The Rev. Darius L. Swann, whose efforts to send his young son to a racially integrated school in Charlotte spurred a Supreme Court decision that unanimously endorsed busing, igniting a national debate over tactics to unravel segregation in public schools, died March 8 in Centreville, Va. He was 95. The cause was pneumonia, said his wife, Vera Swann. 

Ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the late 1940s, Rev. Swann became the denomination’s first black missionary in a non-African country, spending three years in China before traveling to India with his wife, a fellow missionary.
They had just moved to Charlotte when, in 1964, they attempted to send their son James to Seversville Elementary, an integrated school a few blocks from their home. The 6-year-old returned in tears, with a note from the principal explaining that his family needed to send him to an all-black school down the road before they could apply to transfer him to an integrated school.
An undated photo of Rev. Swann and his wife, fellow missionary Vera Swann.
An undated photo of Rev. Swann and his wife, fellow missionary Vera Swann. (Courtesy of Presbyterian Church (USA))
That note launched the Swanns on a legal odyssey that saw them become the lead plaintiffs in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, a 1971 Supreme Court case in which the justices upheld court-ordered busing in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district and opened the gates for the use of busing as a desegregation tool nationwide.
In the years that followed, protests and occasional riots broke out against busing, which infuriated many white families and divided African Americans who typically bore the brunt of the effort, riding buses that took them to predominantly white neighborhoods. Public opinion turned sharply against the measure even though it was found to promote racial integration, with evidence emerging that it improved outcomes for black students at no cost to their white peers.
[Effective but never popular, court-ordered busing is a relic few would revive]
Subsequent court rulings dismantled busing programs around the country, although the system became a source of civic pride during the nearly three decades it lasted in Charlotte. “Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s proudest achievement of the past 20 years is not the city’s impressive skyline or its strong, growing economy,” the Charlotte Observer wrote in a 1984 editorial. “Its proudest achievement is its fully integrated schools.”
By the time the Supreme Court issued its busing ruling, Rev. Swann and his family were long gone from North Carolina, having moved to New York, Hawaii and finally India, where Rev. Swann was completing his research for a doctorate in Asian theater. He later taught religion and drama at George Mason University in Virginia and the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
“Of course we were pleased — a little progress has been made,” Vera Swann said by phone, recalling the court ruling. “But we knew the system. It didn’t mean that everything was rosy and so forth. It meant that it was a start. We could accept that, as long as the courts were supporting the judgment.”