Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

The end of the ride & Parents Against Forced Busing

Faced with a contempt of court ruling from Judge Kretzman, the threat of a $10,000 per day fine, continuing pressure from the Nixon administration to stop his protest and a lack of further legal options, Kirk ended his standoff and removed his personnel from the school board building on 12 April 1970. In a statewide television address, Kirk downplayed the conflict: 'Basically, Florida and the Department of Justice are in agreement. We believe we must obey and carry out our Constitutional mandate. We agree the solutions to our problems must lie in the duly constituted courts.' Despite Kirk’s extended protest, busing started days later in Manatee County without violence and limited absenteeismJack Davidson, the reinstated school superintendent, described the start of integration as 'really going very smoothly…The people still don’t like forced busing. I don’t like it either, but the great majority of our people agree that the place to settle the question is in the courts, not the streets.'
Kirk initiated the busing standoff because he was sincerely opposed to the court order and, most historians and Kirk’s contemporaries agree, because he thought it would help him in a difficult re-election campaign later in the year. Kirk’s lieutenant governor, Ray Osborne, recalled that Kirk 'wanted to stand in the schoolhouse door and have a confrontation. No one could turn him around on that…He was trying to hit the home run which would bring him back.' Reubin Askew, who defeated Kirk in the 1970 gubernatorial election and was one of the few politicians to urge compliance with busing orders, remarked: 'I don’t think Governor Kirk was a racist, I think he just exploited the issue as many politicians did. In fact, it was almost the normal thing to exploit the issue…He was exploiting it because he thought it would really put him in a good position.' In interviews decades after the controversy, Kirk remained convinced that his stand was sound. 'I was right and I was proven right', Kirk told his biographer Edmund Kallina Jr., 'The thesis of the Manatee school affair was that forced busing was not conducive to education. What was not fair or honest was to put a child in a bus and take him one hour from one inadequate education to another inadequate education.' If anything, Kirk argued in the late 1990s, he was ahead of his time on the busing issue: '[Floridians] didn’t understand forced busing at the time. It hadn’t hit enough families. It is still a cancer today.' While his protest might have been mistimed in Florida, the broad televisual reach of Kirk’s protests brought his campaign against busing to millions of families in cities and suburbs in every region. Kirk appeared at rallies across the country as a spokesman for Parents Against Forced Busing, a Florida-based group that worked to create a national coalition of anti-busing organizations. While Kirk’s school standoff did not bring him the political success he sought, he became a hero to anti-busing parents. Among those who were inspired by Kirk and invited him to speak was Pontiac’s Irene McCabe.

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