Maury Z. Levy

The Magic Bus: All Aboard The Oxford Circle Shuttle

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980), Uncategorized on June 14, 2012 at 11:44 am

By Maury Z. Levy

IT WAS RAINING NOW. It was Monday morning and the thick gray air was chilly and damp and it was raining now. The skies had been holding it in for a week and now they had 
burst open to soak the streets and break the promise of 
an early summer. People walked along quickly under black umbrellas with their collars up and their faces down and 
automobiles with snow tires still on made a whirring sound as they moved up Susquehanna Avenue, heading 
for the Mansion and the Park, never stopping.

For a week, it had been summer again. For a week, the 
kids with bandanas around their heads roamed the streets in shirtsleeves, while men stood together on corners and 
drank the contents of brown paper bags and women in 
housedresses pushed strollers up and down 17th Street looking for bargains.

For a week, the desperation of North Philadelphia was no longer quiet. For one great week of Indian spring North Philadelphia was alive and ticking with anticipation of the warmth ahead and some memories of some heat behind.

But the Monday morning rain put things back to normal. It was trash day and the beginning of another week.

The flat-red pushcart of the 15th Street Junk Shop 
made its way up French Street toward 17th. The man behind it was old and black and he was wearing a dark 
plastic raincoat with the hood up over his head and the drawstring knotted around his chin so that all that could 
be seen were the slits of eyes that stalked the curbside cans for salvage.

He pushed his way between the cars parked on one  side of the narrow street of ancient brownstones. It was the side of the street with the signs that read “NO PARKING 
a.m. and French Street was asleep.

Bucking traffic, he turned right on 17th and pushed past 
the cozy old James L. Claghorn Elementary School. The rain made the gray 84-year-old building wetgray.

Claghorn takes up less than a third of the block. It is 
surrounded by a big black iron fence that comes to within a few feet of the tiny building. Pressing against one side 
of the fence—in what is supposed to be a schoolyard—is a black iron pole that holds a slightly bent basketball 
backboard. There isn’t even enough room in the yard for a half-court game and even less room to hang the blame, because back in 1884 outdoor sports were not exactly national pastimes.

Claghorn sticks out—an ancient school in a procession of old stores. The building was supposed to be torn down 
back in 1944, when it had reached its 60th birthday, but 
that was a war year and people had more important 
things to do than break up little old schools. Somehow it 
never got back on the demolition list and so for the past 
24 years Claghorn has been living on borrowed time.

Across the street from Claghorn is a luncheonette, the 
hub of what little activity there is at 7:30 on a Monday 
morning. There is a bus stop on the corner there and a 
handful of people were huddled in the doorway of the 
luncheonette to avoid the downpour and wait for their 

It was 7:40 now and the bus hadn’t come yet and the 
doorway was filled to capacity. As they craned their necks 
to watch for the bus, none of the people in the doorway 
seemed to take notice of the scattering of kids who 
made their way down 17th Street toward Claghorn, 
soggy brown lunch bags firmly in hand.

It was 7:40 and classes at Claghorn, like most other 
schools in the city, don’t start until 9 o’clock. But these 
kids weren’t getting there an hour and twenty minutes 
ahead of time because they wanted to shoot up some 
baskets in their schoolyard.

In fact, it isn’t even their schoolyard. For these kids, 
Claghorn is nothing more than a bus terminal. Their real 
school is Gilbert Spruance Elementary School, which is 
located a mere 9-mile bus ride away at Levick and Horrocks Streets, which, for the information of anyone not 
completely familiar with the territory, is located in Oxford 

The bus leaves Claghorn at 8:05 on the nose. It’s been 
leaving at 8:05 for three years now, ever since some guys 
down at 21st and the Parkway decided that to relieve over­
crowding and to help integration, it would be nice to 
take a bunch of black kids and plop them on a bus every morning and give them a joyride from their ancient elementary school in the North Philly slums to a sparkling 
physical plant in the heart of the bustling, lily-white Northeast.

And so the kids came, unheralded and unescorted on 
this dripping Monday, to catch the 8:05 for Fun Circle.

They came and gathered in clusters, some in the foyer 
of the school, others in the green, wood-soaked doorway 
of a boarded-up grocery store on the corner of 17th and 
French. The store, like many others in the neighborhood, 
used to belong to a Jewish couple back in the days when 
nearby Strawberry Mansion was Jewish turf. But the 
Jews are gone now, gone for the greenfields of the Northeast. There are no Jewish kids on the 8:05.

AT FIVE OF EIGHT, the bright orange school bus makes a 
right on Broad Street at Susquehanna and sways its way, 
like a giant metal mule, up to 17th Street.

The driver stops the bus at the side of Claghorn and 
while the kids file out into the rain he mechanically wipes 
the fog off the windows, methodically pulls the lever that 
opens the door that lets the kids get out of the rain and 
onto the bus, and sinks back into his seat as he opens up the 
morning paper.

The kids file onto the bus quiet and orderly, each to 
his assigned seat, each barely acknowledging the matron, 
who stands sternly at the front and stares straight ahead 
with the poise of a Nazi submarine captain scanning his 

She runs a tight bus.


The rules are tight, and after a two-day weekend back 
home, the kids are pretty much uptight. They are facing 
the prospect of a new week and another five days on 
the 8:05.

They come with their spitdown hair and spitdown manners and they sit and they stare straight ahead, never looking out. There is really nothing to look out on. No mothers there for a warm send-off, no fathers in parked 
cars waiting for them to leave. The kids range in age 
from seven to twelve and they are old enough to take care of themselves. If not, they’ll learn soon enough. They have to.

On a full day, there are 55 of them. A hundred and ten eyes staring straight ahead at the bus regulations sign. Many of them can’t read it, but they all know what
it says. They aren’t allowed to forget. The matron makes 
sure of that.

She is a big, black, unsmiling overseer who is paid by 
the Board of Education to make sure that the kids don’t forget what the sign says. She sits in her command seat, the first one by the door, eyes trained on her underlings.

And the kids sit passively. Today, most of them are 
wearing their winter wrappings again. Last week it was 
warm and they came in short sleeves and cotton dresses. But now the damp chill of early spring was back and so 
were their winter clothes. A mother named Nature had 
given them four seasons every year, but many of their 
own mothers just can’t afford the luxury. So it’s either hot 
or it’s cold and today it was cold.

The matron is wearing a black spring raincoat and the 
bus driver is wearing a bus driver’s suit with the hat 
cocked back on his head.

The bus driver is short and on rare occasions he speaks. 
He is paid to drive the bus, not to keep order. That’s what 
the matron is there for. But somewhere along the way, 
somebody must have reminded him that he is white and 
that everyone behind him is black and that it would be 
nice if he would try to make his bus a nice place to live.

And so he comes up with such gems as, “We’re gonna be 
good little girls and boys, aren’t we?” Most of the time, 
intentionally or not, he is talking to himself.

The matron is not so subtle.

“Siddown and shuddup, Eugene,” she shoots at an older kid in the next-to-last seat who is standing and talking 
and wearing a heavy brown coat and a sheepish grin.

IT IS 8:04 NOW and the bus driver is reaching for his 
gearshift as he spots a thin figure running down the 
patent leather street, directly at him. He opens the door 
again and a woman leaps onto the first step. She is young and wet and worried. Her large pleading eyes meet those 
of the matron just a few inches away. The matron stares back at her with immovable pellets. Nothing had been 
said, but the conversation was already over.

“Won’t you let Cal ride?” the young woman begs.

“He can’t,” the matron starts almost before the question 
is finished. “He blocks up the aisle. He won’t behave. He 
carries on.”

The matron clicks her heels under her seat and turns her back, spitting another “siddown” to the kids in the back.

“Steven, get in your seat,” she orders. Steven, wearing 
the remains of an oversized yellow canvas raincoat, settles 
onto the edge of his seat and stares impassively through 
the hazy windows and the driving rain at Claghorn.

8:05 and the bus starts to roll. Steven half turns in his 
seat and his eyes follow Cal’s mother back into the rain.

“Steven, turn around.”

The ride takes 25 minutes. It always takes 25 minutes. 
The bus driver takes the side streets, the back streets, the 
front streets, anything he needs to speed him up or slow 
him down to make sure that the ride takes exactly 25 

The bus grunts its way down 17th Street to funky, funky Diamond Street, where something called the Tanner Duckrey Elementary School is being pieced together. It is big 
and brick and new and one day it might even put the 
8:05 into retirement. The Duckrey School will relieve 
overcrowding and it will be all black. But right now it’s 
only another promise to the kids on the 8:05 as they zip 
past Duckrey, up Diamond to Broad.

It gets pretty stuffy in a big orange school bus when there are fifty-some kids with heavy coats and the windows are closed to keep out the rain. It gets pretty stuffy 
and the kids get pretty restless. Steven gets the word again as the bus weaves in and out of the Broad Street 
traffic. The matron now has her eyes fixed on the back 
of the bus because her instinct tells her that’s where 
today’s hotspot is.

As the bus passes under the fleeting darkness of a 
bridge near North Philly station, a little girl in the first seat behind the matron slips into her lunch bag and comes 
out with a handful of cheese twists. Her eyes point up to the matron in caution. The matron is staring at the back. The girl quickly clops her hand against her mouth and 
shoves all the cheese twists in at once. She looks again at 
the matron, who is still on a fixed focus to the rear, and 
madly starts to chomp away. Breakfast at last.

THE BUS HAS CUT ITS WAY through the mist and onto Roosevelt Boulevard, where the rain is little more than a 
moderate drizzle. The kids are quiet now, their eyes transfixed on the first real signs of another country. The houses 
are bigger and newer and the streets are wider. The bus 
takes the Oxford Circle underpass to Large Street, right past colonial Temple Shalom to Robbins Avenue and 
down the lumpy block to Horrocks.

Spruance is just a block away and the kids in the bus 
can look out to see some of their classmates walking to
school under brightly colored umbrellas. The kids under the umbrellas aren’t looking back.

It is not really an upsetting factor for anyone in Oxford Circle to see somebody with a black face riding a bus 
into their all-white bastion. It’s been going on for years on the PTC. The only differences this time are the ages 
of the riders, the color of the bus, and the fact that when 
they leave, they don’t collect ten bucks and carfare.

Oxford Circle, though, is changing. It used to be that 
when you spoke of Oxford Circle, you were talking of 
two things—both a geographic location and a way of life.

Physically, Oxford Circle is actually a triangle bounded
by Roosevelt Boulevard, Castor Avenue and Cottman 
Avenue. But since the mass migration to Oxford Circle, 
which began in the late ’40s and peaked in the early ’50s, 
the influence of the way of life far exceeded the geographic boundaries.

Unless you count noses, there is really no telling how 
many Jews there are in Oxford Circle. They came from 
Strawberry Mansion and South Philly to build a monolithic 
and prosperous Jewish community. And they managed to 
keep it this way for a good twenty years.

But now, Oxford Circle is starting to harden at its 
arteries. Its face is changing, most visibly by a nose job. 
Most of the generation of kids who moved in with their 
parents a couple decades ago have now grown up and gotten married and have gone to set up house in the 
farther reaches of the so-called Greater Northeast.

And left behind are parents with empty houses, many of 
whom end up following the same route as their children and pulling up stakes in favor of a cozy little apartment 
with a swimming pool, just a bit farther out.

The original Oxford Circle way of life is alive and 
thriving just a few miles up the road. Today Oxford Circle, the neighborhood, just ain’t what it used to be. Now you 
need more than one hand to count the Christmas lights. 
So it is not very surprising that the people of Oxford Circle 
now can sit back in their nice little brick row houses with 
the cement patios and the grassy hills in the front and not 
blink when they see a busload of black kids rolling past 
their curbs.

And the kids on the 8:05 have sort of gotten used to 
not being noticed. And as they coast down Horrocks to 
Levick and see the nice new Impalas and Le Sabres stopping in front of Spruance to let off their classmates, it really doesn’t matter much that they have reached the promised land on an orange bus.

IT IS 8:30 on the dot and there is the cocky satisfaction 
of punctuality on the face of the bus driver as he pulls 
his machine to a stop at the side of the school.

For an elementary school, Spruance is massive. The 
school grounds encompass a very large city block. The 
building itself, constructed for the most part in 1950, is 
made of an uncommon-looking yellow brick and there is 
a nice green lawn in the front and a giant cement school-
yard in the back, surrounded by a huge cyclone fence.

The school is right next to the Max Meyers playground, which is owned by the city and has a nice big swimming pool and a whole bunch of basketball courts and grassy baseball fields.

The rain, which had all but stopped now, was good for 
the grass.

The kids are shepherded off the bus, through a big gate 
in the fence and around to one of the back doors and into 
the school, crossing paths along the way with some of the white Spruance kids.

As they enter the neatly scrubbed building, the first thing 
they see is a nicely framed reproduction of Marc Chagall’s 
”The Rabbi.” The painting is there by irony, not design. It’s one of over a hundred pieces of art that hang on the walls of the school. The idea for the display is that of Joseph Agin, the school’s principal. Collecting reproductions of famous paintings is one of his few vices and they are strategically hung all over the place. Right across from Agin’s office is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln, who freed the slaves and helped make this country what it is today.

On this Monday morning, Agin stands right next to his 
portrait of Abe Lincoln as he watches his children, black 
and white together, file by. He is wearing his permanent-
press smile. Some of the kids smile back, some say hello and 
others just giggle and walk on by. And once he is sure that all of his children are soundly tucked away in their classrooms, Agin walks confidently back to his office to begin another week of principaling. But as he nears the 
office door he is beckoned by a fast-walking, fast-talking 
man in a gray coat and a gray hat who is carrying a black 
attaché case.

“What happened Friday? Why didn’t you do something? 
My kid was afraid to come to school.”

The man in gray was white and he was talking about a 
knifing incident that never happened. There was this 
rumor that spread very quickly that some black kids had 
planned to do some cutting on Friday. It turned out to be 
only a rumor, but it did shake a lot of people up. It shook 
up the man in gray enough for him to stop at school on 
his way to work to try to get to the nitty-gritty of it.

Agin assured him that there was nothing to worry about 
and that it was nothing more than a rumor. They exchanged a few uncertainties and the man in gray started 
to leave and Agin turned and walked past a portrait of John Kennedy and into his office.

Safely inside, he sat down, lit his first cigarette of the 
day and took a large drag.

Agin’s office, furnished in Early Elementary School, is 
fairly large and has a nice view of the neighborhood.

Joe Agin is a middle-aged Jewish man, which is not 
necessarily an indication of his age or religion. It’s just the 
way you get to look when you work in Oxford Circle for 
so long. And Joe Agin has that look about him. After 
eight years at Spruance he looks like the guy who never 
let you read the magazines at the stand in his drugstore.

He leaned back in his chair, took the cigarette from his 
mouth and mused about the knifing rumor. “That’s a big 
problem here—communication—because the parents are 
so far away.”

Agin’s statement was the first of many indications that 
the street of communication between black and white is a 
narrow one paved with eggshells.

When Agin spoke, it was from Levick and Horrocks 
Streets, not from 17th and Susquehanna. “The initial reaction to the busing program was excellent in this neighborhood and still is,” Agin said.

He stopped for another puff on his cigarette as he 
looked out his window. It was still very cloudy as he 
watched the man in gray hustle down the rain-soaked 
walk and into his car.

Agin readily admitted that reaction to the busing from 
the sending end was much harder to gauge since participation by the Negro parents of bused-in children in the Home 
and School Association is nearly negligible.

But together with the Home and School Association, 
Agin is trying everything he can think of to make both 
the parents and the kids feel welcome.

Just this past Christmas, they gave a ball-point pen to 
every kid in the school, regardless of race, creed or means 
of transportation. And engraved on each pen was a two-
word message of brotherhood and peace on earth and 
goodwill to men. It said “Spruance School.”

Agin said that in allocating funds for school use, there is never any question for whom the money is being used. 
”They are definitely Spruance children,” he said with all 
the benign condescension he could muster. “If there is any 
animosity, it is because kids from a lower economic level 
have been bused into an area where the economic level is 
higher. The sending school doesn’t sense any resentment 
among those left behind.”

In the past year, the composition of those left behind 
has changed drastically. When the program first started, 
if they wanted to bus fifty kids, they sent the top fifty. 
Now, they take a random sampling. If there are 200 kids 
at a school and fifty are to be bused, they pick every 
fourth one. “Of course, we’d prefer it the old way,” Agin 
said. “To take the cream of the crop.”


To Relieve Overcrowding and Foster Integration School District of Philadelphia, Pa.

•   January, 1964: Board of Education adopts policy calling for redrawing of school boundary lines and busing—to stop double shifts, relieve overcrowding and to foster integration.

•     February, 1964: Busing program begins with 110 pupils bused from all-Negro school to a 95% white school.

•    August, 1964: School District announces plans to expand its busing program (for overcrowding and integration) to some 3000 pupils in September.

•    August, 1964: Parents and Taxpayers Association (all-
white anti-busing group) files suit to stop busing, charging School Board with acting against State School Code and against best interests of city’s school children.

•     September, 1964: School Board buses 3831 children to 
relieve overcrowding and foster integration. Of this number, approximately 1900 are Negro children going to predominantly white schools.

•     December, 1964: Judge Ethan Allen Doty, of Common Pleas Court, dismisses busing suit after one-day court hearing.

•     June, 1965: Busing total has risen to 4527, of which 
2228 are Negroes going to predominantly white schools.

•    September, 1965: School Board buses 7039 children, including 4988 Negroes to predominantly white schools. Ninety-seven schools involved.

•     September, 1966: Busing program expands to 9150 pupils, including about 7000 Negroes to predominantly white schools. Schools involved: 116.

•     September, 1967: Busing program up to 11,664, including about 9000 Negroes to predominantly white 
schools. Schools involved: 130.

“SURPRISINGLY,” Agin said, “it didn’t take too much time for the 
kids to adjust to coming here—only 
getting to the bus a little earlier. 
Children can adjust,” he said.

If she could afford it, Cal’s mother 
would probably have that statement laminated for her wallet. Evidently, 
Cal couldn’t adjust. Cal is the kid 
who wasn’t allowed to ride the bus, 
and the real reason Cal couldn’t ride 
the bus is that he is under suspension. He won’t be back unless his mother comes to school to iron out everything and to assure everyone that Cal won’t make any more waves.

The people at Spruance are very wave-conscious and they want to make 
sure that everyone fits in as perfectly
and smoothly as possible. The bused-in 
kids are balanced into classrooms very 
carefully. There are 55 from Claghorn 
and if they go into five classes, that 
means 11 in each class. Only special arithmetic and reading classes are structured and kids are placed according to their ability. “We have 
found that quite a number of the children from the sending schools
were behind,” Agin said.

8:05. He lives on one floor of a crumbling brownstone, along with his 
mother and 13 brothers and sisters.

Georgie can’t read very well. He is 
in the fifth grade at Spruance and he 
is reading at a third-grade level.

The people at Spruance have been trying to help Georgie, but they
haven’t had much effect because they only have him for a few hours a day, and when Georgie gets back home he finds it a little hard to practice his reading in a nice quiet place with 14 other people around.

Conditions at Georgie’s house have 
gotten a little better though. He used to share one bed with six of his 
brothers. But a couple of months ago someone was nice enough to give Georgie’s mother a slightly used mattress, which she plopped on the floor and now four of the kids are sleeping on it—to relieve overcrowding and foster public health.

But the new mattress hasn’t helped 
Georgie’s reading problem any. What Georgie and his family need is real help and that help is not about to 
come from anyone at Spruance because when Georgie leaves school at 3:15 and goes back home, he is no longer their problem. There has been 
little effort by anyone at Spruance to try to help the home situation. The
farthest they go is to give the teacher the option of writing a note on Georgie’s report card alluding to the problem. Something like “Please include a study when you get around to building the new wing on your house.”

“IT TAKES UP a lot of the faculty’s 
time, trying to raise their level,” Agin 
said. And the faculty has enough 
things to do to keep it busy. Things
like maintaining the cool.

Agin admitted that there are minor disciplinary problems, and that the 
handling of such problems is complicated by the fact that the bused-in child can’t be kept after school. The

bus must leave promptly and everyone must be on it.

There has been a definite increase 
in certain disciplinary problems since 
the busing program started. Agin attributes this to the fact that “there are certain standards of behavior that some of these kids need to learn—
their behavior is probably based on their background.”

One of the problems is the use of 
profanity. There have been many complaints from Spruance parents that 
their kids come home from school using words that warrant mouthwashing. The picking up of profanity has 
long been one of the evergreen arguments against busing. And it does have a basis in fact because the kids do pick up some bad words at an early age in school. Under normal circumstances, it would probably be another year or two before the kids picked these words up at home and brought them to school.

“Kids adapt to a situation,” Agin said. “There is some fighting here but 
it is mostly among the colored children 
themselves, not among colored and 
white children. I would like to say it’s a way of life for them. They’re taught to take care of themselves, and their differences are settled by fighting.”

They have tried to promote the 
right attitudes at Spruance by means 
of special programs. There is one 
where they try to teach the kids to be 
very tolerant of others. It is called “The Green Circle Brotherhood Program,” which is really the name of a bi-racial rock group. They feel that antagonism can be eliminated by programs like this. “That is why there 
is fighting only in their own groups,” 
said Agin. “There is a tendency for 
the 11- and 12-year-old children to 
segregate much more so than the 
younger ones,” he said.

Agin was on his third cigarette now 
and he was starting to turn on. “With three or four schools represented here [currently, there are 280 kids bused-in 
to Spruance from three schools in 
North Philadelphia, and they make up 
about one-third of the school’s present 
population], there is more of a tendency for areas to compete, but we haven’t had any white versus colored 

There have been some manifestations of economic resentment among the “richer” and “poorer” kids at Spruance. It has turned up most in 
the lunchroom where there have been 
incidents of stealing that were not 
sensed before. “Petty thievery,” Agin 
calls it, “like pencils, books and 

But most of the kids come to school 
with something in their stomach. And 
if they don’t there is a program that 
allows them two pints of milk a day, 
free of charge. Also, most of the 
bused-in kids either carry their lunches 
to school or come with enough money 
to buy one. (For about 35¢ you can get 
a pretty good gut-full from the 
Spruance lunchroom.) “And if they 
don’t have the money, we will buy 
them lunch from our own pockets,” 
Agin said.

He explained that the help program 
goes even farther than lunches. “If we spot a person who needs clothing, we have clothing from residents in the area. In providing clothing, we take from other schools so that a child can’t point to a dress a little girl is wearing and say, ‘That used to 
be mine.’ ”

Agin took another puff on his cigarette and half-smiled as he turned to look out upon the benevolent citizens of Horrocks Street. Outside, the sun was trying to burn its way through the clouds and women with baby strollers and shopping carts had begun to appear, going about their delayed daily business. It got Joe Agin to thinking about how Oxford Circle 
is changing and talking about the area that Spruance services. It was obvious 
that he was thinking more than he 
was talking. “We have few gentiles,” 
he said, of a school that never even 
thought seriously about them. “But
more than we used to. Someday, this 
may be a problem. Previously, this neighborhood was the next step up 
from Strawberry Mansion. Now 
they’re moving in from all over—
Kensington and all over the city.” Agin seemed to be talking almost to himself now as a somewhat puzzled 
look crossed his face as he thought 
of the past and future of Oxford Circle.

“The reason kids were bused in 
here was that we had room,” he went 
on. “People with school-age children started to move away. At one time 
the population of this school was two 
thousand, but that was a few years 
back when this neighborhood was 
booming with kids. Now we’re down to about eight or nine hundred, and 
we’ve got plenty of room. So I’ve become the vulnerable one.”

Agin reiterated that those families
left in the neighborhood have taken the whole thing very well—at least 
there hasn’t been any sign of mass exodus since the busing started, and 
property values have remained about the same.

Acceptance has been both passive and active. Some of the bused-in kids 
have been invited home for lunch by
some of the kids in the neighborhood. 
They are not allowed to miss the bus 
to go to parties after school, though.

Agin admitted that it took some time for the invitations to start coming. “They had to wait for the formation of friendships.” He feels that the neighborhood kids shouldn’t be actively encouraged to take a Claghorn kid to lunch. Official encouragement might 
lead to neighborhood criticism. And criticism is one thing that Joe Aging doesn’t want to encourage.

From the start, he has tried to make sure that everyone involved knew exactly what was going on. He tried, the best he could, to have the neighborhood parents recognize the need for busing and become better informed about it. “Right from the beginning, 
we gave them the whole picture,” he 
said. “And by arranging them heterogeneously, we avoided having a presaid.

When the program first began, Agin 
spent quite a bit of time trying to 
indoctrinate the parents of the bused-in kids. He attended meetings with 
them down at the Claghorn School 
and spoke to them and invited them to 
visit Spruance. But that was three 
years ago, and he hasn’t seen very 
many of them since.

Some of the parents do come up when they are invited for such special occasions as teacher visitation, but few of them ever make it for regular Home and School Association meetings. Those who have come expressed concern mostly over the facilities at Spruance, the lunchroom in particular. Since their kids would be eating 
there every day, they had a natural concern over what was being served. 
Most of the parents were pleased with 
the facilities and pleased with what 
they saw and pleased that they had 
come. And at least one of them kept 
coming. And coming and coming.

THERE IS A LITTLE ROOM just down the hallway from the principal’s office 
that has a sign on it that says “HOME 
& SCHOOL ASSOCIATION.” Actually it’s not really a room, it’s a converted 
book closet, and really, if you took 
all of the active members of the 
Spruance Home and School Association and put them all together at one 
time, they would quite easily fit into a book closet, with plenty of room left over for a couple of pinball machines.

Seated in the barely furnished room 
this morning for an impromptu meeting were five members of the Association. One of them was black and she dominated the meeting. Her name was Earthilee Gray and she was the neatly 
scrubbed mother of an equally neatly scrubbed bused-in son, and somewhat of a new breed of cat.

Earthilee is an honest-to-goodness
black yenta with Della Reese intonations and Eartha Kitt tendencies. She 
sat at a wooden table with some papers in front of her and, with one 
profound pronouncement, she brought 
the informal conversation to a halt and 
got down to the business at hand.

“I’d like to make a statement,” she 
said, as if to give fair warning to all 
the hypothetical news cameras present to start rolling. “I have visited 
this school as much as any other 
mother, if not more,” she said, and you just knew it was more. “Not because of integration, although I’m for freedom and equal rights and all the things people are fighting for, but because I’m interested in my son getting a good education. I’ve sacrificed hours to get here, and I’ve eaten lunch here with the kids. The general picture I’ve gotten here is that there is 
no direct adverseness on anyone’s 

She did admit, however, that at 
meetings some people did refuse to 
even say hello to her, but she did 
not consider this adverseness. “I’d 
rather just leave it up to their own 
intelligence,” she said.

What she’s interested in primarily, 
she reiterated, not for the last time, 
was that her child was getting a well-
rounded education, regardless of integration. Although she admitted that her child had never told her that he had been abused or had seen the staring eyes of hate, Earthilee Gray said she felt sure that Oxford Circle parents are telling their kids not to play with black kids.

“We need more involvement at 
home as well as with teachers, principals and administrators,” she said. “I 
have talked with parents in my neighborhood. Some feel that the teachers at Spruance are very prejudiced. I’ve 
been given statements that have said so, but I never told anyone here because I thought they were too petty.”

Somehow, Joe Agin had squeezed 
his way into the closet to give Earthilee Gray a verbal pat on the head: “I 
value your opinion more than the opinion of a parent whose kid is a 
disciplinary problem, who tends to be 
more prejudiced. You are more unbiased than other parents who pass judgment in a biased way.”

Everyone at Spruance knows Earthilee Gray. She is in such close contact 
with the teachers that when she talks of her son’s education, she says, “I 
had a wonderful teacher last term,” or, “We have a real gem this term.”

Earthilee Gray is not at all typical of her community and she knows it. 
But she is perhaps very typical of a new breed of outspoken leader with bootstraps whose influence can and 
will be felt by anyone she comes in contact with, and the people at 
Spruance know that well.

She is part of a black middle class 
that has suddenly become militant in this country over the past few years. She owns her own beauty parlor and makes enough money from it to comfortably and smartly furnish her house and herself. She is the first to tell you what a helping hand she has been to her neighborhood and how she takes other mothers’ kids to ball games and
gives them lunches and new shirts when their own become too tattered.

Earthilee Gray makes her kid wear a necktie to school even though she 
knows that he gets beaten up on the
bus a lot because of it. And she is 
the first one to respond with a kneejerk 
defense, usually in the form of a letter, a phone call or a visit, when her 
kid is in any danger of having his 
tie stepped on. The tie serves more as 
a status symbol than an adornment. Earthilee Gray knows where she’s at. 
She’s the first to scorn a lot of the people in her neighborhood who “don’t want to work.”

And she is well aware of what the
people in her neighborhood think 
about her. “You think you’re scared in that neighborhood,” she tells her white soul sisters. “Well, I’m doubly 
scared. I can’t leave a window or door unlocked.”

Earthilee Gray’s minor confession 
of weakness gave the white mothers present an opportunity to jump in.

First, there was the president of 
the Home and School Association, Ruth MacAndrew (MacAndrew!? There goes the neighborhood). Yet despite her looks and her name, she 
too had definite yenta tendencies. “Look, let’s face it, we don’t want reverse busing,” she said, as though someone had brought the subject up. 
”All we want is a good education for our kids.”

Also there were three Jewish mothers. There was Gloria Richman, a well-dressed woman with a giant opal ring and a puffed-up hairdo. With her were Jeannette Toman and Gilda Dunoff.

Jeannette Toman looks like the 
kind of mother who would probably make her kids wear earmuffs in April. Gilda Dunoff was later to be affectionately described by Joe Agin as “the quiet one.” The three of them 
chimed in almost in unison with Ruth MacAndrew.

“We just don’t want reverse busing.”

This, Ruth MacAndrew said, was 
the initial reaction of most of the 
parents when they learned of the 
busing program. Busing was a good 
idea for relieving overcrowding and 
fostering integration, just so long as 
it didn’t inconvenience their kids.

She felt that the parents hadn’t 
been “informed right” about the busing when it first started. “A lot gets 
blown up, you know,” she said. “At 
first, many parents got the impression that the busing was simply to promote integration and not primarily for the sake of education.”

Earthilee Gray was alive and stirring again now, and saying that the only disadvantage of the busing program was that she had to get up at 
six o’clock in the morning to have breakfast with her son. “If there is 
any prejudice between children, it is 
taught in the homes,” she said from 
her seat in left field.

Ruth MacAndrew said that there 
has been a “slowdown” in the learning 
pace in classrooms that have bused-in 
kids. “Not everyone is ready to go 

Everyone was getting into the fray 
now and all kinds of things were 
starting to bounce off of the walls, in 
no particular direction Earthilee Gray said that another problem with busing 
was the fact that if a Claghorn kid 
gets sick in school, it is too far for 
the parent to come get him. She grabbed at the opportunity of having the floor again to get in a word about discipline: “If my child needs slapping, slap him, I always say.”

Gilda Dunoff turned to Earthilee Gray and said, “If all Negro mothers were like you, there would be no problems.”

Jeannette Toman said that the language coming home with the kids has changed since the busing began. “It has put the parents a little more on the ball,” she said.

“It’s a real eye-opener, eh?” chimed 
in Joe Agin from somewhere.

Gloria Richman told how her son 
has been ridiculed for his friendship with “a lovely little colored boy.”

Earthilee Gray said that the black kids from Spruance come home to a 
segregated neighborhood and that when they do, some of their parents 
think that they are “too good to go out and play with the other kids.” 
She doesn’t consider herself to be one of those parents, because every day, 
weather permitting, when her kid
comes home, she lets him take off his 
tie and get on his bike and ride around the neighborhood for forty-five minutes. Exactly forty-five minutes.

Jeannette Toman said to Earthilee Gray “there are not many of your people at the Home and School 

“They feel they’re outcasts,” Earthilee Gray said. “They feel they may 
be out of place or not accepted.” She felt that the teas that were held 
before the busing started were helpful 
for the parents at the different schools 
to get to know what was going on, but that the next step is for the teachers to get involved in the home life. 
She also cited a need for “more 
meaningful parental involvement.”

Ruth MacAndrew, who schedules 
all of her Home and School meetings during the day, when most of the 
black parents couldn’t come if they wanted to, said that white parents feel education is falling behind because 
there are too many discipline problems in the classrooms. This was Joe 
Agin’s bag and he was quick to blame 
whatever lag there has been in the 
classrooms on the teachers.

Everyone present agreed that they 
are walking on eggshells and that communication is not what it should 
be because of what Joe Agin called “the Black Power thing.”

“Sometimes you just don’t know 
what to say or how to say it so that 
it doesn’t come out sounding wrong,” 
Gloria Richman said.

Earthilee Gray said that she even 
felt shaky about what she said in her own neighborhood because she thinks 
that many people resent the fact that 
her kid goes to Spruance.

“Education of the parents in that 
neighborhood can only come from 
their own people,” Jeannette Toman 
said. “What is needed is more people 
like Earthilee. But see, they resent 
her too.”

Yes, everyone there was convinced 
that if all black people were like 
Earthilee Gray, there would be no 
problems and that everyone could live 
together in harmony. They all looked 
at Earthilee Gray and the air reeked 
with brotherhood as smiles crossed 
their faces and bells rang.


Out in the schoolyard, the sun had broken all the way through and except for a heavy and chilly breeze it was turning out to be not too bad a day after all.

Out in the schoolyard was where it 
was really happening. It was where the kids were all on their own and didn’t have to listen to the bigoted
garbage from their parents or swallow any of the brotherhood bullshit that was stuffed down their throats in school.

Out in the schoolyard was where 
kids could be kids. And it is here that
the ultimate test of integration is being 
taken. It is here where there is no supervision and nobody to tell the 
kids what to do or not to do. It is 
the things that happen in the schoolyard that these kids are going to remember ten, twenty, thirty years from now, and not anything that is told to them in a classroom about race relations. Most of them don’t even know what race relations are. All they know 
is that they are kids. They are kids and 
they are beautiful.

While their mothers are inside for a session of para-liberal mutual back-patting, the kids are out in the sun, black and white together, with their arms around each other.

In one corner of the yard was a gaggle of girls jumping rope, and there was a black girl holding one end of 
the rope and a white girl holding the other. And nobody had to tell them 
to do that, because it just happened 
and none of them even thought about 

Across the yard, there was a softball 
game going on and it was the same

It was a choose-up game, which 
means that you start out with two captains and they alternately pick kids to be on their team. And when you’re playing baseball in a schoolyard you’re playing to win, and so the selections of
team members are made with all the 
calculation of a professional draft. When your pick comes up, you don’t take a buddy, you take the best available ballplayer. And that’s just what 
the kids did. It was an integrated game, but nobody had to tell them to make it one.

Just past center field, there was a 
fight going on. The fight was between 
a white kid and a black kid. One was 
calling himself Jerry Quarry and the 
other was Jimmy Ellis and they were 
jabbing away at each other’s hands. 
It could have been nothing but a draw.

A little crowd had gathered around them and some were rooting for Jerry Quarry and some of them were rooting 
for Jimmy Ellis Their rooting got so 
hot that a small skirmish broke out
in the crowd and pretty soon three 
black kids and one white kid were on 
the ground laughing their heads off.

Right in back of them, a group of 
girls was looking on. One of them was named April and she was a chubby little fifth-grader with a long blonde braid and she was white. She said she didn’t like it because the black kids fight too much.

“That ain’t true,” one of the black girls said.

“It is too,” April yelled as she sent 
the black girl flying with a quick 
karate chop to the chest.

At the far end of the yard, on one of the basketball courts, a long semi-
set shot by one of the kids from Claghorn was just bouncing its way through the iron hoop when the buzzer went off.

Recess was over now and a school-
yard full of color-blind kids slowly made their way back into the building. Back to their heterogeneously-placed classes and the teachers who would tell them what a great world this would be if only people could learn to live together.

So back into the building they went, 
black and white together, to wait for the next recess when they could go 
outside and just be kids again. Waiting for the next recess when they could go outside and, for fifteen minutes in a concrete yard surrounded by a big cyclone fence, solve all the world’s problems.

Funny how kids start out with the answer and end up with the question.

BACK INSIDE, Ann Lichterman sits 
by her window, wearing the face that 
she keeps in a jar by the door. Ann 
Lichterman is the school’s guidance 
counselor and her nice little office 
with a view is filled with psychology 
books and potted plants. On the top shelf of the small bookcase across 
from her desk are two almost identical 
dolls. One has yellow hair and blue 
eyes and a peachy complexion. The other one has black frizzy hair and 
brown eyes and brown skin. The dolls make nice bookends.

Ann Lichterman was reading a note from a mother whose kid had been given some clothes to wear because the ones he had had been condemned. “Isn’t it heartbreaking? They don’t have all we take for granted,” she said piously.

She wiped a near-tear and went on. “The parents are so far away and it’s difficult to have communication with them. They are physically far away and it’s a long ride.

“We haven’t kept any hostility on race,” she said. “From the day a bused-in child enters this school, he is 
reminded constantly, ‘You are a Spruance child.’ ” (Many of the kids 
found this a bit hard to swallow. When asked what school they went to, most of them gave the name of their sending school. And the few who said Spruance, did so with some hesitation.)

“Busing has been going on for 
years, and will continue to go on,” 
she said.

THE POLICY OF the Board of Education states that a more extensive use of busing to foster integration is part of its current general plans. How long the busing will continue depends on how rapidly new schools
are built and antiquated buildings replaced. In an effort to determine what effects the program is having scholastically, the Board has put out an achievement study or two, filled with
means and medians and modes.

When you put it all together, though, the results are fairly inconclusive. Some kids have done better 
with the busing while others have 
stayed about the same. The Board is 
quick to point out, though, that no 
one, at either the sending or receiving 
schools, has suffered scholastically as 
a result of the program.

There is one major hitch in these 
findings. The latest study the Board 
has to offer is dated December 1966, 
and in those days the kids who were being bused were still pretty much 
from the cream of the sending school’s crop. Now that the selection is basically a random one, the situation quite possibly may have changed. The Board is now in the midst of giving it
another long, hard look.

Ann Lichterman says that children are not prejudiced and that any hostility among them on the issue of 
race comes from the family She spoke of the two black teachers among Spruance’s faculty of forty as a case
in point.

On parent visitation day in November, many of the Oxford Circle parents were a little shocked to find out that their kids had a black teacher. Somehow, it just hadn’t occurred to the kids to mention something as significant as color when talking about
their teacher.

On the subject of the faculty, Ann 
Lichterman noted that inexperience 
is the key factor in any difficulties in 
handling the bused-in kids. “If we 
know a child is a problem child, we 
will place him with an experienced 
teacher,” she said. “We’ll assign him 
to a teacher we feel can handle him.”

She doesn’t think that the black 
kids have any trouble reacting to 
white authority figures. “They respect 
people,” she said, “not for their color.”

JOE AGIN HAD JUST finished making 
one of his frequent tours of the build

ing. He visited the science rooms and 
the reading rooms and the classrooms. 
Everyone is used to Agin’s popping 
in, and things just go on as usual. It was late in the day now though, and you’d think even the teachers
would be getting sick of the brotherhood bit.

In one third-grade class, the teacher 
asked the kids what the most wonderful thing in the world was.

A white girl in the front row said 

The question was repeated.

A black girl three rows back said 

AGIN SMILED AS he closed the door 
and hustled down the hallway to the 
now vacant faculty dining room. There, he was to meet with Reba
Hoffman, his assistant, a matronly 
professional educator who keeps all 
her pencils sharpened.

In addition to being assistant to the 
principal, Reba Hoffman is in charge of the reading program at Spruance. She and Agin sat at separate tables and spoke of some more of their problems. One of the answers, Reba Hoffman feels, is to have smaller classes, 
to be able to show the kids that someone is interested in them, to form closer relationships and, hopefully, get through to them.

“Their home life affects them a lot,” 
she said. “In most cases, there is so 
much to be done—too much. And if 
the child is too far behind, we can 
only bring him up one or two levels. 
The earlier we get them, the more 
we can save,” she said, as outside, the 
heavens rumbled with thunder.

Reba Hoffman underscored the need for experienced teachers, and
the fact that getting them to work 
with underprivileged kids is difficult with the system’s policy of voluntary 
transfers, which doesn’t allow the placing of experienced teachers where they are most needed.

“As room becomes available here, the amount of busing to the Northeast will increase,” Agin said. “Because of overcrowding, ghetto schools
are always going to need relief.” Agin 
added that it is hard to get more Negro teachers to come to the Northeast, mostly because of distance from the neighborhoods where they live.

In many ways, Agin would like to 
see more Negro people and more 
Negro life brought into the school. He has gone so far as to set up a display right outside of the school 
library, including in it such books as 
”The Negro Heritage Library,” “Playtime in Africa,” and a variety of novels and biographies of the George Washington Carver-Booker T. Washington ilk.

But both he and Reba Hoffman agree that the kids at Spruance are really too young to relate to the teaching of Negro history.

“Maybe integration is not as important as it was first thought to be,” Agin said. “Maybe what we need is smaller classes and more quality education.”

the school’s non-teaching assistants came in. And as the door opened, the room became flooded with the sounds from the auditorium, just across the way.

Agin got up and walked across the hall to see what was going on. It was 
an assembly of the sixth-grade graduating class, some of whom had taken more than six years to make it. Many of them were white and some of them were black.

At the podium was a woman named 
Mrs. Flinker, who, if she weren’t leading the meeting, would make a 
good dowager in an English drawing room comedy.

Mrs. Flinker was telling the kids 
some of the great things in store for 
them at graduation. Things like a banquet and a full-length feature movie, 
and more. And as she mentioned 
each of them, the kids cheered and shrieked with delight.

And after the last hurrah had died, Mrs. Flinker led them all in a song they would be singing at graduation. 
The song is called “Good Neighbor”
 and it comes from the Southwest and 
it’s all about extending a friendly hand
 to the people across the Rio Grande. The words go, “Show we belong to one big happy family; good, good neighbors that are free.”

And when they finished singing the 
song, Mrs. Flinker was nice enough to 
point out the moral. “But we can’t be 
good neighbors to our friends across 
the Rio Grande until we are good 
friends with each other, now can we 
boys and girls?” she asked.

The boys and girls agreed.

And so this month, on graduation day, they will all stand on the stage 
as one, black and white together, and 
they will sing “Good Neighbor” and other songs of friendship and brotherhood.

And when it is all over, they will 
say good-bye, and the white kids will 
get their hugs and their presents from 
parents and grandparents, and the black kids will all get on the bus and 
go back where they came from.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: