A Case of Mistaken Desegregation: Buses

Jun 12, 2016

In 1956, sixty years ago this year, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Hot Springs, and Fort Smith, all desegregated their public transportation systems by mistake. The complicated case of South Carolina Electric and Gas Company v. Flemming was misreported in the national press as heralding the end of bus segregation. A number of southern cities abandoned segregated buses because of this. Even after discovering their mistake, a number of bus companies, including Little Rock’s, decided to keep buses integrated anyway. “In practice, transit executives discovered, desegregation worked very well,” writes one historian. “Very few incidents arose between black and white passengers, and there was no loss of white patronage. Integration speeded up the loading and unloading of buses and freed drivers from the often troublesome burden of enforcing Jim Crow ordinances.”