I discovered that the New York State Chairperson of the N.A.A.C.P. was concerned that I might be taking some of the “glory” away from her organization so I called her to try to allay her fears. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that her motives were not the same as mine; she was only concerned with how it would “look” if the Civil Liberties Union rather than the N.A.A.C.P. brought the action. I told her this wouldn’t be a problem, that I would be willing to handle the case in the name of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Civil Liberties Union. This didn’t seem to make things better and she told me she would think about my proposal. I told her that I was planning to file my papers the following Monday.
She had her lawyers work fast and they filed papers on the Friday before my scheduled filing. She was hoping to get the publicity out of this case at the expense of the Civil Liberties Union but, despite her best efforts, it didn’t work out that way. The N.A.A.C.P. papers were abysmal. They misstated the facts of the case and sought relief that made no sense. The attorney for the N.A.A.C.P. was quite bright but he wasn’t given adequate time to put together a decent set of papers. Had the NYS Commissioner of Education taken these papers seriously, they would have undermined the position of the black residents of the Malverne School District. But, as it turned out, the papers were so bad that the Commissioner decided to disregard the submission from the N.A.A.C.P. entirely. As a practical matter, their lawyer became completely dependent upon me to “lead the charge.”
Our initiating petition set forth the history of the school district and the racism of the white community in discontinuing the busing for the Lakeview students which, we argued, was part of the larger agreed-upon plan for racial integration. We claimed the black students suffered great hardships, having, for example, to cross wide avenues on their way to school, to walk across the Long Island Railroad tracks, and to walk in all kinds of inclement weather. The kids often arrived at school half frozen or wet and sometimes had to miss school altogether. At times they were dependent on getting to school by a private bus which wasn’t a bus at all but only a van in which up to twenty kids were crammed. Moreover, neither of the two elementary schools served lunch and there was no time for the black students to go back and forth to their homes for lunch. As a result, we claimed, by placing this intolerable burden of integration exclusively on the black community it was acting in an unacceptable, immoral, unlawful, and unconstitutional manner and was denying the black children the best of educational opportunities and the opportunity to develop to their full potential. In essence, their actions constituted a denial of equal educational opportunities.
It took a long time to figure out what relief we were actually going to ask for. Clearly, we would ask that the district be required to fund busing just the way the State did from 1967 to 1971. We called on the Commissioner of Education to find that the requested transportation constituted an “ordinary contingent expense” within the meaning of Section 202.3 of the Education law which would, in effect, require the district to provide the busing at the expense of the taxpayers of the district. We also decided to “scare the pants off” the larger white community.
If the Commissioner did not think he could force the local taxpayers to pay for the reinstitution of the original busing plan, we requested that the original Princeton Plan (as recommended by the Commissioner in 1963) to be reinstituted, i.e. that the Lakeview School be reopened and that the kids in the entire school district therefore attend all three schools. There was no doubt in our minds that this was the last thing in the world that the larger white community wanted. Alternately, we suggested they remedy the situation by reopening the Lakeview School and closing one of the two other schools so that the white kids would be “bussed into” the black neighborhood. We were sure the white community wouldn’t like that either.