Number 47 Night Editor: Carla Rapoport
Sunday, September 26, 971
THE BUS RUMBLED down the choppy street; the children's
voices covered the squeaks of the seats as they bounced
"What are those things on your nose?"
"Those brown spots."
"You mean my freckles? I've always had freckles, all of us
in my family's got 'em."
Marcus Little settled back in his seat to think, about the idea
of brown spots on a white kid. He sat with the other black
kids on the bus but flashed a few peace signs to passing cars
along with the freckled boy behind him..
All in all the kids seemed to be taking the whole issue more
easily than their parents. After all, the bus rides were kind of
novel, and they didn't last long.
Just before one ended, a little girl came up to n e and said
solemnly, "It's a lot funner to ride the bus than walk. Be sure
to put that in your newspaper."
FOR THE LAST MONTH, hate blossomed in Pontiac. Not tight-
lipped bitterness, nor sarcastic jeering, but serious, foot-
stomping hate. Born of a terrible, subtle fear, it grew and over-
took nearly every white adult and child throughout the city.
All too easily, the roots of this hate have been characterized
as racism, bigotry and fascism. No doubt these things were in-
volved. In fact, they probably were the causes of the grotesque
bombings of ten brand new school buses.
In retrospect, however, the simple use of such words cannot
explain the psyche of the individuals in Pontiac.
Pontiac residents are trapped. If the whites here had the mon-
ey of the Detroiters who have fled the rapidly decaying city for
the suburbs, they would have left Pontiac long ago.
But of the 83,000 people in industrial Pontiac, the vast majority
are lower and middle-class laborers with committments to their
debts and jobs. With the mean Pontiac income standing at $10,000,
the populace is not terribly mobile.
If they could not leave the city, Pontiac whites have at least
maintained the sanctity of their own areas within the city. Using
a well entrenched system of housing and job discrimination, Pon-
tiac's whites have kept themselves segregated from the black
community enough so that they could effectively ignore its exist-
IN ONE SWIFT STROKE, however, a black judge broke the equi-
librium of Pontiac's well established black and white separa-
tism. In ordering the nearly totally segregated school system' to
achieve racial balance through busing, Federal Judge Damon
Keith levied the first blow to the old demarcations within the city.
Now faced with sending their children into the conditions they
have helped create in part of their city, these whites have no sense
of the historical development of tension between the races.
Through all the years segregation has been the rule, the city's
whites have never had to understand the implications of their
attitudes toward the black community.
They are being forced to confront the reality of blacks in their
city, and their rage only reflects their inability to understand
why they should have to be afraid.
WHATEVER THE CAUSE, fear appeared to provide the impe-
tus for the widespread appeal of the anti-busing movement.
Thus, when Pontiac's anti-busing league, the National Action
Group (NAG), formed a few months ago, its rallying cry center-
ed around the physical safety of white children attending school
in black neighborhoods.
"List'en, would you send your child into an area which you
yourself won't drive through without the windows up and the
doors locked?" asked housewife Karen Greenwald.
Many parents decided not even to take a chance, and kept
some 10,000 of their children home in support of the NAG school
boycott called to protest the busing plan.
Recognizing that tensions often run high between whites and
blacks in Pontiac, NAG members are still convinced that busing
will only antagonize, rather than improve, relations between
whites and blacks.
"Integration is a frame of mind, not the juxtaposition of chil-
dren. I feel that busing children is an artificial mechanism and
a terribly unneeded inconvenience which neither blacks nor whites
want," says Brooks Patterson, NAG's attorney.
AT THE SAME TIME, the black community worried for the
safety of its children as they crossed NAG picket lines at the
schools. The wcrd which passed through the black areas those
tense nights was, "Don't let 'em mess with our kids."
' Yet the black community, for the most part, went along with
the court order. Many blacks express hope that the school deseg-
regation plan will put an end to what they see as a concentration
of poor teachers and old materials at the formerly black schools.
As one vociferous black graduate of the Pontiac school system
put it, "You know, it's no secret that most of us have decided to
live 'in this white man's world. The only way we're going to have
a chance at making it is by having our kids sitting side by side
and at least learning to tolerate each other."
"Yeah," he continued, "Black people are behind this busing
thing, I mean for once we can take the white man's law and ram
it down his throat." "You know," he laughed, "This is probably
the first time the law's been on our side."
Zorro and God's laws
Richard Downer currently has no job other than his posi-
tion as spokesman for Pontiac's Freedom League, one of many
right-wing groups which abound in the area.
The Freedom League, which Downer estimates has 1,000
members, pledges its allegiance to "our leader Zorro, and to the
laws of God, not man." But these laws do not include peaceful-
"It's as simple as this," he says. "We're with NAG until we
decide things can't be nonviolent anymore. Then we'll split off
and be violent. You might call us the sleeping minutemen."
And they are sleeping, for outwardly these men appear most
like classic, simple, middle Americans. Most are avid sportsmen,'
whose homes line the dirt roads surrounding the city. In their
living rooms, typically enough, are shelves with Bobsey Twin
books and dirty babies in front of television sets.
What differentiates them is their psychopathic fear of
change, and the maniacal fashion in which they try to keep it.
from themselves and their children. Downer, for example, al-
ways dresses in black - "in mourning for his dying city."
"Hitler started with kids, you know. That's what they want
to do with our kids, brainwash them. This town is being des-
troyed and we're not going to sit around and let the NAACP
or anyone else kill it. If it means war, well, we'll be ready,"
-courtesy of the Pontiac Press
BUT PONTIAC whites have not been too receptive to the law
during the last month. In the course of their school picketing,
NAG members stood before buses, oftentimes cruelly catcalling to
entering students and parents, and generally making nuisances of
themselves around the schools.
Last Thursday though, NAG called off its school boycott, which
was rapidly losing its wind. For nearly two weeks enrollment had
stayed down around 75 percent, but recently it had climbed back
toward normal. Under threats of criminal prosecution for keeping
their children home and amid assurances of the physical safety
of their children, the parents simply sent their children back. In
addition, NAG's attempts at establishing freedom schools fizzled
through lack of funds and professional expertise.
NAG leaders now say they are reorienting their efforts towards
securing a constitutional amendment to prevent inter-district
school busing. Along with new chapters recently established across
the state and anti-busing groups throughout the south, NAG's
efforts will probably stay in the news for weeks to come.
PONTIAC IS QUIET now, and 'the children are back in school.
But whether parents there are any closer to understanding
their hatred than they were before the furor is doubtful. A lot was
said in Pontiac, but little in the way of communication was ever
achieved. And now, people are again contemptuously ignoring
one another-no more barriers have been broken down between
the two communities.
But each morning, black and white kids get on their buses
and go to school.
Shocks of short blond hair
kept falling in her eyes while
she kept feverishly at her work.
Finally, stopping once to brush
away the unruly locks for tte
fourth or fifth time, the little
girl noticed someone watching
"Hey, do you know how many
s's are in busing?" she began af-
ter a long exchange of glances.
"I think it's one ... What are
"Making a picket."
"Cause my ma don't want me
bussed over to where the color-
eds live. Cause my ma says' no
colored judge is going to tell us
what to do. That's why cause."
Later that afternoon, I saw
my little friend. She smuggly ig-
nored me and kept close to her
mother and her place in the
picket line. In front of her was
another little girl holding a
stick from which a black doll
swung by the neck. Pinned to
the doll was . a sign reading
Integration or war?
BILL WATERMAN is a broad, friendly, black attorney who
represents the Pontiac NAACP. Wearing a bright pink shirt
and a well-cut suit, he nearly overwhelms his richly wood-
Based in Pontiac, Waterman was one of two lawyers involved
in the suit which resulted in the busing order. Now, with the
results of his work portrayed vividly in the city before him, he
understands better than most the choices Pontiac residents
face in the days ahead.
"People are now getting a 'good look at the inequities that
have always been here. That alone is a trenendous advance-
ment," says Waterman.
"But I'll tell you straight off, I've got no romance with hav-
ing white people next to me. Yeah, it's not love, man, but an
out and out fear of the future."
He swirled around in his black leather chair and looked out
the window. "It's critical to bring white people to a reality
about where black people are at and to a reality about their
own prejudices and insensitivities."
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