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North Carolina Humanities Council

An Oral History of School Desegregation in Franklin County, North Carolina

Luther Coppedge

Luther Coppedge

This project, funded by the North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, gives voice to a diverse group of individuals who participated in the desegregation of public schools overseen by the Franklin County Board of Education and the town of Franklinton, North Carolina, between 1965 and 1968.


Introduction

Following passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the two school systems in Franklin County developed plans for the gradual integration of their public schools. These plans followed a “freedom of choice” method that, in some cases, offered students the opportunity to transfer to other schools.

In December of 1965, a group of African American citizens sued the Franklin County Board of Education in the Eastern District of the United States District Court. The suit sought to enjoin the Franklin County Board of Education from:

  • refusing to permit plaintiffs to transfer to schools of their choice
  • continuing to maintain a dual school system based on race
  • making initial assignments of children based on race
  • continuing to administer a racially discriminatory transfer system
  • assigning teachers, principals, and other professional school personnel based solely on basis of race
  • approving contracts, budget and disbursement of funds on the basis of color
  • undertaking any new construction designed to continue a segregated system
  • programming, sanctioning, and supporting extra-curricular activities that were limited solely to members of one race

The United States Department of Justice joined this suit, which ultimately led, in August 1968, to the complete desegregation of the schools.

During these momentous years, some individuals undertook scattered acts of violence in an effort to intimidate African American families, and one group of African Americans took legal action to prevent integration, but the process continued.

Initially, small numbers of students and teachers were assigned to different schools. Both school systems continued to advocate for a gradual approach to integration, but Judge Algernon Butler in August 1968 ruled that full integration must take place immediately within the Franklin County Schools.

The basic chronology of events, as reported in The Franklin Times (edited by Clint Fuller, the vice chair of the Franklin County Board of Education), is outlined here.

The interviews conducted during this project, however, add information and color to the facts contained in the public record. The transcripts and audio excerpts of interviews with parents, students, teachers, a principal, and an attorney for the Franklin County Board of Education enrich our knowledge of a process that drastically changed the public schools in Franklin County.

Interviews

Chronology of Events

Related Resources

Mississippi in the Sixties and Other Experiences: The Contemporary Memoir of a Justice Department Civil Rights Lawyer, by Frank E. Schwelb

Chapter 10, "County with a Klan," is Judge Schwelb's account of school desegregation in Franklin County and his role in it. It can be found in pages 177-203.​