Re-segregatio­n Nation

American schools are as racially divided today as they were in the 1960s. Case in point: Charlotte, North Carolina


American schools are as racially divided today as they were in the 1960s. Case in point: Charlotte, North Carolina.

RONALD REAGAN CAME TO NORTH CAROLINA on October 8, 1984, a month before American voters would decide whether to give him another four years in the White House. In 1980, running against Jimmy Carter, he’d won the state by only 39,000 votes, but it was now morning in America again, and the president was in a sunny mood as his rally began, shortly after noon, in downtown Charlotte.

As is customary in politics, Reagan praised his audience, then himself. Soon, he turned to attacking the Democrats, whom he accused of keeping people “in bondage as wards of the state.” They wanted dependents, not citizens. And instead of listening to Americans, liberals would tell Americans what to do. To illustrate his point, Reagan alluded to a matter of fierce contention across the South: the court-ordered integratio­n of public schools and the yellow buses that made that integratio­n happen, carrying white children to mostly black schools and black children to white ones.

But there was no cheering, no applause, only the stony silence that accompanie­s an errant note. And when a reaction did come, it was in the form of a Charlotte Observer editorial titled, flatly, “You Were Wrong, Mr. President.” The paper’s editors chided Reagan, writing that Charlotte’s “proudest achievemen­t of the past 20 years is not the city’s impressive new skyline or its strong, growing economy. Its proudest achievemen­t is its fully integrated schools.”

Back then, the claim was true. Charlotte-mecklenbur­g (the district includes Charlotte’s surroundin­g suburbs in Mecklenbur­g County) had achieved true racial parity in its schools, and had done so without the violence or rancor that accompanie­d similar efforts, not only in the Deep South but in Northern cities like Boston and Chicago. In Memphis, Tennessee, opponents of integratio­n buried a school bus. In Charlotte, the buses came and went. Long known as the Queen City, Charlotte had an enviable new nickname: “The city that made desegregat­ion work.”

The nickname would not apply today. Charlotte, in 2018, looks like most other American cities, where schools are nearly as segregated as they were before the 1954 Supreme Court decision of

Brown v. Board of Education, which declared separate but equal schools to be unconstitu­tional. Some cities, like New York, never really integrated their schools, hiding for decades under the guise of Northern liberalism. Many others complied with court orders, but did so unwillingl­y and incomplete­ly, without ever convincing people that integratio­n was a public good. Charlotte was the rare city that made its citizens believe in integratio­n, and those citizens in turn made integratio­n work. Their retreat from that experiment has been revealing—and complete.

Earlier this year, Charlotte-mecklenbur­g Schools, or CMS, published a report titled “Breaking the Link,” which explored the relationsh­ip between poverty and education. A single sentence in the introducti­on grimly sums up the state of things: “If you are born poor in Charlotte, you are likely to stay that way.” In a low-poverty school (i.e., a school where less than a quarter of students are eligible for a free lunch and breakfast program), 95.2 percent of students graduate; only 77.6 percent graduate in a high-poverty school, where more than half of students are eligible for free lunch. The latter have younger, less experience­d teachers. There are more disciplina­ry problems at these schools, and test scores are lower.

The links between poverty and education also pertain to race. “For all grade spans, low-poverty schools were composed of mostly white students,” the report said, “whereas in high-poverty schools, the majority of students were black and Hispanic.” This was the toxic nexus that Charlotte had once tried to dispel. And it did so with success, so that its schools made it onto the front page of The

Wall Street Journal in 1991. Only a decade after that, the experiment ended, and now the gains of that time have been squandered.

James Ferguson is a civil rights lawyer who worked on the legal effort to desegregat­e Charlotte’s schools. That was 50 years ago. He does not want to believe the work was futile, but a life of fighting discrimina­tion cautions against optimism. History is littered with disappoint­ments, including his own. He was in junior high, at a segregated school in Asheville, North Carolina, when the Supreme Court delivered the Brown ruling. Like many, he thought things would change at once. But they didn’t change at all because people

in Birmingham, Alabama, weren’t going to take orders from Washington. The nation delivered on the promise of Brown only because men and women like Ferguson forced it to, and to have the nation renege on that promise has been crushing. Ferguson is a civil leader in Charlotte, a power broker, and the sadness haunts him; he thought he’d won a battle, when it turns out he lost. “There is no core of people who are actively pushing for school desegregat­ion,” he laments. “We’re almost back to where we started from.”

Frightened, White and Middle-class

the bus may well be the most potent symbol of african-Americans’ struggle for racial equality in the 20th century. In Montgomery, Alabama, a squat yellow-and-lime bus, numbered 2857, became the epicenter of the civil rights movement on December 1, 1955, when seamstress Rosa Parks refused to move toward the back, where blacks were forced to sit. About a decade later, as the administra­tion of President Lyndon B. Johnson took up the work of actually enforcing the Brown decision, it was the yellow school bus that became a vehicle of both social progress and deep-seated fears that made that progress so difficult.

Matthew Delmont, the author of Why Busing Failed, has concluded that the first protest by white parents against the use of busing to redress racial imbalances in public schools took place in New York City in 1957. New York was exempt from Brown because its schools were not segregated by law, like those in the Deep South. That made white residents all the more furious, because they felt they had done nothing to segregate schools and should therefore not be forced to integrate them.

Journalist­s were aware of these fears, and some played to them. A Wall Street Journal article warned that the city’s Board of Education “proposes extensive use of city-financed buses to create racially balanced schools.” Delmont believes this was the first time a national outlet deployed the specter of “busing” to frighten middle-class whites. (Buses had been transporti­ng children for decades, and plenty of districts were already using racial criteria in zoning decisions to keep schools segregated.)

The fearmonger­ing worked, and it encouraged newspapers and television stations to report with greater avidity on what came to be known as “forced busing.” Opponents of busing predictabl­y directed their anger at education bureaucrat­s, whom they accused of social engineerin­g. As one letter to New York’s central schools administra­tion put it, “The Negro is emerging from ignorance, savagery, disease and total lack of any culture. Is it necessary to foist the Negro on the White Americans for fair play?”

Despite a halting effort at integratio­n that began in 1957, little changed in Charlotte during the 1960s. Busing came to the city only after a 1969 federal district court ruling in Swann v.

Charlotte-mecklenbur­g County Board of Education, a suit brought by an African-american preacher who didn’t understand why his

son had to attend effectivel­y segregated schools. The judge in the case was a white Southerner without especially strong liberal conviction­s. But he also understood that there was no legal standing for those who resisted integratio­n. “When racial segregatio­n was required by law, nobody evoked the neighborho­od school theory to permit black children to attend white schools closer to where they lived,” he wrote. “There is no reason except emotion…why school buses can not be used…to desegregat­e the schools.”

And so busing began in Charlotte on September 9, 1970, with 525 buses serving as the army of integratio­n. White parents protested, and Charlotte, which claimed to be a city of the “New South,” anxiously waited to discover whether its claim was anything more than a clever marketing pitch.

Goodbye, White Flight

integratio­n turned out to look a lot like war. mobs welcomed buses carrying black children into white neighborho­ods. Whites threw rocks and hurled racial taunts. White children stayed away from schools. On the television sets that now graced nearly every home in the nation, Americans watched and wondered if racial reconcilia­tion would ever be possible.

The year was 1974, and the city was Boston, not Charlotte. There, a court order mandated that whites in South Boston enter into a busing arrangemen­t with black Roxbury. Feeling that they were being bullied into integratio­n by judges and politician­s, aggrieved residents of Southie reacted with shows of violence and rage more fitting to the Deep South than this city of patricians and academics.

Meanwhile, some 800 miles to the south, things were going fine in Charlotte, now in its fourth year of integrated schooling. Watching the reports from Boston with confusion and dismay, students at West Charlotte High School, which had quickly become the centerpiec­e of Charlotte’s success, decided to do something novel: They invited students from Boston to come down South, to see that integratio­n could be done peacefully, to the benefit of all students. Five high schools students traveled to Charlotte that November. “I think every KKK member in the South wrote me a personal letter calling me a nigger-lover and threatenin­g me,” recalled West Charlotte Principal Sam Haywood to historian Pamela Grundy many years later. He added, “You know, if adults had got out of the way, kids could solve most of the problems.”

But adults had helped solve the problem in Charlotte. Specifical­ly, well-off white adults who seemingly had the least to gain from integratio­n. Some of the city’s leading families decided they would send their children to West Charlotte High School, a sign that they were invested in the integratio­n experiment. Maybe there was something selfish in this, too—a desire to separate Charlotte from symbols of racial strife like Birmingham and Montgomery. Even so, they put their own children on school buses instead of merely watching as middle- and working-class whites did.

Both sides were uneasy about the experiment. As one African-american student recalled years later, “[People] thought it was going to be racial tension every day. ‘Here we go again. Six o’clock news. A riot at West Charlotte again.’ Never happened.” Whites and blacks made the requisite effort. It wasn’t a seamless union, but the rivets held.

Eventually, integratio­n became normal in Charlotte, which made the city exceptiona­l in the eyes of the nation. During his eight years in the White House, Reagan had appointed 364 judges to the federal bench, many of whom could be expected to execute his conservati­ve, anti-government agenda, which included opposition to busing; his successor, George H.W. Bush, ran a racially divisive campaign predicated on raw fears about black criminalit­y. In March 1991, the video of white police officers beating a black resident of Los Angeles named Rodney King confirmed a new mood of racial hostility—or, even worse, that racial hostility had never gone away. Two months after Americans learned of King’s plight, The Wall Street Journal reported on the goings-on at West Charlotte. The paper praised the school as a “warm picture of integrated young America,” a hazy but hopeful vision of the type of society we have been trying to realize for half a century. But by the time that article was published, some were already trying to undo the experiment.

‘Race Is Not The Issue’

in the early morning of january 17, 1994, a massive earthquake shook Los Angeles. After that, Bill Capacchion­e remembers,


his wife said it was time to leave. She was a native of Southern California, and the quake had rattled her. “If this is not the big one, I don’t want to be around for it,” Capacchion­e recalls her saying. He offered Phoenix as a relatively close alternativ­e. Too hot, she countered. Capacchion­e had gone to college in North Carolina, at Campbell University, so he suggested a city 130 miles due west of that school: Charlotte.

Around that time, a lot of people were thinking of moving to Charlotte; it had recently become the third-biggest banking center in the nation, after New York and San Francisco. The same year that Capacchion­e arrived, The New York Times wrote of Charlotte’s “relentless­ly upbeat, look-at-me corporate culture.” The city’s “downtown…is a vital business center, and its green geography and relaxed, friendly style make it an inviting place,” the article said. The new arrivals may have worked in downtown, but they didn’t live there. They mostly moved to suburbs to the north and south of the city. The newcomers, like the Capacchion­es, came from the West and Northeast, where schools were severely segregated, but few blamed racism; the segregatio­n seemed to many like a historical accident. There was, in fact, nothing accidental about the forces that turned Brownsvill­e, Brooklyn, or the South Side of Chicago, into ghettos. But because police there hadn’t disbanded protesters with water cannons, that segregatio­n was easier to ignore.

Charlotte had confronted its segregatio­nist past, and that confrontat­ion resulted in a remarkably successful school system. But to those who hadn’t lived through the early, uncertain years of integratio­n in the 1970s, the busing plan was confoundin­g and not especially welcome. In the suburbs, especially, resistance grew. As early as 1988, a parent complained that Charlotte was “a model for shifting children from one end of the county to the other and not a model for educationa­l excellence by any means.”

School officials in Charlotte had sensed growing resentment toward integratio­n. To fight off the criticisms of whites in the suburbs, they created a number of magnet schools throughout the 1990s, which would draw students from all over the county. (Magnet schools are an attractive solution, promising both academic excellence and integratio­n. But the solution doesn’t scale especially well.)

One of the popular new magnet programs in Charlotte was Olde Providence Elementary School, to the southeast of the

city’s center, which had undergone an expansion in 1992. This was where Capacchion­e tried to enroll his 6-year-old daughter, Cristina. She was denied admission. Capacchion­e tried again. But she still didn’t get a spot. On September 5, 1997, Capacchion­e filed a suit against Charlotte-mecklenbur­g Schools, alleging that his white daughter was discrimina­ted against on the basis of her race and, as he explained from the stand, “felt she wasn’t smart enough to get into Olde Providence.”

Five other families joined the suit. They argued that Charlotte had spent 30 years integratin­g its schools. The work had been so well done, they claimed, it didn’t need to continue any longer. Larry Gauvreau, another recent transplant to Charlotte who joined the suit, judged the school system “fully desegregat­ed” and any suggestion to the contrary “absurd.”

On September 9, 1999—29 years to the day since busing began—federal Judge Robert Potter issued his ruling in the Capacchion­e case. As a private citizen, Potter had opposed the initial 1970 desegregat­ion plan. And he was an ally of Jesse Helms, the state’s segregatio­nist U.S. senator. Appointed to the federal bench by Reagan, Potter earned the nickname “Maximum Bob” for his tough sentences. He agreed with Capacchion­e, writing that, “the Court is convinced that CMS, to the extent reasonably practicabl­e, has complied with the thirty-year-old desegregat­ion order in good faith; that racial imbalances existing in schools today are no longer vestiges of the dual system; and that it is unlikely that the school board will return to an intentiona­lly-segregativ­e system.”

With that, Charlotte’s experiment with integratio­n had ended, and the city was ordered to wind down its busing program. “The decision…,” observed The New York Times, “has enormous symbolic significan­ce for the lingering institutio­n of court-ordered busing.”

Kids were now much more likely to go to their neighborho­od schools. And since the neighborho­ods themselves remained segregated, that means they were much more likely to go school with kids who looked like them. This was to some a problem and to others, who cheered the Potter decision, the whole point.

By the time Potter made his decision, Capacchion­e was no longer living in Charlotte. His wife missed her family, and the Capacchion­es moved back to Southern California. They live there still, down the coast from Los Angeles, in a city called Torrance. Capacchion­e says his daughter, Cristina, “went to neighborho­od schools,” to which she was always able to walk. “To me, race is not the issue,” Capacchion­e says. “I didn’t think any child should have his or her opportunit­ies limited by race or by where they live.”

On the first point, few Americans would disagree, at least in principle. The second assertion is more complex. The entire point of busing was to avoid relegating poor black children to inner-city schools. That couldn’t happen unless parents like Capacchion­e were willing to give up their own access to superior suburban schools. But they had come to expect their own schools—“neighborho­od schools,” a phrase rich with Rockwellia­n intimation­s—as a kind of constituti­onal right. There is no such right, however, any more than there is an inherent right to traffic lights instead of stop signs.

Capacchion­e seemed confused about why anyone would want to talk about the court’s decision. To him, it was old news. “I probably would do it again,” he says of his lawsuit. This isn’t bravado. You can hear it in his voice: He has no regrets.

The Cost of Segregatio­n

keith lamont scott sat in his truck, waiting for his son to arrive on a school bus. The truck was parked in a lot at an apartment complex northeast of downtown Charlotte, in an area that’s largely poor and the schools are mostly black and Latino. It was September 20, 2016, just a little before 4 p.m. Within moments, Scott would be dead.

The police were there looking for someone else. They said they saw Scott in his vehicle, with a gun. His family insists he was reading. His wife, Rakeyia Scott, took video of what followed. You can see her approachin­g the officers who have drawn


their guns and surrounded her husband. “Don’t shoot him,” she says.

But they do. No book was ever found. A gun was. The officer who shot and killed him—brentley Vinson, a young, black man—was cleared of all charges. Black Lives Matter and other activist groups launched protests that consumed the city for days, as officers in riot gear took to Charlotte’s streets like an invading army.. The gleaming jewel of the New South suddenly seemed tarnished.

Scott was killed by two bullets; he was condemned by history and demography, impersonal forces that converged on him on a Friday afternoon. Just ask Anthony Foxx. He’s 46 today, which means he’s a few years older than Scott when he was killed. He grew up in Charlotte, attending integrated schools there, including West Charlotte High. He went on to Davidson College, one of the best liberal arts schools in the South, and then to New York University for law school. In 2009, he was elected mayor of Charlotte, the youngest person to ever hold that office, and only the second African-american to do so. Four years later, President Barack Obama selected him to serve as head of the federal Transporta­tion Department. “I think many of the white kids who went to West Charlotte got as much of a taste of the black experience as any white person was likely to get at that time,” he says. “Black kids like me, we saw whites as our counterpar­ts. It was as equal a position as I’ve been in at any time of my life, even since.”

Foxx warns against mythologiz­ing Charlotte’s integrated past. He remembers, for instance, that there were few African-american students in advanced classes. Still, the impact of the integrated experience has stayed with him. “I think that whites and blacks and others whom I went to school with in those years are certainly more well rounded and understand American culture in a more true light than most of us do,” he says. “Because they saw, even for a brief period of time, the tapestry that the country has.” By the time Foxx became mayor, the Capacchion­e v.

Charlotte-mecklenbur­g Schools decision had largely resegregat­ed schools in Charlotte. The result was that real estate brokers could lure buyers by promising that their children would be guaranteed a spot in some well-regarded suburban school, since the fear of those children being bused elsewhere was pretty much gone. And what typically burnishes a school’s reputation? Racial compositio­n, not academic achievemen­t. “Even when you look at school quality metrics, says Amy Hawn Nelson, a University of Pennsylvan­ia education researcher, “white families are more likely to pick a white school rather than a high-performing school.”

There have been efforts by school chancellor­s to skirt the ruling by creating more magnet schools and implementi­ng “student reassignme­nt” plans that modestly push for reintegrat­ion. Only the countervai­ling push is stronger. The internet allows parents to analyze each school’s demographi­cs and academics. If they can get a child into Providence, one of the best schools in the region, they will. Who wouldn’t? And thanks to Capacchion­e, they can do so without a federal lawsuit.

Most of these people are liberals: Mecklenbur­g County voted for Obama twice, while Hillary Clinton nearly doubled Donald Trump’s vote total in 2016. Yet it is one thing to vote in a school gymnasium for a politician you have never seen, quite another to watch your own child ascend the steps of a yellow bus. It used to be that voting and public education were seen as part of the same set of behaviors collective­ly called civic participat­ion. No longer so, not when a scholarshi­p to Stanford hangs in the balance.

Foxx has watched the city’s resegregat­ion with dismay. What he experience­d at West Charlotte should have been the start of something hopeful; instead, it was an ending. “It’s been interestin­g to watch my friends at that time more or less revert back to the areas of town they grew up in,” he says.

Interestin­g, yes, and in the case of Scott, tragic. School resegregat­ion did not kill him, of course, but it contribute­d to the creation of a dual society. After the Scott killing, the sociologis­t Clint Smith wrote in The New Yorker that we “cannot disentangl­e the state-sanctioned school resegregat­ion that poor black students in Charlotte experience from the police killing of a black man waiting for his son to get off the bus from elementary school.”

We have known as much for a long time. After the civil unrest of the summer of 1967, President Johnson set up a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Written as the smoke was still clearing from riots in Newark and Detroit, it produced a report that found many reasons for the unrest, public schools among them. “The hostility of Negro parents and students toward the school system is generating increasing conflict and causing disruption within many city school districts,” warned the report.

Our thinking is much more data-driven today, yet as far as

school integratio­n is concerned, the conclusion­s of scholars are not at all different from those during the ’60s. Rucker Johnson, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley, has studied the effects of resegregat­ion. In a forthcomin­g paper, he compared the life outcomes of students who’d gone to integrated schools and those who went to schools were courts had lifted integrated orders. Johnson found that resegregat­ion “caused significan­t increases in the likelihood of being arrested, of being convicted of a crime, and being incarcerat­ed in adulthood for African-americans.” They were also likely to earn less.

As for whites, who experience­d no deleteriou­s effects from integratio­n, Johnson found that resegregat­ion would lead them to “to have no racial diversity among their friends in adulthood, to live in neighborho­ods in adulthood without racial diversity, to express significan­tly stronger preference­s for same-race partners, and were significan­tly less likely to have ever been in an interracia­l relationsh­ip.” Johnson calls resegregat­ion a “market failure” because it leads to outcomes that are not only unfavorabl­e but also expensive; it is much cheaper to educate a child than to incarcerat­e an adult.

‘The Miseducati­on of Our Kids’

today, charlotte-mecklenbur­g schools are led by clayton Wilcox, who came to North Carolina from suburban Maryland. Wilcox admits that the kind of muscular integratio­n once conducted in Charlotte is no longer possible. “I don’t think there’s any appetite except for a very few folks,” Wilcox tells me after I asked about the possibilit­y of bringing busing back. “The methods of yesterday,” he says, no longer apply. “You have to create great schools everywhere,” in reference to providing adequate funding to inner-city schools.

Research by Johnson of Berkeley confirms that increased spending can ameliorate some, if not all, the effects of resegregat­ion. Then again, spending is as anathema as busing to some.

Wilcox was not yet in Charlotte during the Scott shooting or the protests that followed. He references the killing as evidence of something amiss in the city, as well as its schools. “We are all in this together,” he says. “Many of the things we fear are the result of the miseducati­on of our kids.”

But some don’t share that sense of togetherne­ss. Last year, Charlotte-mecklenbur­g passed a $922 million bond measure that angered people in the northern reaches of Mecklenbur­g County, a rapidly growing area. No schools will be built there. Jim Plunkett, a local county official who opposed the bond measure, believes the shortage of schools in the northern part of the county was intended to force residents of the suburbs (not all of whom are white) to send their children to schools closer to central Charlotte, integratin­g them without quite having to say so.

Some of the northern suburbs have even threatened to secede from Charlotte-mecklenbur­g Schools, thus creating their own school districts. School secession has become a popular way to avoid integratio­n, especially in states controlled by Republican legislatur­es that have made it easier for municipali­ties to cleave from larger school districts. A report published last year by the nonprofit Edbuild found that 71 districts around the nation have tried secession since 2000. More than half have been successful; these splinter districts are whiter and wealthier than the district they are leaving. “Parents tend to be rather self-serving,” says Plunkett. “They come to the table with certain beliefs.” And the prevailing belief in Charlotte, he says, is that the public schools are not working. Whites flee for the suburbs; African-american parents, meanwhile, are choosing charter schools, which have become symbols of voluntary resegregat­ion. “I don’t think the city of Charlotte would ever abandon at-risk kids,” he says. “That’s just not gonna happen.”

It is more likely that kids will abandon Charlotte’s schools.

‘We Sold Our Soul’

there is a famous photograph that shows Dorothy Counts on the first day of school. It was taken on September 4, 1957, as she walked to Harding High School to start the ninth grade. Counts wears a plaid dress with a long white bow; to her left is her father, in a white shirt and slacks, looking grimly ahead. The two are surrounded by jeering whites. In one of the famous photograph­s from that morning, white hands make devil horns from behind Counts. She looks off into the distance, mouth askew. She is willfully ignorant of the bigots enveloping her like a thick cloud of mosquitoes.

Counts only wanted to be a student. But because of her race, she was an agent of integratio­n. She did not last long in Charlotte’s schools. The abuse of local whites had its intended effect, and after several weeks she was shipped off to live with family in Philadelph­ia. She completed her schooling there. It would be more than a decade until Charlotte seriously started integratin­g its schools.

Today, Counts (now Dot Counts-scoggins) lives in Charlotte again. She worked for years in early childhood education but is now retired. Once maligned, she is now celebrated. The library at

Harding has been named after her. Charlotte magazine deemed her one of the city’s essential citizens. “In some ways, we need her now as much as ever,” the magazine said, lest Charlotte forget in this age of renewed animositie­s what it did to her all those years ago.

Counts-scoggins has not forgotten. “Well, it’s very disappoint­ing to me when I look at what has happened in Charlotte,” she says of the un-integratio­n of the city’s schools. “I tell people, ‘This didn’t happen in Charlotte overnight. This was something that was happening, and people just sort of ignored it.”

Integratio­n is difficult work, the work of generation­s. It may not be especially gratifying to those who must undertake it. Segregatio­n, on the other hand, feels natural enough. Difficult to expel, it is always eager to return. Integratio­n may show its benefits in 50 years, but who wants to wait that long? We are an impatient species, increasing­ly skeptical of things unseen.

And yet segregatio­n takes a toll. Justin Perry was at West Charlotte High when he heard about Potter’s decision in 1999. He remembers leaving school and going downtown, to the courthouse, to protest. Perry understood that the judge had exploited racial fears to destroy one of the few places where those fears were addressed, by blacks and whites alike. “In our space, we actually talked about these difference­s,” says Perry, who is AfricanAme­rican. He is too young to have lived through segregatio­n. Neverthele­ss, he grasps that “busing” has never been about the use of vehicles to transport children to school. “This is not about busing,” he says. “It’s about what the end of the ride leads to.”

For Perry, who still remembers the day integratio­n ended in West Charlotte, we are all worse off for it. After graduating high school, he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for undergradu­ate and graduate degrees. Today, he works with young people in Charlotte-mecklenbur­g. Some of them come from the wealthy white suburbs to which parents fled in the 1990s so that their children would not have to attend integrated schools. Instead, these students now attend what Perry calls “real-estate orchestrat­ed” schools, where the pressures of achievemen­t can lead to stress, anxiety and other psychologi­cal maladies. “You can’t have a high-quality education without diversity,” says Perry. The rollback of integratio­n efforts, he believes, signals a deeper social breakdown, an atomizatio­n of American society. “We sold our soul,” he says, “and now we’re gonna have to deal with it.”

The process will likely be painful, just as it was the last time around. Last year, students from Ardrey Kell shouted racial slurs at a football game against William A. Hough, a largely black school. “Black boy, you better watch your back! Black boy, you better keep your head on a swivel!” they screamed, apparently drunk.

The principal of Ardrey Kell apologized, but few were satisfied; many saw the dutiful workings of damage control. Such an incident would have been unthinkabl­e when Perry went to West Charlotte, when it felt like a suture was about to close. Now, it is open again, and the wound is festering. Only the pain is unequally distribute­d. Ardrey Kell is a majority white school; only 21 percent of the student body is either black or Hispanic. It is widely regarded as one of the best schools around.

West Charlotte, meanwhile, is 99 percent minority and well below state averages on both English and mathematic­s standardiz­ed tests. Once the pride of Charlotte, this high school is now in need of fixing. And Charlotte itself, once the beacon of something hopeful and new, has gone back to the old ways.

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 ??  ?? AT THE HELMS Capacchion­e, top right,   led a suit against Charlotte-  ecklenburg Schools, alleging that his white daughter was discrimina­ted against on the basis of her race. A   udge ruled in his favor.   pposite, Helms. Below right,   bama and...
AT THE HELMS Capacchion­e, top right, led a suit against Charlotte- ecklenburg Schools, alleging that his white daughter was discrimina­ted against on the basis of her race. A udge ruled in his favor. pposite, Helms. Below right, bama and...
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 ??  ?? FRONT OF THE BUS Integratio­n became normal in Charlotte, which made the city exceptiona­l. Clockwise from above: Rosa Parks in the front of a bus in Alabama in 1956, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and a group of buses move through...
FRONT OF THE BUS Integratio­n became normal in Charlotte, which made the city exceptiona­l. Clockwise from above: Rosa Parks in the front of a bus in Alabama in 1956, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and a group of buses move through...
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 ??  ?? FIRST CLASS By the mid-1980s, Charlotte had achieved true racial parity in its schools, and it had done so without the violence or rancor that accompanie­d similar efforts. Clockwise from left: A view of downtown Charlotte in 2015, Reagan steps off a...
FIRST CLASS By the mid-1980s, Charlotte had achieved true racial parity in its schools, and it had done so without the violence or rancor that accompanie­d similar efforts. Clockwise from left: A view of downtown Charlotte in 2015, Reagan steps off a...
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 ??  ?? ANGER AND DISMAY Foxx, top, laments the effects of re-segregatio­n in Charlotte. Left, protesters demonstrat­e after the of  cer who killed Scott was cleared of all charges.
ANGER AND DISMAY Foxx, top, laments the effects of re-segregatio­n in Charlotte. Left, protesters demonstrat­e after the of cer who killed Scott was cleared of all charges.
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