Civil Rights Tour: Education - Meyer Elementary School, Experiment in Busing

2501 11th Street NW

For a few years beginning in September 1968, Eugene Meyer Elementary School on 11th Street in the Columbia Heights neighborhood was party to a little-known partnership with Bannockburn Elementary in the nearby suburb of Bethesda, Maryland. That year, 19 students (17 of whom were black) were selected to be bused every morning from Meyer to Bannockburn for what was described as "a dual purpose: to provide at least a small group of inner-city children with the quality education available in the suburban schools and help prepare suburban children for life in a multiracial society."

Activist Julius Hobson had drawn attention to the disinvestment and overcrowding in DC's mostly black schools when he brought a lawsuit against D.C. Public School Superintendent Carl Hansen. The 1967 decision in the case ordered the city to equalize funding, end its segregationist tracking system, integrate school faculties, require white students to attend their neighborhood schools, and provide transportation for students in crowded schools east of Rock Creek Park to under-enrolled schools west of the Park.

Busing students at Meyer Elementary School to Bannockburn Elementary School in Bethesda began simultaneously with the city's busing black students to white schools within the city. For the 1968 school year, first-, second-, and third-graders at Meyer joined around 491 white and nine black Bannockburn students. The Meyer students were distributed among various classrooms and were meant to stay through sixth grade. Additional students from Meyer joined Bannockburn's first grade in ensuing years. Bannockburn families volunteered to "adopt" the Meyer students for extracurricular and weekend activities, although busing was not provided beyond the school day.

The program was deemed a success by many who participated, but members of the U.S. House and Senate District committees essentially supported segregation and used their control of the District's budget to obstruct busing. However, it was ultimately DC's school board—the city's only elected arm of government—that abruptly canceled the program in 1971, just after the new school year had begun. A panel of judges sided with this decision, citing the board's concern that the arrangement "had not cultivated a two-way educational experience," since white pupils from Bannockburn were not bused to Meyer.

The Meyer Elementary School building, still a DC public building, is now home to the Capitol Hill Montessori at Eugene Meyer Elementary School.