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41 The Blacks and the Jews i was ten years old in the summer of 1978, having just completed fourth grade at Topeka Drive Elementary. I had no idea that my sheltered suburban school zone had emerged as the epicenter of one of our country ’s most significant and divisive school desegregation efforts. Topeka was my neighborhood public school in Northridge, which I had attended since kindergarten. Like many of the public schools in the Valley, particularly in the most distant northern and western parts of the Valley, Topeka was a predominantly white school, still 84 percent white, to be precise, in the fall of 1977. For this reason, Topeka, like a number of other Valley schools, was earmarked to participate, starting in the fall of 1978, in the forced busing program to desegregate grades 4–8. Topeka was paired with Griffin Avenue Elementary, a mostly Mexican-American school over the hill in Lincoln Heights. The distance between many of the paired schools in the desegregation plan was great, particularly when schools in the faraway reaches of the Valley were involved. The Topeka-Griffin commute of over thirty miles was no exception. The onerous logistics of desegregating Valley schools accounted in large part for the fierce resistance against forced busing among Valley residents. A Los Angeles Times survey of eighty-five schools affected by the mandatory desegregation plan found that “only 35 percent of the youngsters scheduled to ride the bus from the predominantly white western and northern San Fernando Valley to minority schools had turned up” by the end of the first week of school.1 At my public school, Topeka, only 21 of 130 students showed up to ride the buses to Griffin Avenue.2 42 • My Los Angeles in Black and (Almost) White Despite the significant white attrition from the district, there could be little doubt that the integration plan “worked,” insofar as it dramatically integrated the remaining student populace at both Topeka and Griffin . Topeka went from an 84 percent white school in 1977 to a 54 percent white school in 1978; the Hispanic student populace rose from 5 percent (28 students) to 25 percent (85 students), while the black student populace rose more modestly from 8.5 percent to 13 percent. The demographic change was more gradual at Griffin Avenue, owing in part to the attrition of white students from the district in 1978. The school was 91 percent Hispanic in 1977, and only slightly less so in 1978. By 1979, however, Griffin Avenue suddenly boasted an irrefutably more integrated student body, including 204 white students (from a mere 21 white students the year before). White children suddenly represented 38 percent of the student body at Griffin Avenue. I would like to claim that I was one of the 21 students who rode the bus to Griffin Avenue. But I wasn’t. Rather, I was among the majority of Topeka children for whom alternative arrangements were made. In short, my parents withdrew me from the public school system that year and enrolled me in one of the several private schools that had been sprouting up throughout the region at a randy rate. I feel a certain embarrassment upon the disclosure. Wasn’t my family on the wrong side of this story, the side that resisted the morally upright efforts of the courts and, ultimately , the school board to deliver a program of education that hewed to the egalitarian spirit of the Constitution? The side that could afford to coddle their youngsters rather than send them to more hardscrabble inner-city schools? My parents, true, were not among those most vociferous opponents of forced busing. They didn’t attend the contentious PTA and local school board meetings during this period. “We weren’t really very politically active or even aware in those days,” my father remembers. Still, they voted with their feet, or, rather, with my feet. I might have ridden the bus, like some of my peers, to faraway Griffin Avenue. Who knows how this immersion amid Latino/a students, teachers , and administrators would have altered the texture of those days? Might this more integrated learning environment have contributed to the creation of a different—perhaps better—me? Minority students, after all, The Blacks and the Jews • 43 were envisioned as the primary, but not the sole, beneficiaries of integration . As the California Supreme Court affirmed in Crawford, “The elimination of racial isolation in the schools promotes the attainment of equal educational opportunity and is...


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