Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality

Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality

Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality

Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality

Synopsis

At a time when race and inequality dominate national debates, the story of West Charlotte High School illuminates the possibilities and challenges of using racial and economic desegregation to foster educational equality. West Charlotte opened in 1938 as a segregated school that embodied the aspirations of the growing African American population of Charlotte, North Carolina. In the 1970s, when Charlotte began court-ordered busing, black and white families made West Charlotte the celebrated flagship of the most integrated major school system in the nation. But as the twentieth century neared its close and a new court order eliminated race-based busing, Charlotte schools resegregated along lines of class as well as race. West Charlotte became the city's poorest, lowest-performing high school--a striking reminder of the people and places that Charlotte's rapid growth had left behind. While dedicated teachers continue to educate children, the school's challenges underscore the painful consequences of resegregation.

Drawing on nearly two decades of interviews with students, educators, and alumni, Pamela Grundy uses the history of a community's beloved school to tell a broader American story of education, community, democracy, and race--all while raising questions about present-day strategies for school reform.

Excerpt

When you feel as if you belong, as if you have a reason for being
there, you feel protected. You feel encouraged. Thriving, existing,
living vibrantly—you feel encouraged to do that. and that’s what
I think West Charlotte provided for so many people. … You have
evidence of people belonging to something, and being a part of
something, and not having to make excuses for it. and you can see
how the human spirit thrives.

John love jr., class of 1980

The end-of-school buzzer sounds, and West Charlotte High School’s students emerge into the early-summer heat. Clusters form as they wait for buses and for rides, cell phones in hands, muted conversations broken now and then by laughter. a handful of girls teases a tall boy standing in their midst; another boy, eyes on the giggling group, leans down to wipe a fleck of dirt from the white leather of his two-tone sneakers. a stone lion, mane swept back from an impassive face, presides over the scene. a lion has been West Charlotte’s mascot since the school opened its doors in 1938, a time when the banking mecca of Charlotte, North Carolina, was a midsized textile center, and ambitious African Americans from across the region flocked to the segregated neighborhoods on the city’s west side in search of jobs and opportunity.

The history of West Charlotte High School tells a dramatic story of triumph and struggle. During its first three decades, it served the African American families who built Charlotte’s west side neighborhoods. Despite the constraints of Jim Crow segregation, it gave shape to a striving commu-

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