Every morning when I was in fifth grade, I walked a mile down the road to Stephen Foster Elementary, my neighborhood school. Then I got on a yellow school bus and rode across town. The Supreme Court had issued a desegregation order. It was 1970. Men had landed on the moon twice. Now white kids and black kids would go to the same schools.
The court order roiled Gainesville, Fla., and the rest of Alachua County. Private academies sprouted overnight to accommodate white families that bailed on the public schools. But most white folks hoped for the best, and their kids headed to what many of them had always considered the wrong side of the tracks.
The Supreme Court has recently revisited school integration, declaring, to gasps from many liberals and academics, that the government can’t use race as a criterion for assigning students to schools. But 37 years ago, the government not only took race into account, it also assembled a fleet of buses and began hauling white kids and black kids back and forth across town like so much cargo.
It was, in retrospect, an ambitious social experiment. It was also clumsy, and at some level outrageous, reducing all of us to a single characteristic of white or black.