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How America's Most Integrated School Segregated Again

A new book tracks how a Charlotte, North Carolina, high school went from an integration success story to the city’s most isolated and impoverished school.
West Charlotte High School students pose together in 1972. "We don't have any serious problems, and if we did we would work them out," said Kevin Barris, top left, at the time.
West Charlotte High School students pose together in 1972. "We don't have any serious problems, and if we did we would work them out," said Kevin Barris, top left, at the time.Harold L. Valentine/AP

Stories of school resegregation are common these days, but the historian Pamela Grundy didn’t think she would she would end up telling one. In 1998, Grundy decided to write a book about school integration in her city of Charlotte, North Carolina, particularly at historically black West Charlotte High. “It was at a time when political and cultural rhetoric was shifting to the failures of desegregation,” she says. “I wanted to think about what desegregation did accomplish, and tell the story of a successful integrated school.”

From the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, Charlotte was the most desegregated major school system in the country, and West Charlotte High School was its flagship. A 1969 federal ruling mandated that each Charlotte school’s student body be 70 percent white and 30 percent black, to match the system-wide demographic.