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Charlotte Talks: Color And Character: West Charlotte High

UNC Press

Monday, August 28, 2017

On the first day of school at CMS, we spend an hour talking about the history of a high school that, at one time, served as a national model for how race-based busing could be done right.  The history of West Charlotte High.


On this, the first day of school for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, we spend the hour on the history of a high school that is struggling currently, but at one time, was a national model for how race-based busing for schools was done right.


Students thrived, families were involved, and the future was bright. But when court-ordered busing ended, the school suffered, and over time became Charlotte’s poorest, lowest- performing school.

We’ll talk about the history of West Charlotte High School and hear from some of the school’s alumni and discuss a school that has been through segregation, desegregation and now resegregation, when Charlotte Talks.

Highlights from the show:

Signs of the times

Part of the integration success was related to building on the successes of west charlotte when it was an all-black school. Although people loved west charlotte, it resegregated very quickly and started to have all the problems of a high poverty school. Being poor in this country has gotten harder. West Charlotte is segregated, separate and unequal.  –Pamela Grundy

Schooling and community values

Schools are a part of the community. You can’t look at schools in isolation from the community or national political scene. In recent years when people have attempted to improve struggling schools, they have tended not to focus on the community and just on the school. They think if we just make a shift in accountability or give people choice, somehow things are going to get better. We need a more community based approach. Which was the case during Jim Crow, the original segregation of West Charlotte, and integration. People stopped thinking of only their neighborhood around them as being their community.  –Pamela Grundy
There were so many adults in our community who felt this was the best place to go, not just the best Black high school.  There were many people who disciplined us to let us know we were going to a place of legacy. I thought I could get an education and it would be a tremendous social environment.  –William Hamlin Sr.

On Integration

The teachers were so good that they could overcome not all, but much of the difficulty. When integration came, you kept some of those teachers, developed new teachers, and you got all the stuff. Essentially, the school got anything it needed. That really changed. We live in a political system, resources flow to the places people have political influence. Unless the children of people in power are in every school, every school will not be funded equally. The biggest difference is the teachers.  –Pamela Grundy
Prior to integration, teachers could not go to graduate school in the south so they spent their summers at school in New York and brought that education back to us in Charlotte. Everyone came from different backgrounds. The opportunity for us to go to school together allowed us to dispel rumors.  –Tim Gibbs
There was a lot of apprehension. A part of the struggle was hope things would get better. Initially people characterized this as a social experience, not the right thing to do and perpetuate.  –William Hamlin Sr.


Pamela Grundy, author of Color and Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equity. She’s also an historian and activist.

Tim Gibbs, current president of West Charlotte High’s Alumni Association and member of the class of 1978.

William Hamlin Sr., West Charlotte High School graduate, member of the class of 1965.


Pamela Grundy will have 2 booksignings:

  • September 10 , 2-3:30 p.m. at Beatties Ford Road Library
  • September 22, 7 p.m. at Park Road Books


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