One of the biggest days in Columbus' black history happened on the morning of Sept. 6, 1979.
On that day, thousands of Columbus City Schools students boarded buses to obey a federal courtorder to desegregate the schools, 10TV's Jerry Revish reported on Thursday.
"The federal courts can't back off of one of the most important things, to protect theconstitutional rights of all Americans as we see it," said federal judge Robert Duncan.
In March 1977, Duncan found the Columbus Board of Education guilty of operating a schoolsystem that sent black children to black schools and white children to white schools.
The school board appealed the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. It argued that thedistrict only built schools in the rapidly growing city where a study suggested they be built andsaid racial makeup was not a factor.
"The school system said, very properly, the neighborhood is not our problem, our problem is toeducate," said Sam Porter, the board's attorney at the time.
For Clarence Lumpkin, one of the black parents who filed the suit, the issue was about morethan integrating the schools.
"Our objective was equality or equal education," Lumpkin said.
Lumpkin said black students were not getting the textbooks, instruction or the othereducational opportunities that white students enjoyed.
The high court upheld Duncan's ruling and in 1979 Columbus desegregated every one of itsschools, a feat not accomplished anywhere in the country at the time.
The district kept the busing program intact for 16 years before quietly phasing it out. One ofits legacies was the creation of alternative schools, giving parents a choice even under a courtorder.
"And as a result of that, Columbus held onto its diversity a lot longer than many other schoolsystems," said Columbus City Schools Superintendent Gene Harris.
Duncan, who has long since retired from the federal bench, said desegregation achieved agreater benefit.
"There is something to say for a multi-cultural preparation for life in an every-daychanging, diverse community, and if you don't get that, you're missing something," Duncan said."And it seems to me as a community we've got to find a way to better understand each other and oneof the great ways to do it is in a public school system."
Harris agrees with the judge's assessment but said the bottom line is that parents just want ahigh quality education for their children, no matter who they are sitting next to.
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