“I feel as though the ultimate goal that we all look forward to is ongoing. There’s never a point in your life when you can say, ‘I’ve accomplished completely or I have reached that goal. Because you’re constantly working toward that goal. You probably will never realize it, but it’s a good feeling knowing that you make progress en route…You never get a chance to see the end of that chain but you’re still adding links to it, knowing that you’re adding links toward a goal, a big goal”—Dotson Burns, Jr.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) struck down the precedent of “separate but equal” in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) which had institutionalized segregation in the United States. Across the land, Black people hailed the decision, confident that the door to equality had opened much wider. But America’s reaction was glacial. Many school districts half-heartedly implemented partial integration while others ignored the ruling altogether.
By 1972, Prince George’s County, Maryland had made grudging steps toward school integration: black students could volunteer to attend white schools and vice versa but no public transportation was provided, and some other wan measures had been implemented. Either way, the federal government was impatient and threatened to pull funding from the school district. When a Black parent sued, claiming his child was denied access to integrated schools, a federal judge ordered the county to produce a meaningful integration plan within months. Prince George’s County Schools’ Assistant Superintendent Edward J. Feeney was tasked with drawing up a plan, and, in January of 1973, tens of thousands of students—Black and white—boarded yellow buses on the journey to new schools.
Here is where The Tower Road Bus begins, zeroing in on how one school experienced the hard transition to school busing to achieve integration. Approximately, 20 students from a historically-Black community known as Tower Road in Brandywine, Maryland, were ordered to travel five miles over winding roads to Crestview Elementary School, where virtually no white students attended.
Although Prince George’s County could now demonstrate compliance with the federal court order and integration counted many successes, few have pondered the sacrifices of Black students, faculty and administrators who struggled to find their footing on the shifting plates of social change. Understanding their stories via The Tower Road Bus, the film aspires to round out the conversations around school integration and the narrow road to racial justice.