Sid Thompson: A Historic Look at School Integration and Busing

Center X

By Joanie Harmon | UCLA Ed & IS Ampersand

LAUSD’s first African American superintendent recalls the reaction of schools and families to the possibility of federally mandated busing, integration.

During the second presidential debates earlier this summer, Senator Kamala Harris cited her experiences as a product of school desegregation in the early 1970s. By doing so, she acknowledged a long-shelved but hardly forgotten aspect of the nation’s social, educational, and racial history.

Sid Thompson, a Senior Fellow at UCLA’s Center X, was a principal at Crenshaw High School during the time of the possibility of a federal mandate on busing to integrate public schools. In an interview last fall, he shared his observations of students, families, and his colleagues in the historic – and perpetual – debate over reorganizing the way that public education is provided in order to create a semblance of racial equality.

Thompson, who later became the first African American superintendent of LAUSD, serving in that post from 1991 to 1996 – encompassing the period of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots that gave birth to UCLA’s Center X.

In this interview, Thompson described the ways that Los Angeles schools dealt with the pros and cons of busing, how some teachers avoided the perceived threat of working at an inner-city school, and how ordinary citizens – not lawmakers – changed the course of public education in profound but no less controversial ways.