VOLUNTARY SCHOOL INTEGRATION: THE CHALLENGE
Story of Betty McAfee
Artists: Roosevelt Anderson, Lynn Orlando, and Bonnie Borucki
Writer: Bonnie Borucki
Original completed 2007
Link to full interview text
Link to original interview audio
In the summer of 1967 Betty McAfee and her family moved to Berkeley from Palo Alto, largely because they wanted to be part of Berkeley’s historic voluntary desegregation effort. Betty, at age 43, had just earned her teaching credential and was eager to work in the Berkeley Unified School District as it began to bring students together across racial and
Up until 1964 Berkeley’s schools were divided by lines that ran north and south, parallel to the hills and the Bay, which meant that children who lived near the Bay were in essentially all black schools and children who lived in the hills were in essentially all white schools. There was also an issue of class differences as the lines between affluence and poverty tended to run east and west. As the School Integration Committee struggled to create a plan to integrate the schools, they made a brilliant decision when they realized that if they turned the lines east and west, the schools would include diverse racial and class populations. By running busses up and down the hills, the District would be able to bring its students into integrated class settings.
It was a dramatic time, filled with political fire and energy. Everyone was challenged: teachers, administrators, parents and especially students. Betty wanted to be in the midst of this and wanted her children to experience the richness of diversity in a city willing to break ground in the nation’s
effort to integrate its schools. For all the years Betty worked in the Berkeley Schools the vision of an integrated school system was shadowed by the difficulties in bringing people of different racial, cultural and economic backgrounds together. The privilege of working within a school district that
was willing to take on that task was a source of inspiration to Betty. She felt she was making a difference in the lives of children and young people.
In the late sixties while Betty was earning her teaching credential at Cal State Hayward, she began to make Super8 films to help students with language development. At the same time, she began to discover the dormant artist in herself. She became fascinated with the power of film. Over time this evolved into a parallel career as a filmmaker and photographer, her work reflecting her passion for social justice and a deep interest in innovative education. One of her most exciting experiences was talking her Berkeley school films to show in the People’s Republic of China in 1973.
In 1968 Betty was hired to teach in the Berkeley Unified School District. Her work over the next twenty years included being a kindergarten teacher at Franklin Primary School, a Collaborative Problem-Solving Consultant, Media Teacher, Special Education Resource Teacher at King child Development Center and finally, helping design and implement an experimental program, “The Model School” in which children with and without disabilities were integrated. It was a rewarding, if challenging, end to her career when she retired from BUSD in 1987.
In 1979 Betty moved from the Berkeley hills to South Berkeley where she and her partner of 18 years love the diversity, neighbors, proximity to DAkT, South Berkeley Library, Berkeley Bowl and easy access to the rest of Berkeley. At age 81, Betty continues work as a photographer and multi-media producer. Living in Berkeley for almost go years Betty reflects with pleasure her love of this city: “It has been a perfect place for me to live the second half of my life. There is nothing I would rather be called than 'a Berkeley woman‘ ...and I would add to that ‘who lives on Oregon Street’.”