Columbia Film Festival

The Tower Road Bus

Expired June 19, 2022 3:59 AM
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Fifty years after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of busing children to achieve racial integration in schools, The Tower Road Bus revisits the unresolved stories of African-American students and educators thrust into all-white schools during the 1970s.

Against the backdrop of violent anti-busing protests across the nation, Dotson Burns, Jr, a child of Jim Crow-ridden Fort Worth, Texas, lands on the frontlines of school integration, first as a teacher and then as the first Black principal of a majority-white school in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Mindful of the eyes of white parents and the suspicions of Black students and families, he must oversee the busing of frustrated Black students from the historically-Black community of Tower Road to the mostly white Crestview Elementary School.

It was a sweeping integration experiment that created more questions than answers. “Why did you need to move me so that you could diversify another school so they could say that they had Black students?” asks a former Black pupil caught up in the difficult transition. “You didn’t do anything to help me.”

While debates over racial justice and equity reach a boil in 2021, The Tower Road Bus brings Burns, his teachers and students, and the audience face to face with the ambitious yet controversial integration measures that seized the national agenda 50 years ago and continue to mold our conversation around equity. Were there winners on the frontlines of integration? The Tower Road Bus seeks an answer.

Director Biography - Michael Streissguth

Michael Streissguth lists numerous film credits: Nighthawks on the Blue Highway (2016, writer and director); Record Paradise (writer and director, 2012); Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison (2008, writer and producer); Ken Burns’ Country Music (program advisor, 2019). His latest book City on the Edge: Hard Choices in the American Rust Belt was published in 2020. A native of Washington DC, he is a professor of Communications and Film Studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY.

Director Statement

Eight years ago, I began work on The Tower Road Bus, envisioning a documentary film about understanding between Black people and white people as a result of court-ordered school integration at Crestview Elementary School, which I attended, near Washington D.C. America’s disappointing attempts to address racial justice notwithstanding, I believed the story of integration could be held up as a candle of hope in a polarized world, a realization of the aspirations invested in the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

However, I soon discovered the story was far more complicated than I imagined. After interviews with the former principal of the school, Dotson Burns, Jr., who was the first African-American to helm a majority-white school in Prince George’s County, and former students who attended the elementary school, I saw the resentment that some still harbored at having to be part of the school integration experiment. I quickly understood that although some feelings of progress prevailed among Black former students uprooted from their community-based schools, the busing experience had been trying. “I felt like I was part of a science experiment,” said one interviewee. Stories of struggle and sacrifice from the busing era of the 1970s, informed by earlier eras of profound racial bigotry, became the focus of The Tower Road Bus.

As discussions around racial equity arise in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, I hope The Tower Road Bus will bring audiences face to face with the ramifications of the ambitious yet controversial practice of school busing and our nation’s labored efforts to realize justice.

  • Year
  • Runtime
  • Language
  • Country
    United States
  • Director
    Michael Streissguth
  • Screenwriter
    Michael Streissguth
  • Producer
    Amy Miller Bailey, Walter Benson, William Brower, Kate Cogswell, Mary Day, Stefon Greene, Marilyn Maultsby, David McCallum, Robert Spencer
  • Executive Producer
    Richard Ranftle, Gabriel Rich
  • Cinematographer
    Michael Barletta
  • Editor
    Mike Majoros