After six years of on-again, off-again battle, the sting has gone out of the busing issue here. It's almost impossible to find anyone for busing. But the people against it have given up holding mass meetings. Even the mimegraph machines seem to have run out of ink.
"Everyone is just tired. People are weary of meetings. They don't want to hear what any more experts have to say." declared Betty Lewis, co-founder of the Citizens Alliance for Public Education, formed to ease integration problems here.
It's not that nobody cares about busing anymore. It's more a case here - as in many Northern cities - of exhaustion with an issue that never seems to resolve itself.
For when the desegregation battle moved into the large cities of the North in the 1970s, it slowed to a turtle's place, entangled in legal and legislative quagmires. This year alone, court decisions have declayed widescale busing plans, originally scheduled to begin with the opening of school, in Wilmington, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.
And 20 years after President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock. Ark. to hold back angry mobs as nine black students intergrated Central High for the first time, most big Northern school systems remain largely segregated. In 1974,, thee last year for which statistics are available. 75 per cent of the black students in the nation's largest cities attended schools that were over 90 per cent black.
That will not change radically this fall.
In Los Angeles, which has the nation's second-largest public school system, area-wide busing has been delayed until at least February. In Chicago, where threats of violence have been widespread, the only new busing this fall is a voluntary plan involving a maximum of 6,700 students previously assigned to overcrowded schools. In Kansas City, which has been trying to formulate a desegregationnnn plan since 1973, about 6,350 students will be bused for desegregation purposes. But four inner-city high schools, four junior highs andd 18 elementary schools will remain largely black.
Schools in Milwaukee, Dayton and Detroit go into their second years of stagged and Louisville, the scenes of the most violent antibusing outburst the last few years school officials are quietly kkeeping their fingers crossed that they can avoid serious problems this fall. "Busing is like the Ohio River - we're assuming it will stay there." said former Kentucky Gov. Bert Combs, who co-chairs an educational task force in Louisville.
At the Justice Department, the predictions are for one of the quietest school openings in years. For the first time in four years, Gilbert Pompa, head of the department's community relations service, is staying in Washington for the opening of school. "We just don't anticipatany problems this year," he said on Friday. "We have no indications of serious trouble."
"It's part of a scenario. We saw it in the South. Now we're seeing it in the North," said Nat Jones, general counsel of the NAACP. "After the initial mass hystena, the clouds part and people see that desegregation isn't the bogeyman people thought it was."
Pompa may be proved wron.
Tempers over busing remain high. Busing opponents in Louisville have scheduled an "anniversary march" on Labor Day to commemorate violence that broke out there two years ago when a metropolitan-wide busing program began. White resistance in Chicago, which is supposed to start a major desegregation program in 1978, remains high, and civil rights leaders have asked police protection for black students giong voluntarily to white schools this fall.
"Taking a little bit of integration is like being a little bit pregnant - there ain't no such thing," said Mary Cvack, a white mother in the southwest Chicago neighborhood of Bogan.
One month ago, it appeared that Wilmington would pose this year's most interesting and perhaps most volatile, busing case, the first place where busing between a city and its suburbs had been tested in two years.
The city's business power structure, mayor, school system and police were ready for almost anything. "People are scared. There's no doubt about it," said Mayor John McLaughlin.
But just as city were closing for a quiet summer weekend Aug. 5. U.S. District Court Judge Murray Schwartz postponed an order that would have affected 75,000 students who attend schools in the city and 10 suburdan school districts.
It was the fifth time in two years that a busing order had been postponed.
The busing plan Schwartz postponed was an unpopular one. Attorneys for the Wilmington School Board, a plaintiff in the case, charged that the state board of education drew it up as a "legal maneuver" to delay desegregation. The plan was a "oneway" one that would have bused students out of Wilmington, where 83 per cent of the students are black, without busing anyone into the city from predominantly white suburbs.
But the years uncertainly have taken a toll here. "It's exhausting. As a result of all the delays, people don't know when or if busing is over going to happen here," said George Kirk, school superintendent of suburban Newark Del.
Fear of the unknown has been most pronounced in suburban New Castle Country, which surrounds Wilmington. A survey by the Wilmington NewsJournal last spring found widespread evidence of decline in the mostly white school districts there. Enrollments in nine districts dropped 15.1 per cent between 1972 and 1976. With 7.7 per cent of the loss coming from 1975 to 1976. The losses, the paper said exceeded by far what could be attributed to declining birth rates.
"The issue has been dragging on so long many people tend to go to sleep. They're fed up with hearing about it," James Venema, president of the Positive Action Committee, the area's largest antibusing group. "But the plus factor for us is, at the rate the Supreme Court is changing on busing, the longer we have until our case is ultimately decided the better our chances are of nver having to start busing at all."