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Darius Swann, who fought for school integration, dies at 95

FILE - In this May 15, 1972, file photo, unidentified students of West Charlotte High School leave a bus in Charlotte, W.Va. A man whose challenge to the notion of segregated public schools helped spark the use of busing to integrate schools has died at his Virginia home. The Rev. Darius L. Swann was 95. Swann's wife, Vera, said her husband died on March 8, 2020, of pneumonia. (AP Photo/Harold L. Valentine, File)
FILE - In this May 15, 1972, file photo, unidentified students of West Charlotte High School leave a bus in Charlotte, W.Va. A man whose challenge to the notion of segregated public schools helped spark the use of busing to integrate schools has died at his Virginia home. The Rev. Darius L. Swann was 95. Swann's wife, Vera, said her husband died on March 8, 2020, of pneumonia. (AP Photo/Harold L. Valentine, File) (Copyright 1972 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The Rev. Darius L. Swann, whose challenge to the notion of segregated public schools helped spark the use of busing to integrate schools across the country, has died at his Virginia home. He was 95.

The Rev. David Ensign, interim pastor at Burke Presbyterian Church, where Swann's family attended church, confirmed in an email that Swann died on March 8.

Swann's wife, Vera, told The Washington Post that her husband died of pneumonia.

On Sept. 2, 1964, Swann wrote a letter to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board, asking that his son James be allowed to attend Seversville School, two blocks from his home, rather than the all-black Biddleville School, which was more than twice as far away. He was allowed to argue his case at a subsequent meeting of the school board, which suggested that the Swanns enroll James in Biddleville, then request a transfer.

The Swanns said no thanks.

"We figured that the system was really protecting segregation," Swann told The Associated Press in an interview in 2000. "What they wanted to do was decide things on a case-by-case basis, when what they needed to do was change the whole system; there was a systemic problem."

Enlisting the support of local activist Reginald Hawkins and civil rights attorney Julius Chambers, Swann sued the school system in January 1965. While they pursued their legal fight, the Swanns enrolled James and his younger sister, Edith, in a private Lutheran school. After one year there, the Swanns moved their children to Eastover, a public school in the affluent, predominantly white Myers Park neighborhood.

Chambers continued the lawsuit even after the Swanns moved to New York, where Swann and his wife worked at Columbia University, and later to Hawaii before moving to India, where he researched Asian theater.