Schools and Civil Rights

Schools and Civil Rights – Charlotte’s history in national context
Prepared by Tom Hanchett for Levine Museum of the New South

1954 – Brown v Board of Education of Topeka Kansas
Supreme Court declared segregated schools unconstitutional.
Actually 5 cases. First was filed in Clarendon County, SC, by the De Laine family, who now live in Charlotte – subject of the exhibit COURAGE by Levine Museum of the New South, on permanent display at JCSU Library.

1957 – Dorothy Counts, Gus Roberts, Girvaud Roberts & Delois Huntley
entered white schools in Charlotte.
Desegregation was peaceful in Charlotte compared to places like Little Rock, where the National Guard was called out the same month in 1957.

1971 – Swann v Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education
Supreme Court said that busing could be used to create racial balance.
The lawsuit was filed by Charlotte attorney Julius Chambers in 1966. Local judge James McMillan decided in his favor. The US Supreme Court confirmed McMillan’s decision – THE national landmark ruling in favor of busing for racial balance.

1999 – Potter Decision ends busing for racial balance in Charlotte
In response to a lawsuit by a group of white parents including William Capacchione and Larry Gauvreau, Judge Robert Potter ruled that race no longer could be used in CMS pupil assignment.
Potter declared CMS to be “unitary,” i.e. that historic effects of legal segregation had been erased.

2000s – Back to “neighborhood schools” for Charlotte
CMS settled into a pupil assignment system based largely on geography.
Some schools remained mixed, but many were re-segregating. By 2005-2006, of 90 elementary schools, 31 had fewer than 10% whites, 12 had fewer than 10% blacks.

Two must-read books on Charlotte’s school desegregation story:

Frye Gaillard, The Dream Long Deferred: The Landmark Struggle for Desegregation in Charlotte. (U South Carolina Press, 2005) This 3rd edition brings the story up to the 2000s.

Matthew Lassiter, Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South. (Princeton, 2007) Focus on busing, compares Charlotte with other cities.

See also:
Davison Douglas, Reading, Writing & Race. Scholarly history of Charlotte’s busing.
Stephen Smith, Boom for Whom? Charlotte political history, focus on the busing era.
Thomas Hanchett, Sorting Out the New South City. How Charlotte got segregated.