Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
W. Chris Johnson
This study examines school busing in Memphis, Tennessee as a remedy for racial inequality in education. Busing to achieve integration was a paradox. It was simultaneously the only method available to effectively balance Memphis's dual school system and also an impossible solution that encouraged white flight and a weakening of the school system. Studying the varying responses to court-ordered busing not only helps explain its shortcomings, but also serves as a flashpoint to reveal a transitional moment in civil rights, conservatism, and evangelicalism.Most Memphians disproved of the initial busing plan. Many black Memphians felt the plan did not go far enough, while others worried about the safety of their children going to white schools far from home. The disagreement among black Memphians highlighted a growing rift with the local NAACP, as well as generational divides over tactics and goals of the civil rights movement. Unity that had appeared during the earlier Black Monday protests for equal treatment in schools had fractured. Although most black Memphians ended up supporting busing, the evident divisions warned of struggles approaching.At the same time, white Memphians fought against busing using the language of conservatism or evangelicalism. For example, some argued that the government was invading the private sphere of education, and needed to be limited. Others suggested that busing would disrupt law and order, or the safety of their children and neighborhoods. Still others argued that a secularizing school system no longer served their needs, voting to enroll their children in private, Christian academies. Although white Memphians' verbal responses varied, issues of racism and fear intertwined with all of their excuses.Busing marked a new era in the civil rights movement. Integration became personal to many white families. Many former white allies abandoned equal rights to protect their wealth, security, status, or children. Private school enrollment soared. Additionally, division among black activists deterred any significant, galvanized support for busing. Overall, busing was the only option for a necessary aim. But it was a doomed prospect from the start. Rather than ending a dual school system, it simply reconfigured one that still stands largely unchanged in Memphis today.
dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Frizzell, Jeffrey Scott, "The Impossible, Only Solution: School Busing and Racial Integration in Memphis, Tennessee, 1972-1975" (2016). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1333.