A few weeks ago NY public radio station WNYC presented a fascinating documentary special called Back of the Bus: Mass transit, race and inequality.
The article, also available as a free MP3 download, examines the tangled history of the civil rights movement and public transit in our country. While exploring how the drive for equal access to public transportation and the resulting bus boycotts of the 1950s galvanized the civil rights movement, the article shows how the creation of the seemingly unrelated interstate highway system ultimately left many low-income black communities in the lurch when freeways destroyed homes and divided neighborhoods.
“At the same time we were doing Brown v. Board of Education and trying to integrate the school system,” says Angela Glover Blackwell, the head of PolicyLink, “we were investing billions of dollars in a highway system that segregated the nation by allowing people to be able to run away from urban areas that were integrated to suburban areas that were all white.”
The article goes on to talk about gentrification and the increasing demand for walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods. There is so much to unpack in this thoughtful presentation of some very complicated ideas. Be sure to check out http://www.transportationnation.org/backofthebus/ for a slideshow and an interactive mass transit and civil rights timeline.