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Update: Thanks to you, our Kickstarter campaign to "Keep Them Ruby" was a success and we have the support we need to conserve and display Dorothy's Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz. Stay tuned for updates on the project. But our journey on the yellow brick road isn't over yet. Help us conserve Scarecrow's costume from the 1939 movie so that it can join the Ruby Slippers on display and help support a new exhibition devoted to the arts, music, sports, and entertainment. Your support will help to make this project a reality.
"Follow the yellow brick road, follow the yellow brick road. . . ." Admit it—you know which movie these lyrics are from as soon as you hear them. Your mind instantly pictures Dorothy in her blue gingham dress standing at the beginning of that famous yellow road, red shoes glimmering as she anxiously begins her journey to find the Wizard, and ultimately her way home. As we all know, the journey was not as straightforward as she had hoped. She met many characters along her way, some good and some bad. She faced many obstacles along the road but was able to overcome her fears and insecurities in order to reach the Emerald City of Oz. By the end of the movie she had discovered the true meaning of friendship, and that if you make the journey with the right people you'll make it there and back.
As the museum launched its "Keep Them Ruby" Kickstarter campaign to conserve the museum's pair of Dorothy's Ruby Slippers, my 24-year-old daughter and I decided to watch The Wizard of Oz for the hundredth time. It is still one of her favorite movies‐and mine, too, although the flying monkeys still freak me out. While watching, I started to think about how long the journey Dorothy and friends were taking, and much to my daughter's dismay, I started making comparisons to objects in our sports collection that have traveled many miles. Two collections and their stories came instantly to mind—those of a veteran Appalachian Trail hiker and a skateboarder who found his way across America four times.
Earl Shaffer is not well known in the sports world, but if you have ever hiked the Appalachian Trail you might have heard the name. Shaffer was the first person to thru-hike the 2,160-mile trail, which begins north in Maine on Mount Katahdin and ends south in Springer Mountain, Georgia. The Appalachian Trail was first proposed in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, a regional planner who envisioned an extensive trail from Maine to Georgia through the Appalachian Mountains. My dad was actually a trailblazer with the Appalachian Mountain Club and cut the trail near Mount Flume when he was 16, so this history has a place close to my heart. The trail was completed in 1937 but fell into disrepair due to World War II and the lack of people willing to maintain the trail. Shaffer's first thru-hike revived enough interest in the trail to have it reopened in 1951. In 1968 the trail became the first National Scenic Trail and a part of the National Park System. Today the trail is hiked by over three million people annually.
Shaffer had trouble adjusting to everyday life after returning from World War II, so he began walking and found his way to the Appalachian Trail. In 1948 he completed the trail in four months. He hiked the trail a second time in 1965, beginning in the south and walking north in 99 days. As if twice weren't enough, Shaffer hiked the trail a third time in 1998 at the age of 79. Shaffer's love of the trail is reflected in a book of poems he wrote after his first thru-hike and in the hundreds of photos he took during his 1965 hike. The book and camera were donated to the museum's collections, along with clothing and equipment Shaffer used during each of his hikes. Some have been displayed in an exhibit celebrating his love of the trail.
When you think of skateboarding, your mind doesn't naturally go to "let's skateboard across the country," unless your name is Jack Smith. In 1976, wondering what to do over summer break, Smith and two friends, Jeff French and Mike Filben, had the idea to skateboard across the country. That would be a tough thing to do today, but the skate technology of 1976 made it an even bigger challenge. At least urethane wheels had just been introduced to the mass market in 1972 by Frank Nasworthy, replacing the steel and clay wheels that were the standard in the 1960s and early 1970s. The urethane wheels made for a smoother ride with easier turning, which ultimately gave way to the skateboarding boom of the late 1970s. Smith and company took that new innovation and rolled with it—32 days later they had skated from California to New York.
Smith and his friends used the leapfrog method to get themselves across America safely. The three skaters would start the day in different positions. Smith would start skating while the other two skaters would drive two miles ahead; the next skater would get out and wait for Smith to meet up with him, Smith would then get in the van, and then the second skater would begin to skate. The van would drive another two miles ahead and the third skater would get out to wait for the second skater to meet up. The skaters repeated this pattern until the day was through. Each skater would travel between 20 and 40 miles a day, totaling approximately 650 miles for each skater over the entire trip.
Smith made the trip across the country three more times: in 1984, in 2003, and again in 2013. Unlike the first trip, the other three trips were "pushed" for a cause. In 1984 Smith and three friends—Paul Dunn, Bob Denike, and Gary Fluitt—pushed for multiple sclerosis and made it in 26 days, breaking the transcontinental skateboard crossing record he set in 1976 by six days. In 2003 Smith's son Jack Marshall Smith died from complications due to Lowe Syndrome, a condition that affects the eyes, brain, and kidneys. Again Smith took to his board and along with three friends—Nick Krest, Scott Kam, and Josh Maready—and pushed across America to raise awareness for Lowe Syndrome, setting another new world record of 21 days.
Smith's final push came in 2013 as a tribute to his father, Jack Smith Sr., who passed away in 2012 from Alzheimer's. The five-person team, ranging in age from 20 to 56, left Newport, Oregon, and skated to New York City in 23 days to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer's research. After this push Smith, his wife, and son Dylan came to the museum and donated the skateboard used in Smith's first push across America and the skateboard he and Dylan used in 2013. They also donated safety equipment and the shoes used during the trip—which showed wear only on one foot, where Smith literally "pushed" his way across America.
Dorothy's journey is a metaphor for all of us. These objects show us what people can accomplish and how far they can go when they put their minds to it. The objects in the collections donated by Earl Shaffer and Jack Smith represent their personal growth—one trying to deal with life after combat and finding peace on one of the longest hiking trails in America, and the other seeking a grand adventure with friends and finding his purpose in public service by raising awareness for devastating diseases that personally touched his life. Whether it is Dorothy finding her way on the yellow brick road or everyday people using sports to find their way through life, the Smithsonian is the place that brings all these collections together to share a unique and diverse American experience.
Jane Rogers is curator in the Division of Culture and the Arts.
I was exploring storage one day with Larry Bird, emeritus curator in the museum's Division of Political History, when a very curious self-portrait of Thomas Nast caught my eye. Thomas Nast was a contributor to the Harper's Weekly magazine and is most famous for popularizing the use of the donkey and the elephant to represent the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively. Nast was also a close friend of President Ulysses S. Grant. Nast looks dejected and defeated; the overall tone of the illustration was somber, in gloomy shades of grey.
What explains Nast's dour expression? Bird explained that Nast painted it after he fell victim to a cruel Ponzi scheme, perpetrated by Ferdinand Ward, a young and ambitious financier. In 1880 Ward established a brokerage firm that led to the ruin of many investors, and he went on to serve nearly seven years in prison for fraud. However, in a strange twist of fate, the loss for Nast and the other investors was a gain for the United States National Museum in Washington, D.C., from which many Smithsonian contemporary museums have received their collections.
How did Nast and the other investors get duped by Ward? Ward like many schemers of the 19th century, made his banking business seem reputable by taking on a partner with name recognition: Ulysses Simpson "Buck" Grant, the eldest son of President Grant. Ward called the firm "Grant and Ward." Nast was not the only famous American conned into this scheme. Looking through the Division of Political History files, I learned that President Grant also invested his life savings with Ward.
When Ward attempted to borrow more money from the Marine National Bank, the bank's president wrote to President Grant, asking about the firm. President Grant replied, "I think the investments are safe, and I am willing that Mr. Ward should derive what profit he can for the firm that the use of my name and influence may bring."
In 1884 the former president learned that the firm was not financially stable. In an attempt to help save his son's firm, he secured a personal loan from William Vanderbilt, the richest man in the world at the time and the president of the New York Central Railroad. The loan of $150,000 was a personal favor. Vanderbilt exclaimed, "What I've heard about that firm would not justify me in lending it a dime." However, Vanderbilt gave Grant the money against his better judgment, saying, "to you — to General Grant — I'm making this loan."
By 1884 President Grant, Nast, and the rest of the investors were completely broke. The day after President Grant gave the Vanderbilt loan to the company, Ward and the money disappeared. Unfortunately, President Grant still needed to repay Vanderbilt. To settle the debt, President Grant paid Vanderbilt with Civil War memorabilia and items he received on his 1877–1879 World Tour.
After Grant's death in 1885, Vanderbilt gave the artifacts back to his widow, Julia Dent Grant, strictly on the condition that they be donated to the National Museum, which had opened to the public in October 1881. In addition to displays of geology, natural history, and musical instruments, the National Museum, housed in the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall, was also home to the personal effects of President George Washington. On February 3, 1885, a resolution was adopted by Congress to accept the gift. It became law on August 6, 1886. The group of objects became known as the Grant-Vanderbilt Collection here at the Smithsonian. The collection includes Grant's gifts from Japan and a ceremonial cane made out of scraps from the famous Civil War ironclad, theMerrimac. This massive donation helped establish the National Museum as a place for people to donate their historical objects.
As for Nast, he lost most of his fortune in this scheme. Nast attempted to regain some of his fortune by going on lecturing tours in 1884 and 1887, and he also took commissions on paintings.
Overall, I found it incredibly fascinating that the items that are preserved at the Smithsonian can lead to amazing stories and that these objects are more than just objects since they carry so much history with them. It is also interesting to see how a historic loss turned into one of the National Museum's greatest gains.
Paul Esposito completed an internship in the Division of Political History.
The emergence of modernism in early 20th century American advertising: Lucian Bernhard and his REM Cough Syrup advertisements
What does it take for an advertisement to capture the attention of a potential consumer?
It takes aesthetically pleasing simplicity, vibrant colors, and a straightforward message—according to Lucian Bernhard.
German-born artist Lucian Bernhard (1883–1972) worked prolifically in both German and American advertising. Although a prominent graphic designer, he also worked in other mediums including painting, typeface design, and interior design. Straightforwardness, color, and simplicity defined his artistic mode. Here is a look at the style and the career of the man that helped bring modernism to American advertising.
Bernhard pioneered modern artistic techniques and made a name for himself as an innovative and progressive commercial artist. He is known as the innovator of two new types of poster art, Sachplakatand Plakatstil. Sachplakat artwork emphasizes a bold lettering design paired with a simple central image and bold, nuanced hues. Plakatstil is visually similar to Sachplakat but can include more complex imagery beside the brand name. The images in both methods are typically deconstructed and simplistic.
Both of these techniques rejected Art Nouveau in that they intended to diverge from past artistic modes in order to emulate the modern, fast-paced, industrial world. Art Nouveau preferred flowing lines and harmony with nature; Modernism embraced the new urbanism and fought to attract the viewer's eye amidst a barrage of advertising posters. In order to achieve this goal, commercial artists of these styles utilized simplicity and color, which revolutionized advertisements and changed the landscape of commercial art.
In the 1920s, Bernhard immigrated to New York City and carried Sachplakat and Plakatstil with him to begin his prolific career in American commercial art. Continuing his focus on color and simplicity, he created various types of advertisement art for many firms, notably REM cough syrup.
The museum's Archives Center possesses a collection of Lucian Bernhard materials including REM advertising sketches, prints, lithographs, and oversize posters. The sketch and posters all adhere to the artist's use of color, featuring bold, distinctive shades that attract the eye with their intensity and contrast. Bernhard utilizes only a few different colors, but his posters command the attention of the urban viewer with their eye-catching shades and combinations in the busy advertisement space.
Bernhard's works, large and small, follow the Sachplakat and Plakatstil mode in that they feature curved lines with sharp, angular corners. They also depict simple and highly deconstructed figures, such as the shaded men illustrated in the lithograph. The small print also follows this idea by depicting a man via geometric blocks. Lucian Bernhard utilized abstraction to create his advertisements in a more modern aesthetic, and succeeded in his efforts to more quickly disseminate information in a rapid urban environment.
Holly Nelson completed an internship at the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History. She is also a History major at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
December 7, 2016, marks the 75th anniversary of the bombing of the Pearl Harbor naval base by the Japanese Imperial Navy. In commemoration of this anniversary, the museum has collected and digitized a series of letters written by a civilian, Beth Slingerland, as she watched the attack from her home in the hills above Pearl Harbor.
Honolulu, [Territory of Hawaii]
Between 8-9 Am.
Under Attack by an Enemy – Japan
Dearest Mother and Dad,
How can I write at such a time? I have to do something because I can see the smoke pouring up into the air from Pearl Harbor and the sound of the guns and the bombs bursting in the water right before us keeps me in such a nervous state that I must do something. John is at Pearl Harbor. He left early this morning because he was supposed to go today—they have been rushing so. I know they have hit places there because I see so much, much smoke.
Beth was a teacher and lower school director at the Punahou School in Honolulu. Her husband, John, was a hammerhead crane operator working as a civilian employee at the naval base. During the surprise attack, on a previously quiet Sunday morning, nearly 200 Japanese planes flew over Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs and raining gunfire on the largely undefended American fleet.
The guns began some time ago but I thought they were our own usual gun fire. Then I just got nervous and went out to take a better look to discover all the smoke and just then great spouts of water began rising out of the ocean. . . . The great spouts rose all about some of our battle ships. . . . I turned on the radio just in time to hear that we were under attack by "the Enemy". All I can think of is John down there where they are [attacking.] How do people face bravely the fact that their husbands are in places where they may be killed any day and I can't get any news, of course, and I do not know how long it will be before I shall know anything. I love him so I can't look into the future without him.
A second wave of attack came shortly after the first, with roughly 170 Japanese planes converging on Pearl Harbor. By the end the Japanese had damaged or destroyed more than 18 American ships and over 300 American planes.
Another attack came and I watched it. My only comfort is being up here where I can see so much. Eight Japanese planes flew over the house on to Waikiki and out to sea. Their big red circles showed up so plainly. Lots of planes were high and the anti-aircraft tracer bullets are all over Pearl Harbor. . . . I can see our ships guarding the entrance to the Honolulu Harbor. At times the bombs fall about these ships. Right now things are more quiet but I can still feel the jar of the big guns. . . . I can see lots of smoke in back of the big hangers at [Hickam] Field. . . . Where I sit to write this I can look out all over the sea so I watch and write at the same time. No planes are in the sky right now. . . . What I thought were submarines seem to be cruisers and destroyers. The water is breaking high over them.
…More enemy planes have come since I wrote last. . . . Big fires burst out below and are still raging with great flames shooting up into the air. . . . We hear planes and then we see the tracer smoke puffs of the anti aircraft being fired from Pearl Harbor.
Although the entire attack lasted only a few hours, by the end almost 2,500 Americans had been killed and over 1,000 more had been wounded. Happily for Beth, her husband was not among those killed.
…[At] about four-thirty or five…I heard the familiar sound of John's [shoes] coming up our driveway and I do not ever remember hearing anything more welcome.
[John's] experience had been very horrible and I imagine it will be a long time before he is back to his old self again. He heard the unusual explosions coming from Ford Island way, went out to see what was up and beheld the Japanese planes flying no more than 50 feet off the ground coming right before him. The [USS Oglala] was blown up right before his eyes and the men worked hard to get all the men off before she turned over on her side and sank. They were not entirely successful. . . . Then [the Japanese] got three battle ships and three cruisers, and some destroyers. John cannot bear the thought of seeing our beautiful big ships sent to the bottom with just funnels sticking out of the water. Later in the morning he was called to try to move the huge crane…just as more Japanese planes came. He ran to as much cover as he could find but it wasn’t enough for from the rear of the planes flying low they machine gunned at him and one young man. The bullets so close lent wings to their feet and they threw themselves over some sort of a high iron wall…so that they were between that and some cement. A piece of shrapnel came through a hole and scraped his side but not seriously, thank goodness. . . . He dug the shrapnel out of the cement after all was quiet and brought it home. I had no idea how jagged and heavy they would be.
They fought fires and did all kinds of things all day. The last big raid came at about twelve o'clock. His praise for the boys on the USS Pennsylvania knows no bounds. He said that they were at their posts so quick that he cannot even know now how they managed to do it. They had their [anti-aircraft guns] at work almost immediately.
The next day, on December 8, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress describing the attack and memorializing December 7, 1941, as "a date which will live in infamy." Following his speech the United States officially declared war on Japan. Three days later Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. America had now officially entered World War II.
The islands have been put under military rule. . . . Do not worry unduly for now things are really organized as they have not been and the whole island is on its toes. I am sure that the army and navy will handle the situation much better – now that they know the enemy has arrived.
I am so glad you are not here. It isn't that I am afraid to be here but it is nice to know that you are safer where you are just now. . . . It will all end right I know, only it is hard to really know war has actually begun.
Much, much love to you all and have a Merry, Merry Christmas even if you do wish we were with you, as I know you do. We are together here and we love it here and this will all be over eventually.
The war would last almost four more years, involving over 30 countries and resulting in more than 50 million deaths. The Slingerlands remained in Hawaii during the war, with Beth continuing to teach at the now army-occupied school and John continuing to work at Pearl Harbor. After the war they moved to Washington state, where Beth became a well-known educator and pioneer in the field of dyslexia. She founded the Slingerland Institute for Literacy in 1977, which continues to train teachers around the world to work with students with dyslexia. Beth and John were happily married for 64 years until Beth's death in 1989 at the age of 89. John passed away three years later at the age of 92.
Digitized copies of Slingerland's letters and envelopes are available here, including transcripts.
Patri O'Gan is a project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. She has also blogged about how Americans served in World War I.
Thanks to the help of online volunteers, the Smithsonian Transcription Center has completed a project to transcribe the second volume of the diary of Charles Francis Hall, one of the earliest northern explorers. You can follow the project on social media and learn more about Hall's adventures in the post below.
After 170 years lying in the icy depths of King William Island's Terror Bay, the shipwreck of the HMS Terror was located in the far northern waters of the Canadian territory. While the discovery of a lost British ship off the Canadian coast may not seem immediately relevant to us, it is directly tied to the National Museum of American History and American history.
In 1845 British explorer Sir John Franklin led a polar expedition with two ships: the HMS Erebus and Terror. The expedition's mission was to search for a northwest passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Terror was perfect for arctic exploration due to its unusually strong structure, enabling it to navigate through icy waters. Franklin's expedition left Greenhithe, England, on May 19, 1845, only to become trapped in ice off King William Island in September 1846. Dozens of searches were launched to locate the missing crew and their ships, but nothing was ever found. Years later, in 1859, American newspaper printer Charles Francis Hall decided he too would search for Franklin's lost expedition.
During his search for the Franklin expedition, Hall lived amongst the Eskimo, recording their culture and language as well as the local terrain, flora, and fauna of Baffin Island. He documented his findings in numerous diaries and papers that are now a part of the Charles Francis Hall Collection, 1858–1871, located in the museum's Archives Center. Upon his return to the United States, Hall used these notes and diaries to publish his book Arctic Researches and Life Among the Esquimaux. On his third trip to the Arctic searching for the North Pole, Hall became sick aboard ship and died on November 8, 1871.
During his three trips to Greenland, Hall never found Franklin, his crew, or the HMS Erebus or Terror. The crew and ships were lost for nearly 170 years, until recently when they were discovered: the Erebus in September 2014 and the Terror in September 2016, almost exactly two years apart. The Terror was located with very few visible signs of damage to its structure despite sitting on the seafloor for nearly two centuries. What made this ship so strong? The answer provides a clue to its role in American history.
The HMS Terror had a remarkably durable structure because it was initially built as a military British "bomber" ship in 1813. It was armed with two mortars, demanding a ship with a super reinforced structure to support the weapons. This ship and its weapons were soon turned against the United States during the War of 1812.
The HMS Terror was one of the British ships that took part in the bombing of Maryland's Fort McHenry in September 1814, the same War of 1812 battle from which The Star-Spangled Banner drew inspiration. The Terror's mortars fired bombs designed to detonate and explode upon impact with their targets. These bombs were also capable of exploding in the air above their targets, throwing iron shrapnel—just as the lyrics in the national anthem describe, "bombs bursting in air." The museum's Star-Spangled Banner exhibition features an example of a mortar round on display.
Due to its historical ties to the United States, the HMS Terror is not only a significant historical find for Canada and Britain, but also a significant piece of American history. This discovery adds another piece to the history of the War of 1812, the bombardment of Fort McHenry, our national anthem and the Star-Spangled Banner.
Walter "Joe" Hursey is Reference Coordinator with the Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Mark your calendars! In conjunction with Smithsonian Gardens, Smithsonian Libraries is pleased to present the first two events in our Cultivating America’s Gardens programming. Explore and celebrate the history of American gardening with us! World’s Fair Gardens: Shaping American Landscapes and Garden History 3:30pm, Tuesday, May 16, 2017 Warner Bros Theater at the National Museum more »
On September 9, 1974, over 4,000 white demonstrators rallied at Boston Common to protest the start of court-ordered school desegregation in the Cradle of Liberty. Earlier that summer, federal Judge W. Arthur Garrity found the Boston School Committee guilty of unconstitutional school segregation and ordered nearly 17,000 students to be transferred by bus to increase the racial integration of Boston's schools. When Senator Edward Kennedy tried to address the crowd, the protesters booed and pelted him with eggs. As Kennedy retreated to his office, the crowd rushed and began pounding on and then shattering a glass window. Television news crews from ABC, CBS, and NBC were on hand to cover the rally, and they brought images of the confrontation to a national audience of millions of Americans.
School desegregation in Boston continued to be a headline story in print and broadcast news for the next two years, and this extensive media coverage made "busing" synonymous with Boston. Today Boston's "busing crisis" is taught in high schools and colleges across the country as the story of school desegregation in the North and as a convenient end point for the history of civil rights, where it is juxtaposed with Brown v. Board of Education (1954) or the Little Rock school-integration crisis (1957).
Boston's mid-1970s "busing crisis," however, was over two decades in the making. From the 1950s onward, the city's schools were intentionally segregated through official state and local policies regarding zoning, teacher placement, and busing. Boston civil rights advocates fought against these policies and the educational inequities they produced, but faced intense resistance from white parents and politicians. Across Boston's public schools in the 1950s, per-pupil spending averaged $340 for white students compared with only $240 for black students. More than 80% of Boston's black elementary-school students attended majority-black schools, most of which were overcrowded and staffed by less experienced teachers. Over the years, data of this sort failed to persuade the Boston School Committee, which steadfastly denied the charge that school segregation even existed in Boston. As Garrity's decision in Morgan v. Hennigan (1974) made clear, however, the segregation of Boston's schools was neither innocent nor accidental:
"The court concludes that the defendants took many actions in their official capacities with the purpose and intent to segregate the Boston public schools and that such actions caused current conditions of segregation in the Boston public schools. … Plaintiffs have proved that the defendants intentionally segregated schools at all levels, built new schools for a decade with sizes and locations designed to promote segregation, [and] maintained patterns of overcrowding and underutilization which promoted segregation." (Morgan v. Hennigan, 379 F. Supp. 144, 146).
Court-ordered busing was intended to remedy decades of educational discrimination in Boston, and it was controversial because it challenged a school system that was built around the preferences and demands of white communities.
By showing that Boston's schools discriminated against black students, Garrity's ruling validated the claims that Boston's leading civil rights activists—Ruth Batson, Ellen Jackson, Muriel and Otto Snowden, Mel King, Melnea Cass—had been making for over two decades. "When we would go to white schools, we'd see these lovely classrooms, with a small number of children in each class," Ruth Batson recalled. As a Boston civil rights activist and the mother of three, Batson gained personal knowledge of how the city's public schools shortchanged black youth in the 1950s and 1960s. "The teachers were permanent. We'd see wonderful materials. When we'd go to our schools, we would see overcrowded classrooms, children sitting out in the corridors, and so forth. And so, then we decided that where there were a large number of white students, that's where the care went. That's where the books went. That's where the money went."
Like black parents across the country, Batson cared deeply about education and fought on behalf of her children and her community. "What black parents wanted was to get their children to schools where there were the best resources for educational growth—smaller class sizes, up-to-date-books," Batson recalled. "They wanted their children in a good school building, where there was an allocation of funds which exceeded those in the black schools; where there were sufficient books and equipment for all students." In short, Batson understood that school integration was about more than having black students sit next to white students.
Boston's civil rights activists were organized, creative, and persistent in their protests, but they received much less attention from journalists than white parents and politicians who opposed "busing." This lack of contemporary media coverage has made it difficult to tell stories about civil rights in Boston and other Northern cities. Most of the iconic images of the civil rights era are from Southern cities like Little Rock, Montgomery, and Selma, rather than Boston, Chicago, and New York.
White parents and politicians framed their resistance to school desegregation in terms of "busing," "neighborhood schools," and "homeowners rights." These slogans were designed not only to oppose Boston's civil rights activists, but to make it appear as though white Bostonians were the victims of an unjust court order. This rhetorical shift allowed them to support white schools and neighborhoods without using explicitly racist language. As early as 1957, white parents in New York rallied against "busing," and Boston School Committee chairwoman Louise Day Hicks made opposition to "busing" a centerpiece of her political campaigns in the mid-1960s.
Speaking in 1972, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) co-founder and Georgia State Legislator Julian Bond described the underlying motivations for opposing "busing" for school desegregation in clear terms. "What people who oppose busing object to," Bond told the audience, "is not the little yellow school buses, but rather to the little black bodies that are on the bus." Indeed, the crisis in Boston and in other cities that faced court-ordered school desegregation was about unconstitutional racial discrimination in the public schools, not about "busing." Describing opposition to "busing" as something other than resistance to school desegregation is a choice that obscures the histories of racial discrimination and legal contexts for desegregation orders.
School desegregation was about the constitutional rights of black students, but in Boston and other Northern cities, the story has been told and retold as a story about the feelings and opinions of white parents. Over four decades later, the Boston busing artifacts in the Smithsonian collection can be used to tell a more nuanced and complicated story about civil rights and the ongoing struggle for educational equality.
Matthew Delmont is a professor of history at Arizona State University. He is the author of three books, Why Busing Failed: Race, Media, and the National Resistance to School Desegregation; Making Roots: A Nation Captivated; and The Nicest Kids in Town: American Bandstand, Rock 'n' Roll, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in 1950s Philadelphia. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled, To Live Half American: African Americans at Home and Abroad during World War II.