The city leaders of Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1950s and 1960s were proud of its reputation as a progressive Southern city, more moderate than many of its neighbors in the South and home to fewer extremist racist groups. This moderate reputation didn’t exclude Charlotte from the racism and segregation pervading American society, however. Here, as elsewhere around the South, African Americans faced discriminatory laws, prejudice, and overt racism.
In the 1890s, the white supremacist movement grew throughout North Carolina and "white supremacy parades" were held in towns across the state, including Charlotte. The state government changed hands from Republican to Democratic control in the election of 1898. Following the election, the Democrats passed a constitutional amendment instituting a poll tax and a literacy test for voters. The effect of this amendment was to disenfranchise many African Americans in the state, meaning their ability to vote was taken away. In 1900, almost half of African Americans in North Carolina couldn’t read or write and many more could not afford to pay the poll tax.
In addition to the disenfranchisement of blacks, the early 20th century saw the passage of several segregation laws in North Carolina. These laws, collectively referred to as Jim Crow laws, dictated that schools, public transportation, medical care, libraries, and other public services remained segregated by race. For example, a 1907 law declared that all streetcars had to set aside the front section of seating for white passengers, and the back section for black passengers, and that "no contiguous seats on the same bench shall be occupied by the white and colored passengers at the same time unless or until all other seats are occupied." A 1925 law extended this segregation to buses.