Transforming the Elite

Black Students and the Desegregation of Private Schools

By Michelle A. Purdy

258 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, 1 map, 3 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4349-6
    Published: September 2018
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-4348-9
    Published: September 2018
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-4350-2
    Published: August 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4636-5
    Published: August 2018

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Awards & distinctions

New Scholar's Book Award, Division F, American Educational Research Association

2019 GHRAC Award for Excellence, Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council

When traditionally white public schools in the South became sites of massive resistance in the wake of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision, numerous white students exited the public system altogether, with parents choosing homeschooling or private segregationist academies. But some historically white elite private schools opted to desegregate. The black students that attended these schools courageously navigated institutional and interpersonal racism but ultimately emerged as upwardly mobile leaders. Transforming the Elite tells this story. Focusing on the experiences of the first black students to desegregate Atlanta's well-known The Westminster Schools and national efforts to diversify private schools, Michelle A. Purdy combines social history with policy analysis in a dynamic narrative that expertly re-creates this overlooked history.

Through gripping oral histories and rich archival research, this book showcases educational changes for black southerners during the civil rights movement including the political tensions confronted, struggles faced, and school cultures transformed during private school desegregation. This history foreshadows contemporary complexities at the heart of the black community's mixed feelings about charter schools, school choice, and education reform.

About the Author

Michelle A. Purdy is assistant professor of education and affiliate faculty member of the Interdisciplinary Program in Urban Studies and the Center on Urban Research and Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. She is co-editor of Using Past as Prologue: Contemporary Perspectives on African American Educational History.
For more information about Michelle A. Purdy, visit the Author Page.


“Purdy’s meticulously researched book examines racial desegregation in historically white elite schools in the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on board meeting minutes, national reports, bulletins, school newspapers, and oral histories, she interrogates how and why school leaders decided to admit black students even though the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision only applied to public schools. . . . Transforming the Elite enriches scholarship on desegregation and the educational experiences of black children in the United States.”--Historical Studies in Education

Transforming the Elite will resonate with many readers – particularly, those interested in the historical intersections of race, education and school culture in America. . . . Purdy’s timely book challenges us to acknowledge the ways in which histories of inequality reverberate today.”--History of Education

“Purdy’s work demonstrates how our current attention to diversity and inclusion in private schools is rooted in the history of desegregation. By offering some insights about the ways in which various parties navigated these decisions . . . Purdy helps us to understand how much work remains to be done in creating educational spaces that are truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable.”--Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

"This book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the education experiences of African American students in the second half of the twentieth century, the history of desegregation in the South, and the history of private schooling.  Michelle Purdy shows us the ways in which the first black students to desegregate schools like Westminster both changed and were changed by the social and political culture of white private schools."--Jonna Perrillo, University of Texas at El Paso

"With rich, in-depth analysis, a mastery of black educational history, and empathetic storytelling, Transforming the Elite has the potential to spark discussion about a range of issues relevant to black educational history and contemporary debates over race and equality."--Hilary Moss, Amherst College

Multimedia & Links

Listen: The author and 3 alumni of an elite private school in Buckhead talk to host Virginia Prescott on Georgia Public Broadcasting's "On Second Thought" (4/4/2019, running time: 37:01).