Restore Our Freedom. The caller explained that the songs on the record had become a rallying cry for the anti-busing movement in Louisville, Kentucky. I immediately told the caller that we were interested. Knowing that the busing strategy employed in Louisville since 1975 was a major incident in the American public education desegregation movement, I knew that KHS wanted the record and newsletter.
Once our Collections Committee officially accepted the material into our collection, I began researching the specifics of the organization and song.
Louisville and Jefferson County school districts technically desegregated in 1956. However, when the Kentucky Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights investigated the integration progress in Jefferson County in 1971, they found that “more than 90 percent of the students in city schools were black, and approximately 95 percent of students in Jefferson County’s suburban district were white.” Moreover, they found that schools in the city district were “also unequal in terms of educational quality, with more resources funneled into the white suburban schools.”
In response to the aforementioned lawsuit, Louisville officials were ordered by the courts to create an integration plan that would merge the city and county school districts, to ensure that all schools’ student body consisted of between 15 and 50 percent black students and to require white students to be bused for 2 two years while black students would be bused for up to 10 years. Ultimately, the implementation of the desegregation plan meant that at the beginning of the 1975 school year, 11,300 black students and 11,300 white students were assigned to be bused to schools outside of their neighborhoods.
In response to Louisville’s decision to employ busing, an anti-busing movement formed in Louisville. One of the organizations that sprang up was called, the National Organization to Preserve and Restore Our Freedom. The organization was led by Robert DePerez and was opposed to the government forcing busing on people. DePerez and thousands of Louisvillians felt strongly that “forced” busing was not in the best interest of the children/families and protested the move for months after busing was implemented on September 5, 1975. However, more than forty years later the city continues to use busing.
Although the use of busing ultimately changed the racial demographics of many Louisville schools, the desegregation plan did not address the lack of equity between city and suburban. Additionally, the plan did not take into account the unintended consequences that busing would have on students and their communities. For example, students who are bused outside of their neighborhood struggled to participate in after school activities that require transportation outside of the school buses. Moreover, instead of going to school with students that lived in their neighborhood, students who are bussed are may be geographically isolated from their classmates.
In the end, the National Organization to Preserve and Restore Our Freedom collection (SC 2034) is a great resource for anyone who is looking into the community response to busing in America. Whether you are pro or anti-busing, the collection brings to life one side of busing story. Moreover, while Boston’s busing struggling is infamous, Louisville’s “successful” implementation of busing in 1975 is lesser-known even though it continues to be an integral part of the desegregation movement in America.
- Stevens, William K. “Quiet Louisville Accepting Busing: Tradition of Moderation and Tolerance Is Prevailing Despite Resentment.” New York Times. September 11, 1975. https://nyti.ms/3dEdMDE.
- Stevens, William K., “Louisville, Suburbs Integrate Schools,” The New York Times, September 5, 1975. https://nyti.ms/3bkEmj0
- “U.S. Judge Orders Full Desegregation Of Louisville Schools” The New York Times, July 31, 1975. https://nyti.ms/3dEdMDE
- Eligon, John. “Busing Worked in Louisville. So Why Are Its Schools Becoming More Segregated?” The New York Times. The New York Times, July 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/28/us/busing-louisville-student-segregation.html.
- Damante, Rebecca and Kimberly Quick. “Louisville, Kentucky: A Reflection on School Integration.” The Century Foundation, September 15, 2016. https://tcf.org/content/report/louisville-kentucky-reflection-school-integration/?session=1.
- Semuels, Alana, “The City That Believed in Desegregation…” The Atlantic, March 27, 2015. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/03/the-city-that-believed-in-desegregation/388532/.