Was Mayor Young right? I don’t know. But none of the modern progressives criticizing his position know, either. He dealt with these decisions in real time, addressing the concerns of real people. It was a complicated, messy problem with no perfect solution. It’s incredibly patronizing to claim that people like Coleman Young “didn’t get it,” even with the arrogance of hindsight. When that hindsight ignores a complex and often inconvenient history, it isn’t just patronizing; it’s shameful.
Coleman Young and Joe Biden were both deeply committed to civil rights, integration and equality. They had, however, a different view on the best way to achieve that than do the latest crop of progressive activists. A little humility is called for. For us, forced busing was something we read about in history books. Donald Trump doesn’t even know what it is. But for Young and Biden, it was a lived experience. We can’t say we would have unquestionably come to a different decision had we been in their shoes.
There is a grubby and unpleasant political feel to these attacks. On Friday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson criticized Biden’s long-ago opinions on busing, claiming that he was on “the wrong side of history.” Many progressives know nothing about forced busing except what they’ve read on the internet. But Jackson is old enough to know just how divided the black community was.