1920 - 2020
All photos for the project have been provided by our community partner, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library | Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room | CMStory
After Slavery Ended in 1865...
Black families were eager to educate their children. They believed education would create social mobility. Black churches immediately began creating schools.
April 7, 1867
Biddle Memorial Institute (now Johnson C. Smith University) was established as the first college for Blacks in Charlotte.
The first free public schools funded by tax dollars opened in Charlotte. South Graded School was for White students and Myers Street School was for Black students.
May 18, 1896
The Plessy vs. Ferguson Supreme Court Case ruled that racial segregation was appropriate as long as society was "separate but equal." This ruling included schools as places where racial segregation could occur.
Built in 1883, Biddle Memorial Hall is the oldest and historic building at the center of the Johnson C. Smith University campus.
There were no junior (middle) or high schools that existed in Charlotte. Most Black children were only taught what was known then as the 3 R's (reading, writing, and arithmetic) and received just six grades of education compared to twelve grades for White children. Education was spearheaded and led by the Black community. They raised money to build their own schools and created their own curriculums. Also, Black schools did not have the same resources as White schools. Funding was decided by politicians and city leaders who were White at the time.
Second Ward High School, the first high school for African American students in Charlotte, NC was opened.
West Charlotte opened as the 2nd all-Black high school with 389 students.
Second Ward High School opened in 1920 as the first Black High School in Charlotte located in the historic Brooklyn neighborhood which was later demolished.
May 17, 1954
The Brown v. Board of Education court case ruled that it was unconstitutional to segregate public schools. Led by attorney, Thurgood Marshall, the case proved that “separate-but-equal” education was not equal at all.
Integration efforts began nationally with Black children entering into White schools to attend school. For example, students of the Little Rock 9 were escorted to Central High in Little Rock, Arkansas under the orders of President Eisenhower.
Sept. 4, 1957
Four Black students enrolled in all-White schools in Charlotte, NC. The students were Delois Huntley, Gus Roberts, Girvaud Roberts, and Dorothy Counts. The mistreatment of Dorothy Counts at Harding High School made national news.
Dorothy Counts is taunted and spit on by White students on her first day at Harding High School in Charlotte. This photo made national news.
Feb. 15, 1958
KKK members are arrested on their way to bomb a Charlotte school.
The city and county schools in Charlotte combine into one district. While there
were still 88 segregated schools at the time (57 all-White and 31 all-Black schools), integration was now more possible because it eliminated the chances of White flight from schools.
Apr. 23, 1969
Judge McMillan demands the Charlotte school board end segregated schools.
He appoints Dr. John Finger to create a plan which later causes several Black schools to close down.
Second Ward High School is torn down due to the urban renewal initiative to build new businesses and a highway uptown.
A photo of Delois Huntley who integrated Alexander Graham Junior High in Charlotte in 1957.
April 20, 1971
With the Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg
Board of Education case the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously upheld busing programs that aimed to speed up the racial integration of public schools in the United States.
Phillip Berry is elected as the first African American to the Char-Meck School Board (Phillip O. Berry High School will later be named after him for his achievements).
October 15, 1974
Charlotte is nationally recognized as
"The City that Made Integration Work" through the busing model and is eventually recognized as one of the most integrated school systems in the nation.
Julius Chambers was the Charlotte attorney who represented the Swann family in the national Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case which led to school bussing.
May 4, 1980
The US Department of Education is established and begins operating to
"coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on US schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights."
Sarah Mingo Stevenson becomes the first Black woman elected to the Char-Meck school board.
March 31, 1992
The Char-Meck school board votes unanimously to open magnet schools throughout the state as a busing alternative to attract White students to schools in Black neighborhoods "by choice."
West Charlotte students meeting with students from Boston in 1974.
Sept. 11, 1999
Judge Robert Potter rules in the Cappachione case to end forced busing. This is a pivotal case that caused a surge of resegregation by race and income through neighborhood school assignments in Charlotte.
Char-Meck Schools create a new neighborhood assignment plan.
Dr. James L. Pughsley becomes the first Black superintendent for the Charlotte Mecklenburg School System and experiences several challenges.
Jan. 8, 2002
President Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, giving additional funding and requiring more accountability to schools. This Act included the flagship Title 1 program.
Former President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 which required more standardized testing for schools to receive federal funds. (Photo Credit: The Atlantic)
Project L.I.F.T. launches in Charlotte to improve schools in Black low-income neighborhoods.
A Harvard University and UC Berkeley study ranked Charlotte-Meck 50th out of 50 in large cities to experience upward mobility for children born into poverty and remaining in poverty through adulthood.
Graduation rates drop in low-income Black communities and a report recognizes Char-Meck Schools as the most racially and economically segregated in North Carolina.
CMS Board of Education votes to rename Zebulon B. Vance High School to Julius L. Chambers High School. Chambers was a civil rights attorney that fought for school desegregation in Charlotte.
Photo of the front of Zebulon B. Vance High School. The school opened in 1996 and was named after the confederate military officer and former governer of North Carolina.