Reading, Writing & Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools

Reading, Writing & Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools

Reading, Writing & Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools

Reading, Writing & Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools


Using Charlotte, North Carolina, as a case study of the dynamics of racial change in the 'moderate' South, Davison Douglas analyzes the desegregation of the city's public schools from the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision through the early 1970s, when the city embarked upon the most ambitious school busing plan in the nation. In charting the path of racial change, Douglas considers the relative efficacy of the black community's use of public demonstrations and litigation to force desegregation. He also evaluates the role of the city's white business community, which was concerned with preserving Charlotte's image as a racially moderate city, in facilitating racial gains.

Charlotte's white leadership, anxious to avoid economically damaging racial conflict, engaged in early but decidedly token integration in the late 1950s and early 1960s in response to the black community's public protest and litigation efforts. The insistence in the late 1960s on widespread busing, however, posed integration demands of an entirely different magnitude. As Douglas shows, the city's white leaders initially resisted the call for busing but eventually relented because they recognized the importance of a stable school system to the city's continued prosperity.


Race, today as much as ever, is the American dilemma. For over three centuries, since a Dutch ship brought twenty Africans to Jamestown in 1619, America has struggled with the question of how to square the oppressive treatment of African Americans with the American credo of equality under law. For most of this nation’s history, white society has maintained legal superiority over African Americans. Until the Civil War, the ownership of black slaves enjoyed legal protection throughout the American South. Although the war’s conclusion carried with it the promise of freedom, that promise proved hollow. a system of enforced racial separation in various aspects of public and private life emerged during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and persisted until the 1950s and 1960s. Although by the early 1960s, most of the explicit governmentmandated segregation had been eliminated, the legacy of centuries of discrimination left the nation divided—economically, culturally, and even geographically—along racial lines.

Since the end of the Civil War, the African American community in this country has struggled to secure for itself the promise of equality seemingly guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Those efforts enjoyed little success, however, until the middle decades of the twentieth century. White state legislatures and school boards consistently viewed demands for equal treatment as unwanted intrusions into the southern way of life. At the same time, the African American community lacked sufficient resources and power to challenge the racial status quo. the courts, the one institution specifically committed to the vindication of constitutional rights, offered little relief to black litigants until the middle of the twentieth century.

Since the 1940s and 1950s, however, there has been a profound reordering of the legal and social order in this country around issues of race. Indeed, the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s constituted one of the most significant social and political readjustments in this nation’s history. Scholars have differed over the primary impetus for these changes. Many have focused on the role of national civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King, or the actions of national civil rights organizations, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and the Student . . .

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