The Benjamin Franklin High School hallway features a black heroes exhibit and a women's heritage display. In the office, two Indochinese students talk rapidly in Vietnamese in front of a glass-encased, white-faced Japanese doll. On the bulletin board is a notice about the Jewish holidays.
Franklin High, like the rest of Seattle, is an uncommonly rich mixture of skin colors, eye folds, hair textures and tongues, of whites and blacks, Japanese Americans, Chinese Americans, native Americans, Hispanics and, most recently, Indochinese refugees.
Today, the Supreme Court, 3,000 miles away, hears arguments on a case that could significantly change Franklin High, not to mention the rest of the 90 public schools in this city.
For the mix of students at Franklin, like the mix in many of the other schools, is no accident. About 14,000 of Seattle's 46,000 schoolchildren are bused each day, some by choice, some by mandate, to make it this way.
It's no accident, but neither is it the result of any court order. In 1978, the school board and a coalition uniting such diverse elements as business, the Chamber of Commerce, civil rights, church and community organizations decided that there were 26 racially imbalanced schools here and that that was 26 too many. They decided on busing, along with an elaborate magnet plan, as a remedy. Now there is only one imbalanced (more than 65 percent minority) school. All of this occurred with some difficulty, a great deal of expense but no Boston-style upheavals. Of this, the city's leaders are very proud.
Other people disapproved of the plan, however. Shortly after the busing began in the fall of 1978, a statewide anti-busing initiative designed to end the Seattle plan was approved by 66 percent of the state's voters, including 61 percent of Seattle's voters. The city school board and numerous community organizations fought back, successfully challenging the initiative in federal court, giving the Seattle plan a reprieve, pending a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
There is no question that if implemented, Initiative 350, as the anti-busing proposition was called, would undo Seattle's effort to racially balance its schools. Franklin High School, for example, would probably become 21 percent white instead of 45 percent white.
The question for the Supreme Court, however, is not whether that would be good or bad. The question is whether Initiative 350 is racially discriminatory. Is it racism to ban busing no court ever ordered? Is the school system run by its locally elected school board or by statewide referenda?
Later today, the court will hear arguments on a similar question from Los Angeles: Does California's Proposition 1, a constitutional amendment approved by voters that restricts the state court's power to impose busing, violate the constitution?
These cases represent a new breed of controversy over social issues, the shifting of the battleground and the combatants to states versus cities and counties as the federal government recedes from the civil rights fray.
How the voters line up in Seattle has always been unclear. Although the majority voted for Initiative 350, the same voters reelected pro-busing school board candidates over anti-busing candidates in two successive elections after the busing started.
Franklin, an ornate, church-like building constructed in 1912, is in a black working-class neighborhood adjacent to a posh, lakeside enclave. Four students in a room there displayed a range of attitudes.
Ronald Lynch, a white sophomore, rides the bus nine miles to the school. Although no court ordered the busing, the school board-mandated busing is no less burdensome to him. He has decided to go to private school next year. A crucial event for him was the fact that last year he got "hit over the head" by a black in what he describes as a racial incident. "I'm not comfortable in this neighborhood," Lynch said. "And besides, the goal of busing is to integrate people of different races so they will know how to cope with each other and deal with each other in the future.
"Instead, what's happening here is that we brought segregation inside the school. We segregate into our own private groups--blacks, Asians, whites."
Sandra Doyle, a white junior who is bused, and Rosalind Moore, a black junior, agree that the races aren't mixing much. "You can tell by the graffiti in the bathrooms," said Moore. But both seemed more receptive to the busing. "The bigger problem is the quality of the teachers," Doyle said.
Jonathan Dong, 16, a Chinese American junior who lives in the neighborhood, expressed the other extreme. "I love it," he said of the desegregation. "It's great. We get to know students from all over the city. I think it's terrific that we can share cultures."
Seattle has about 500,000 people, according to the 1980 census, including 50,000 blacks, 7,000 American Indians, Eskimos and Aleuts, 37,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At the moment, there is a continuing influx of Indochinese. The city is one-fifth minority. The school system is 47 percent minority.
People began talking seriously about busing in the mid-1970s under threats of court suits. Housing patterns were the clearest cause of the racial imbalances. Many said it was a matter of tradition and subtle policy as well.
Dorothy Hollingsworth, a black former school board member, feels that way. She came to Seattle from the Carolinas in the 1950s. Things were and are better for blacks than in the South, she said. But she "was disappointed."
"In the Carolinas you had segregated laws," Hollingsworth said. "You always knew where you were supposed to go and what you were supposed to do. But the first place I was ever denied a Coke in a restaurant was in the state of Washington.
"You could get into the restaurant but then you would be told 'I can sell it to you but you can't drink it here.' That was devastating. I felt I had left that behind."
She said she and her husband encountered flagrant discrimination in housing--steering of home buyers to segregated neighborhoods. And finally--and this is what she says makes her role in Seattle's busing plan so sweet for her--she said she was denied a teaching job in the school system in the 1950s because she was black.
"I was told by the personnel department that Seattle had already hired one Negro teacher and was not ready to go much further."
The Seattle plan is the subject of a book, "Without a Court Order," by Ann LaGrelius Siqueland, a church activist who worked for the busing plan. Two of the busing proponents in the book are Suzanne Hittman, a white school board member, and Arlene Oki, a Japanese American who now is an aide to the mayor.
Both women had children and lived in city neighborhoods that were becoming increasingly minority-dominated. At the same time, the neighborhood schools became more and more racially isolated.
"I got involved because I felt my part of town was losing out, that our schools were not getting a fair share" of the resources, Oki said. "I felt that the way to get equal funds was to draw majority students from the north end" of town.
Hittman, concerned that her children were getting lost in a sea of minority children, became a leading force on the school board for a remedy. "I did a lot of traveling to other cities," she recalled, "including a few that were under court orders. They constantly had to go and ask if they could do this and do that. I felt this city should take whatever efforts were necessary so none of our students ever had to go to school under a court order."
The school board vote that started the busing was 6 to 1, making Seattle the largest city in the nation to voluntarily bus students for racial balance. The one dissenter was Ellen Roe, a white and mother of six.
Roe blames the busing plan on the "liberals," the ones who live in the central areas of the city and did not want their children alone with black kids. Busing in whites would solve the problem for them, she says. "They used the black people. It didn't have anything to do with a great burning desire for integration."
"They were very shrewd," she said. "They told everyone that Seattle was going to voluntarily desegregate. The whole thing rested on that word: voluntarily. People went to bed thinking they were going to have a voluntary plan and they woke up with mandatory busing. Everyone was duped."
Robert O. Dorse, who runs a small manufacturers representation company here, was also angry. He and Roe both say they approve of integrated schools. But by the time the school board was considering the busing, he said, "it was apparent to me that the public was going to be given the railroad job. It was a charade. The decision had been made to betray the public and I was that public.
"This is my town and I resent such pushing around."
Dorse organized the petition drive for Initiative 350, got the required 124,000 signatures quickly and got it on the ballot in November, 1978, two months after the busing went into effect. "Shall public educational authorities be prohibited from assigning students to other than the nearest or next nearest school with limited exceptions?" the initiative asked.
Now, he says, it's a question of democracy, the will of the majority. But somehow, Dorse says, "we're the bad guys right from the start, never the good guys. I've been very conscious of that."
He characterized his opponents as "the establishment, local government agencies and the school board," and the press. "We were labeled racist bigots," he said. "There's nothing in Initiative 350 about race."
For Dorse, victory has brought disillusionment. His initiative won in Seattle. But afterward, he ran for the school board in 1979 against a pro-busing candidate and lost. "I was opposed by the lineup of the establishment," he says.
"The people forgot."
There is much resentment among the pro-busing forces here toward the Reagan administration. The Carter administration had intervened in the case on the side of Seattle and busing. The state of Washington defended Initiative 350 in U.S. District Court, took it to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.
Then Washington Attorney General Ken Eikenberry wrote to President Reagan's political aide, Lyn Nofziger, for help. Nofziger, in turn, wrote to the Justice Department: "Surely, if we are going to change the direction of this country, mandatory school busing is a good place to make changes--as I thought we would do because I thought that was what the president wanted."
"I do hope," Nofziger concluded in his letter, "we can give Mr. Eikenberry's problems a careful look."
The Justice Department changed its position and came in against busing, on Eikenberry's side, although Solicitor General Rex E. Lee, the department's top litigator, said at the time that he was unaware of the Nofziger correspondence.
The pro-busing people wonder why the Justice Department needs to be involved at all in what is essentially a fight between local and state authorities. And they wonder what happened to Reagan's emphasis on local control of the schools and voluntarism, which they say their plan symbolizes.
"There's a weird sort of civic pride here," said Roger Soder, education director for the Seattle Urban League, which is joined with the school board, officials of Tacoma, Wash., and Pasco County, Wash., the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the Washington Education Association, the Japanese American Citizens League, the League of Women Voters and others in urging the Supreme Court to uphold the lower courts in throwing out the initiative.
"The people who came together here seemed to cross socio-economic lines. They came together the same way they came together to clean up Lake Washington and to hold the World's Fair in the 1960s," Soder said.
"There's a conviviality and a willingness to dialogue here that you haven't had in other places," said Spruiell White, Seattle Urban League president. White and Soder noted that if Initiative 350 becomes law, a lawsuit to obtain court-ordered busing awaits the city. (So does a court battle over state legislation cutting off money for buses.)
"I'm not naive enough to think there's a great reservoir of support or enthusiasm for what has been done here," said Herb F. Robinson, editorial page editor of the Seattle Times. He and others acknowledge that there has been some white flight since the plan began. "But everyone who's going to go has left. There's been an acceptance here, however unenthusiastic."