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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Segregation Again: North Carolina’s Transition from Leading Desegregation Then to Accepting Segregation Now


North Carolina has a storied history with school integration efforts spanning several decades. In response to the Brown decision, North Carolina’s strategy of delayed integration was more subtle than the overt defiance of other Southern states. Numerous North Carolina school districts were early leaders in employing strategies to integrate schools at a very modest level. When the l964 Civil Rights Act vastly expanded federal power, desegregation accelerated. In 1971, Charlotte-Mecklenburg gained national attention in the first Supreme Court decision mandating busing as a primary strategy to achieve school integration. By 2000, Wake County public schools became the first metropolitan school district to implement a class-based student assignment policy1, shifting from a race-based student assignment plan. Yet despite initiating school diversification efforts for a generation, currently North Carolina has reverted back to neighborhood schools while concurrently adopting policies that deemphasize diversity. Today, the state’s Latino enrollment, which has grown very rapidly in the post-civil rights era, adds another important dimension to the story. Since racial and economic segregation are strongly related to unequal opportunity, these changes likely have important educational consequences.

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