Some of the most deeply segregated public institutions in North Carolina were its schools. Like schools across the country, North Carolina schools operated under a system of "separate but equal" based on the 1896 ruling in the Plessy v. Ferguson case that separate facilities were constitutional. In reality, however, black and white schools rarely came close to being equal. Funding for schools was decided by the local school boards, which had few, if any, African American representatives. The school boards could choose how to spend tax money among schools in their districts, and black schools were often very under-funded compared to their white counterparts.
During the first half of the 20th century, schools for blacks and whites in North Carolina remained entirely separated. The gap between funding for white and black schools persisted until the 1960s. In Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, many black schools had older facilities or were overcrowded. By the 1960s all-black Torrence-Lytle School's student body had twice as many students as it was built to hold . Classes were held in the gym, auditorium, and even cafeteria.
Despite the inequality of facilities, many students who attended segregated black schools remember them as supportive neighborhood schools, where educators lived in the same community as their students and took a personal and lifelong interest in their success. Students recall close communication between teachers and parents, who often socialized outside of school, and a sense that schools were an integral part of the community. All-black high schools like Second Ward and West Charlotte were highly valued by the black community, who turned out at every event to support the schools’ sports teams and marching bands.