The Supreme Court agreed, unanimously endorsing busing as a legitimate means of unraveling the segregation of children by race. The 1971 decision launched an explosive chapter in American history, touching off a long and polarizing battle that set public opinion against busing for decades, even as the programs succeeded in promoting integration.

Later, evidence would emerge that busing improved outcomes for black students, with no harm to white students. But that evidence came far too late to change public perceptions of a program that was hugely unpopular among whites and left blacks divided…

“No one is really for compulsory busing today. Public opinion was never for compulsory busing,” said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a think tank that supports integration.

“Desegregation was highly successful. It provided a way to raise academic achievement for African Americans that was far more successful than anything we’ve tried since,” Kahlenberg said. “At the same time, it was a politically problematic way of achieving the goal.”