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Busing trailblazers reflect on impact of desegregation in Marion County schools

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Posted at 8:23 AM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-18 08:23:12-05

INDIANAPOLIS — More than 50 years ago the Justice Department forced the desegregation of Indianapolis schools. The change was introduced through a method called "busing" African American students to township schools.

Busing just ended here in Marion County back in 2016, which is when the mandate forcing black students to desegregate schools finally expired.

“A lot of people just didn't know how to receive African American students,” said Ursula Shelton.

Shelton was in Junior High and Lewis in high school. Fall 1981 was a year they'll never forget.

They were trailblazers. Shelton remembers agreeing to do an assignment that allowed her classmates and teachers to learn more about her background as a Black person. A project she says seemed to change even her teacher's outlook

“He came in the very end and thanked me and said that he didn't know how to take the busing because he thought we would come in with chains guns and bats but that’s all he saw,” said Shelton.

These two say that is what changed over time. Interacting with them opened minds and changed perspectives.

“Students got to know us and even though their parents might have been racist it changed their minds even if they were forcing that on them, they were like I hear you talking but I see them every day and they are not doing any of the stuff you are talking about,” said Lewis.

“They realized you are just like us. We want the same things. You want to eat, you want to have fun, you want to go play sports and all that other stuff,” said Lewis.

They believe stepping off that bus in 1981 played a role in helping Marion County step away from prejudice.