In a subsequent Brown ruling in 1955, the Supreme Court ordered that school districts had to comply with the decision with "all deliberate speed". The Charlotte-Mecklenburg district responded by studying the issue of desegregation for two years before taking any action. By the beginning of the 1957 school year, the school board had decided to allow the transfer of a small number of black students who had applied to attend white schools. Many saw this as a move to comply with the Brown decision on a small scale in order to avoid full-scale desegregation. Four black students—Dorothy Counts, Delores Huntley, and siblings Girvaud and Gus Roberts—enrolled in white schools on September 4, 1957. They were the pioneers of Charlotte’s desegregation process.
Fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts had the most difficult desegregation experience of the four students. On the day she enrolled at all-white Harding High School, Counts was met by a crowd of whites who shouted racial slurs, spit on her, and threw sticks at her. Her experience was publicized in newspapers across the U.S., but the principal of Harding refused to intervene to help her. By the end of the second week, Counts was still being taunted and harassed. Her brother’s car window was broken by an angry crowd throwing objects as he came to pick Counts up after school one day. After two weeks of suffering this harassment, the Counts family, worried about Dorothy's safety, decided she should leave Harding and enroll in an integrated school in Philadelphia.
Although the school board claimed they were complying with the Supreme Court’s charge to desegregate, many critics felt that they were only instituting "token integration" in order to avoid Supreme Court intervention and preserve Charlotte’s reputation as a progressive city. By 1959, only one black student attended white schools in all of Charlotte.