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reviews Our regular review section features some of the best new books, films, and sound recordings in southern studies. From time to time, you'll also find reviews of important new museum exhibitions and public history sites, and retrospectives on classic won\s that continue to shape our understanding of the region and its people. Our aim is to explore the rich diversity of southern life and the methods and approaches of those who study it. Please write us to share your suggestions, or to add your name to our reviewer file. Reading, Writing, and Race The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools By Davison M. Douglas University ofNorth Carolina Press, 199 5 3 57 PP- Cloth, $39.95; paper, $1 5.95 Reviewed by Robert A. Pratt, associate professor ofhistory at the University ofGeorgia. He is the author of The Color OfTheir Skin: Education andRace in Richmond, Virginia, 1914-89, and is currendy working on a history ofthe desegregation of the University of Georgia. Over the past twenty years, numerous scholars have examined in considerable detail the desegregation experiences ofurban school systems throughout the United States. Understandably, the Supreme Court's 1971 decision to allow busing as a desegregation tool has been the focal point ofmany of these studies. When die success ofdesegregation is measured in terms ofthe level ofintegration achieved, community support for public education, die burden ofbusing imposed disproportionately on black students, and white flight from public school systems, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that desegregation in general (and busing in particular ) has been a failure. In his careful examination ofschool desegregation in Charlotte, North Carolina , William and Mary law professor Davison M. Douglas argues that, owing to various factors, school desegregation in Charlotte worked better than it did—or could have—in most other major urban areas. Douglas has built upon the best studies of desegregation over the past two decades to provide a thorough analysis of the social, political, and economic forces at work in the city in the years leading up to the Supreme Court's decision in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg. The result is a work that is at once provocative and engaging. 119 Like the rest of the South, North Carolina had a long tradition of segregation in education. When the Supreme Court handed down die Brown decision, North Carolina proved no more willing than its southern neighbors to accept a new social order without offering some resistance. But the state's response to the Court's decision differed from the rest ofthe South in some important ways. No public school was ever closed in North Carolina to avoid desegregation, and no student ever received a private school tuition grant, although other states provided diem for thousands ofstudents. This "moderate" response to Brown, however, did not mean diat state and local officials were prepared to welcome black children into the state's all-white schools. Quite the contrary: Throughout the 1950s and most of die 1960s, North Carolina maintained one of the most thoroughly segregated school systems in the country. State officials were politically savvy enough to realize that defiant posturing would only invite further judicial interference and increase the level of race-mixing; but a "token" desegregation plan, wherein only a handful of black students were assigned to white schools, could succeed in forestalling desegregation for another generation. When unaccompanied by defiant rhetoric (such as the "massive resistance" campaign waged in Virginia and elsewhere), tokenism proved to be a successful strategy in limiting desegregation. North Carolina's low-keyed tactics allowed it to be seen in a differentlight than the rest of the South, and the state effectively promoted its "progressive" image. Similarly, Charlotte, one of the most racially segregated cities in America in 1954, won national acclaim as a "moderate" southern city because of the token desegregation of some ofits schools in the years immediately following die Brown decision . For years, Charlotte school officials assigned just enough black students to white schools to avoid federal government scrutiny. To be sure, many white Charlotteans opposed any desegregation at all, but die city's business and political leaders refused to allow racial demagoguery to tarnish the city's progressive image. And...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 119-122
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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