In Race and Education in North Carolina: From Segregation to Desegregation, John E. Batchelor explores North Carolina's claim that by the 1970s, "99.5 percent of the state's black students were attending desegregated [End Page 477]schools" (p. 138). The book contends that the state achieved this level of school integration, despite its long segregationist history, while maintaining its image as moderate on race. Batchelor argues that although the state's wary political responses to the Brown v. Board of Education(1954) decision had little systemic impact on desegregation, federal court orders accelerated token black student reassignments and positioned North Carolina to achieve "more thorough school desegregation" than anywhere else in the South (p. 143).
Using case law, oral histories, and archival sources, Batchelor compares state policies after Brownwith judicial mandates, finding the latter had weightier consequences. The book's first half deals with the recommendations of the governor's advisory committee, which was responsible for compliance with Brownat the local level. This committee made it difficult for a single lawsuit to force desegregation of all North Carolina schools and resulted in only a trickle of black students into white schools. The second half of the book, while continuing to examine the failures of Pearsall committee policies like the Pupil Assignment Act (1955), details federal court judgments. Judges, "in obedience to the law," yielded to the Civil Rights Act (1964) and determined local desegregation plans unconstitutional (p. 85). Earlier cases like Morrow v. Mecklenburg County Board of Education(1961) and Wheeler v. Durham City Board of Education(1961) pushed local boards to integrate even as they proposed and implemented racist freedom-of-choice plans. The Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education(1971) decision on busing motivated both the establishment of a state-funded Technical Assistance Center for desegregation and support from white business and civic leaders. In the end, North Carolina achieved through the judiciary what it could not do politically.
Batchelor details the political machinations used to resist integration, including state constitutional amendments that eliminated compulsory attendance for any white child assigned to a school with black students. These received widespread public support and were later challenged by federal judges. However, in its efforts to demonstrate a peaceful movement toward "systemwide desegregation," particularly in the South, the book minimizes the impact of delegating compliance with Brownto the local level, a move that significantly stymied the NAACP legal strategy (p. 124). Additionally, in some places the book downplays the violence that happened in the state: both the rhetorical violence revealed in judges' opinions and political officials' statements that treated black inferiority as a foregone conclusion, and the physical and psychological violence experienced by students, including eggs thrown and crosses burned. Perhaps a deeper engagement with civil rights historiography, beyond William H. Chafe's Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Freedom Struggle(New York, 1980) could have helped Batchelor better situate his argument in a national context and consider the quotidian manifestations of Jim Crow violence.
Still, Race and Education in North Carolinadoes not profess to be a social history. It traces and then foregrounds the impact of legal decisions in the wake of Brownin North Carolina's struggle against its own moderate obstructionism. Batchelor's device for framing each chapter with a concise introduction and critical questions to be answered by the chapter will be helpful to undergraduate readers. Pairing this book with other recent titles that examine the movement for [End Page 478]educational equity, like Sarah Caroline Thuesen's Greater Than Equal: African American Struggles for Schools and Citizenship in North Carolina, 1919-1965(Chapel Hill, 2013), will provide students with both a lesson in historiography and a variegated look at the struggle for racial justice in North Carolina.