Darius Swann Changed Charlotte's School System, Local Historian RemembersHistorians in the News
tags: education, Supreme Court, segregation, local history, historian
In addition to the lost lives and the thousands of people who have fallen ill from the coronavirus, the country and especially Charlotte lost a legendary figure this month. On March 8, the Rev. Dr. Darius Swann died at the age of 95 from pneumonia.
Swann’s name is attached to one of the most important court decisions regarding education and desegregation — Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education. The 1969 lower federal court ruling and the 1971 Supreme Court decision in Swann paved the way for busing in Charlotte as a way to desegregate public schools. By 1980, Charlotte schools had integrated at an unprecedented level and was looked upon by cities across the country as a model to use in desegregating the nation’s public schools. Historian and author Pamela Grundy picks up the story there.
Pamela Grundy: The Swanns really believed in integrated education. And so when they returned to Charlotte, which they did very deliberately in order to become part of the struggle. There's a story that when they were in India, they saw the picture of Dorothy Counts when she attempted to integrate Harding High School. And they knew her father, Reverend Counts, who was a professor at Johnson C. Smith.
Gwendolyn Glenn: Which is where he graduated and went to theology school, Johnson C. Smith?
Grundy: Correct. And I believe the Swanns also met at Johnson C. Smith. So they had a real connection with the Counts. And this was a moment, a moment of seeing Dorothy and seeing what was happening in Charlotte was an important moment for them. And they determined that they would need to go back to the U.S. to participate in this unfolding struggle. And Reverend Swann got a position at Johnson C. Smith and then attempted to enroll their young son in an integrated school. They attempted to send him to the school that was closest to their house, which was a historically white school.
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