Seattle School Board adopts a limited mandatory busing plan on November 11, 1970.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 9/05/2002
  • Essay 3941
See Additional Media

On November 11, 1970, the Seattle School Board adopts a Middle School Desegregation Plan calling for mandatory busing to achieve racial balance in four of the city's middle schools.

The action came after months of debate, demonstrations pro and con, and threats of lawsuits from one side or another. Given the contentious nature of the issue, board members moved into secret session to cast their votes at 7:30 a.m., announcing the decision during a press conference at 4 p.m. that afternoon.

The board considered several plans before settling on one targeting middle schools. It rejected a proposal to enlarge the planned desegregation zone and include elementary and high schools as well as middle schools. Instead, the board limited the desegregation effort to one middle school in the predominately black Central Area and three in the predominately white North End.

Although some civil rights activists expressed disappointment with the plan, others praised it. Alfred E. Cowles, a member of the board and also executive secretary of the State Board Against Discrimination, said the action "may very well be the finest hour in the educational history of the city" (The Seattle Times). Roy Wilkins, executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), visiting Seattle a few days later, said "I'd like to pin a medal on every school board member here" (The Seattle Times).

However, an anti-busing group called Citizens Against Mandatory Busing immediately filed suit against the plan, delaying its implementation for almost two years, until September 6, 1972. The next year, the group gathered enough signatures to trigger a recall election targeting four School Board members who had voted for the plan. The recall attempt failed, but by a margin of less than 1 percent.


Constantine Angelos, "3 School-citizen Chairmen Urge Desegregation Effort," The Seattle Times, November 10, 1970, p. C-6; Constantine Angelos, "School Board Meets on Desegregation," Ibid., November 11, 1970, p. B-9; Shelby Gilje, "Group Backs School Integration," Ibid., November 11, 1970, p. B-9; Constantine Angelos, "School Board Moves Toward Desegregation," Ibid., November 12, 1970, p. A-1; Paul Henderson, "N.A.A.C.P. Leader Hails Seattle Busing Decision," Ibid., November 16, 1970, p. A-5; Constantine Angelos, "School Desegregation Will Start Rolling Wednesday," Ibid., September 3, 1972, p. A-8; Laura Kohn, Priority Shift: The Fate of Mandatory Busing for School Desegregation in Seattle and the Nation (Seattle: Institute for Public Policy and Management, Program on Re-inventing Public Education, University of Washington, 1996).

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You