The Story: Legislation

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Throughout the early 1900s, there were few court cases challenging segregation in North Carolina. One of the reasons for this was a shortage of African-American lawyers in the South. Many black lawyers left the state after the 1900 disenfranchisement law and subsequent Jim Crow laws. The only law school for African Americans in North Carolina, Shaw University in Raleigh, closed its law program in 1914 due to low enrollment. In addition to the lack of legal representation, many black North Carolinians were hesitant to challenge segregation through the court system because of the potential for threats of violence against themselves and their families. A final reason for the absence of litigation against segregation was the cost of filing and carrying out a court case. Few individuals had the financial resources to embark on a complicated and lengthy court battle.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a civil rights organization founded in 1909, helped solve several of those problems. The NAACP had the legal experience, funding, and organization necessary to challenge segregation through litigation. One of their first successful court cases in North Carolina was a 1940 case equalizing teacher pay. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth District ruled that it violated the 14th Amendment to pay white and black teachers differently. After the ruling, black teachers’ pay on average rose higher than white teachers’ because many had pursued higher degrees, entitling them to higher salaries.

The NAACP also sponsored the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka court case, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the system of "separate but equal" schools was not constitutional. Brown v. Board of Education was one of the most important legal rulings in the civil rights movement and would have long-term effects for school districts across the country, including Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.