Color and Character

West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality

By Pamela Grundy

248 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 43 halftones, 4 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-6404-0
    Published: February 2021
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3607-8
    Published: September 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3608-5
    Published: August 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-5361-5
    Published: August 2017

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At a time when race and inequality dominate national debates, the story of West Charlotte High School illuminates the possibilities and challenges of using racial and economic desegregation to foster educational equality. West Charlotte opened in 1938 as a segregated school that embodied the aspirations of the growing African American population of Charlotte, North Carolina. In the 1970s, when Charlotte began court-ordered busing, black and white families made West Charlotte the celebrated flagship of the most integrated major school system in the nation. But as the twentieth century neared its close and a new court order eliminated race-based busing, Charlotte schools resegregated along lines of class as well as race. West Charlotte became the city’s poorest, lowest-performing high school—a striking reminder of the people and places that Charlotte’s rapid growth had left behind. While dedicated teachers continue to educate children, the school’s challenges underscore the painful consequences of resegregation.

Drawing on nearly two decades of interviews with students, educators, and alumni, Pamela Grundy uses the history of a community’s beloved school to tell a broader American story of education, community, democracy, and race—all while raising questions about present-day strategies for school reform.

About the Author

Historian, author, and activist Pamela Grundy lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she pursues a variety of writing, teaching, and museum projects. Her previous books include the award-winning Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina.
For more information about Pamela Grundy, visit the Author Page.


“Brilliantly documents the dramatic historical arc of an all-black high school that became a model of integration in the 1970s, only to return in more recent years to a school that is once again segregated along racial lines.”--Creative Loafing Charlotte

"An incredible deep dive into the true history of Charlotte's wrestle not only with integration, but with transitioning from another Jim Crow town to a New South city in which a progressive image at one one point was matched by progressive action and policy. [Grundy] also shows how easily history repeats itself when we turn our eye from uncomfortable truths."--Charlotte Observer

“A must-read for scholars of southern history and the history of education, and it provides a valuable window into the contemporary landscape of the politics of race and educational policy.”--History of Education Quarterly

“A fine-grained depiction of life at West Charlotte, especially for the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, by drawing on over eighty oral history interviews conducted by Grundy and her students in cooperation with the University of North Carolina’s Southern Oral History Project.”--Historical Studies in Education

“Pamela Grundy’s beautifully written book Color and Character is in many ways a tale not of just one school but of three, each illuminating a distinct stage in public education’s ‘long civil rights movement.’”--American Historical Review

"Pamela Grundy has written a riveting book. The story of West Charlotte High School is a microcosm of urban education across the nation, demonstrating the advances achieved during desegregation and the backward movement toward resegregation. For anyone interested in contemporary issues of race and education, this book is a must-read."--Diane Ravitch, author of Reign of Error