...and an Amateur Historian's Quest for the Answers

Have you ever run across an old photo that worried the mess out of you trying to figure out just when and where it was taken, and you were determined to figure out the answer?

Well, that had been the case with me and the above photo, which had been passed along to me a number of years ago by a friend. Being that amateur historian that I am, my curiosity peaked as I tried to resolve a few obvious questions. Of course, that primary question being, "When and where was this photo taken?" I knew I remembered seeing that church in the background somewhere, but for the life of me I just couldn't remember where. Consequently, I began an intense search to find out not realizing at the time the photo's historical significance, which it turned out depicted a somewhat sad and unfortunate event in this region's history.

At first I was thrown off course by the signs "CARVER" which were displayed in the windows of the buses. Realizing that the African-American students visible in this photo obviously appeared to be of high-school age, I first began searching for the location of a former "Carver" High School in Detroit. I figured the sign identified the school the students attended, and if I could just locate Carver High, then everything else in this photo would fall right into place. Oh boy, was I way off track!!

After speaking with a number of older long-time Detroit residents, I soon began to discover that no one could remember a Carver High School. In addition, even a 1960s era Social Studies manual published by the Detroit Board of Education, which listed all of the then current "Senior" High Schools in Detroit, showed no listing of a Carver Senior High. Obviously, I had run into a brick wall.

Desperate, I decided to post the photo on the "Detroit Memories" discussion group website, which is located over in Yahoo! Groups. Finally, after some input from a few of the group members, the pieces began to all come together....although somewhat piecemeal at first.

I already knew that the photo had to be taken sometime prior to 1960, because I was familiar with the make of those DSR buses seen working the school runs. All of the buses pictured including lead coach #7648 were part of a fleet of 450 small-size 31-passenger coaches (#73117760) that were manufactured by the Checker Cab Manufacturing Corp. out of Kalamazoo, MI., and delivered to the DSR beginning in October of 1950. Since the last of those Checker buses were retired by the DSR in 1960, I was now able to narrow the time span of the photo down to within a ten year window.

The group members were first helpful in identifying the location of the photo. After a few guesses the mystery was solved! That large church visible in the background was identified as Little Rock Baptist Church located at 9000 Woodward Avenue at Josephine Street. During the time the photo was taken, the church was known as the Central Woodward Christian Church. With the church in the photo now having possibly been identified, it was just logical to assume that the students seen boarding the buses would be leaving Northern High School, which was (and still is) located just across Josephine Street to the north.

Of course, I had to drive over to the location, with photo in hand, to verify the information. And the info given was indeed correct, as the building itself has remained relatively unchanged after all these years. However, those homes located to the east of the church were no longer there. It turns out, the homes were all demolished sometime during the late seventies to make way for an addition built onto Northern High. The annex to the school was built extending southward from the main campus building and stretched across Josephine Street to behind the rear of the church.

THE LOCATION WAS SOLVED!! The main photo had been taken sometime during the 1950s, at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Josephine Street in Detroit, with the photographer looking east.

However, although the location had now been identified, my curiosity still lingered over a few unanswered questions which still remained regarding "Carver." ....Where were these students going??? Were they leaving some sporting event, or something along those lines, and were returning back to their high school home? But to where??? ...It couldn't be to a Carver High School in Detroit, since there seemed to be no supporting evidence that one ever existed.

Meanwhile, another member from that Detroit discussion group had done an online search on "Carver" and ran across a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision document which I had at first brushed off as not being related to the photo, since it only seemed to deal with a Carver (Elementary) School District located in a suburb outside of Detroit. It wasn't until I decided to browse over the document, to see what it was all about, that I realized that the pieces were beginning to come together.

I then ran across the following portion of the document which stopped me right in my tracks:
"At the time, Carver was an independent school district that had no high school because, according to the trial evidence, 'Carver District . . . did not have a place for adequate high school facilities.' Accordingly, arrangements were made with Northern High School in the abutting Detroit School District so that the Carver high school students could obtain a secondary school education."

That quotation came from a U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding an earlier 1971 Detroit cross-district busing case, in which Detroit and its suburban public schools were ordered to be integrated across district lines through busing.....a rather controversial decision back in that day. Apparently, the suburban Carver School District had been referenced during the original appeal case as a previous example of cross-district busing already having been tried in the region.

Another court opinion from that 1974 decision further stated:
"The Court of Appeals found record evidence that, in at least one instance during the period 1957-1958, Detroit served a suburban school district by contracting with it to educate its Negro high school students by transporting them away from nearby suburban white high schools, and past Detroit high schools which were predominantly white, to Negro or predominantly Negro Detroit schools."

After additional online research, I discovered that the above mentioned Carver School District was located in Royal Oak Township, a small half-mile square suburb located along W. Eight Mile Road, bordering the city of Detroit. Initially, most of the township belonged to the Oak Park Clinton School District. However, after an increased migration of African-Americans into the township during World War II, a decision was made to split the school district resulting in two racially segregated districts. This newly created "Carver School District" and its lone George Washington Carver Elementary School (built in 1945), located at 21272 Mendota Street now served the township's black students. Unfortunately, this newly formed school district could not support a local high school, and the immediate neighboring white suburbs (which included the cities of Ferndale and Oak Park) refused to accept the Carver graduates. As a result, the Carver School District contracted with the Detroit Public Schools and the Carver Elementary ninth-graders were bussed to Detroit's predominately black Northern High School as tuition students.

Unfortunately, the Carver School District fell behind in paying its student's tuition fees and owed the Detroit School District over $125,053 in back tuition money. Since the Carver District suffered from decreases in tax revenues, compounded by the recent looting of its school funds, it was in no position to pay. Consequently, the Detroit District decided in 1959 to no longer accept the township's tuition students. The district's school board then appealed to the adjacent predominantly all-white suburban districts, who once again rejected them, leaving the township's youngsters with no high school to attend. As a temporary solution, a one-room high school was established within George Washington Carver Elementary School. The school district's dilemma was even featured in a Sept. 5, 1960, national TIME Magazine article, titled "The Unwanted."

It was then that the significance of this photograph hit me and I was able to draw the following conclusions...

It's obvious to me now that the school name displayed in the bus windows was not the same school that the students were seen departing. The black students seen boarding the first fleet of buses belonged to the Carver School District. Because the district's only school, George Washington Carver Elementary, only went to the eighth grade, these students were bused cross-district by DSR buses to predominately black Northern High School in Detroit (school in photo), where they continued with their education.

Since it appears that this arrangement occurred between the years 1957 and 1959, it would logically date the photo sometime during that period. The "CARVER" signs located in the front windows of the buses, which threw me off course at first, displayed the return destination of the students which we now know to be Carver Elementary School in Royal Oak Township. Sadly, it was "de facto" racial segregation and those so-called "separate but equal" policies that loomed in the background when this photo was taken.

Wow!!! ...It's amazing how a seemingly innocent photo can yield so much history behind it.

ADDED FOOTNOTE: It should be noted here that through the initiative of then Michigan Governor G. Mennon Williams and others, the
Carver School District (which served the western portion of the township) was later annexed by the Oak Park School District in 1960.
The above information compiled from information gathered from, DSR and DDOT 1922-1980 bus roster info listings - courtesy of the Schramm Collection;
miscellaneous online "Opinion of the Court" documents from the July 25, 1974, U.S. Supreme Court decision of Milliken v. Bradley 1971 (including, but not
limited to the online Cornell Law School Supreme Court "
Collection"); TIME.com article Monday, Sep. 5, 1960, titled "The Unwanted" and other misc sources.
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For Comments & Suggestions Please Contact Site Owner at: admin@detroittransithistory.info
© 2006  (PAGE LAST MODIFIED ON 05-11-10, 01-27-14)
Although school-busing in Detroit was turned into an ugly word during the 1970s, busing children long distances to school had
been a long-time practice in the city of Detroit.  During the post-war years, when the city's population was approaching nearly
two million, Detroit bused over 5,200 children from fast-growing areas of the city to older areas where space was still available.  
In the above photo, taken in September, 1949, lead coach #3190 was one of 17 bus loads of DSR Ford Transit Buses used to
transport children to
(Phillip) Tappan Intermediate School, located at American and Elmhurst streets on the city's west
side.  The children can be seen here exiting DSR buses along American, between Tuxedo and Webb streets.
(Photo courtesy of the Sept. 19, 1949 edition of LIFE Magazine — see online version)
(Click-on photo to view larger image)
(Reformatted 01-27-14)
The unique website which takes a detailed look back at the History of Public Transportation in
and around the City of Detroit.
Although not pictured in the main photo above, Detroit's Northern Senior High School (located at 9026 Woodward at Holbrook)
accepted black students bussed cross-district from Royal Oak Twp. during the 1950s.  The right photo shows the Historic
Little Rock Baptist Church, which back then was known as Central Woodward Christian Church.  
(pinehurst19475 photos)
The location of this unidentified photo puzzled the owner of this website for nearly a year.  What follows on this web-page is
his account of how he uncovered the historical significance behind this seemingly innocent photo out of Detroit's past.
(Photo courtesy of the S. Sycko Photo Collection)