Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools

Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools

Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools

Transforming the Elite: Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools


When traditionally white public schools in the South became sites of massive resistance in the wake of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, numerous white students exited the public system altogether, with parents choosing homeschooling or private segregationist academies. But some historically white elite private schools opted to desegregate. The black students that attended these schools courageously navigated institutional and interpersonal racism but ultimately emerged as upwardly mobile leaders. Transforming the Elite tells this story. Focusing on the experiences of the first black students to desegregate Atlanta's well-known The Westminster Schools and national efforts to diversify private schools, Michelle A. Purdy combines social history with policy analysis in a dynamic narrative that expertly re-creates this overlooked history.

Through gripping oral histories and rich archival research, this book showcases educational changes for black southerners during the civil rights movement including the political tensions confronted, struggles faced, and school cultures transformed during private school desegregation. This history foreshadows contemporary complexities at the heart of the black community's mixed feelings about charter schools, school choice, and education reform.


As far as recommending Westminster to other black students,
the consensus was to recommend it to a group of blacks and not to
send a black student here by himself.

—MALCOLM ryder, black alum, Westminster Class of 1972

What they did was incredibly courageous. I don’t know how
they did it day in and day out.

—HILL martin, white alum, Westminster Class of 1972

In the fall of 1967, the parents of seven black students—Bill Billings, Dawn Clark, Isaac Clark, Janice Kemp, Michael McBay, Jannard Wade, and Wanda Ward—brought them to a new school—a historically white elite private school—nestled on the north side of Atlanta off of the tree-lined two-lane West Paces Ferry Road. Coming from the West End and Southwest Atlanta neighborhoods, they saw the Atlanta landscape change from moderate and well-kept black working- and middle-class family homes to the downtown skyscrapers to larger, more sprawling homes of white middleand upper-class families in Buckhead, an area of Atlanta now popularly known for its luxurious homes, fine dining, and upscale shopping. Not far from their new school, workers were building the new Georgia governor’s mansion styled after Greek Revival design on West Paces Ferry Road. Upon arriving to their new campus, they found school facilities unlike what they had experienced at their segregated black schools; their new school was also not like Atlanta’s segregated white public schools. When their parents dropped them off, in front of them was a 180-acre space to learn, to play, to change, to face challenges, and to achieve. They found an administration building (later to be named Pressly Hall) at the center of campus, distinguished by its white columns, grand double staircase, and vaulted ceiling. the older students would spend a good part of their day in college-like academic buildings, such as Askew and Campbell Halls, which housed the then separate boys’ and girls’ schools for the upper grades. the younger students attended classes in Scott Hall, which was across from the administration building, Askew, and Campbell and connected to the administration . . .

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