It was a headline-making moment during the June Democratic debates. Senator Kamala Harris called out former Vice-President Joe Biden for a position he took on busing during the 1970s.
“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” Harris said. “And that little girl was me.”
Though Brown v. Board of Education was decided in May 1954, it wasn’t until 1967 that the superintendent in Berkeley, California, proclaimed that the city would be a model for school desegregation. By 1968 it became the first major city to attempt the practice. And by 1971 Harris was one of the first students her hometown placed on buses to attend schools that were once composed of only White students.
The desegregation of Berkeley’s schools was filmed for ABC News in 1972; now, rare footage of the tumultuous times will be re-aired as part of Nightline‘s 2020 candidate profile on Senator Harris, adding to the series “The Contenders at 20.” The series puts a spotlight on some of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates before they became the politicians we know them as today. The profiles includes interviews with family and friends, as well as others who knew them during their formative years.
Included in the special airing tonight on ABC’s Nightline are interviews with Harris’s childhood friends. Carole J. Porter was Harris’s neighbor in West Berkeley. Starting in the first grade, the two grade-schoolers were bused together. Porter says in the ABC News Nightline interview that from 1971 to 1973 the young girls were among the first Black students to attend Thousand Oaks school.
“To be able to be bused and go into this other environment, it transports you into a whole other little, you know, universe. It just expands your mind,” Porter says. She also adds that the 2020 Democratic candidate was always happy, talking and singing songs.
According to Porter, before Harris became San Francisco’s district attorney or California’s attorney general, she exhibited behaviors that would manifest in her future positions.
“If the bus driver needed to say something and the kids were talking,” Porter says, “Kamala would make sure, you know, people tamped down so that everyone can listen to what the bus driver was saying.”
She also insists that Harris was a keen listener: “She was paying attention. She wasn’t talking. You know, some of the kids might be in the back talking. She was listening. She was listening to the story.”
Friend Stacey Johnson-Batiste contends being bused changed the senator’s life. “Had she not been bused, you know, her life could have taken a totally different course,” she says.