E. D. Winstead's 1966 Doctoral Dissertation:
|The Development of Law
Pertaining to Desegregation
of Public Schools
in North Carolina
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This book is the dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education in the Department of Education in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences of Duke University, Durham, North Carolina in 1966 by my father Elton D. Winstead. The information in this book has historical significance and deserves to be more readily available as a contemporary perspective during that time period leading up to the desegregation of the North Carolina school system. A reflection on this perspective is especially appropriate now on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case and on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The 1964 Civil Rights Act basically ended North Carolina’s Pearsall Plan, not only as a way to preserve the North Carolina school system, but also as a way to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
The Pearsall Plan, as the vehicle for the circumvention of the Brown decision, was declared to be unconstitutional by federal courts in two class-action cases in 1966 and 1969 after this study was completed, and two of the people interviewed in this study were instrumental in those cases. In Hawkins v. North Carolina Board of Education the U. S. Department of Justice intervened under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and Mr. William Medford, ironically, as U. S. District Attorney supported the plaintiffs. He told the court (according to a newspaper article) that he was personally on the committee led by Thomas Pearsall that formulated the plan, that as a state senator he had also helped to guide it through the General Assembly, and even though he thought the law had been useful at the time to ease the shock of immediate desegregation, he also concluded that “This statute and what it was ultimately trying to do is unconstitutional.” The Pearsall plan was declared to be unconstitutional by the court on March 31, 1966. In the 1969 class-action case Godwin v. Johnston County Board of Education Mr. Conrad O. Pearson, General Counsel for NAACP for North Carolina, also interviewed in this study, was the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. The Pearsall plan was declared to be unconstitutional by that court on July 8, 1969.
As editor of this 2014 edition I retyped the dissertation to provide a version easier to read than simply scanning a copy of the original typed by my father on a mechanical typewriter at home. (The original, mostly double-spaced, typed dissertation is 279 pages long.) A new subtitle was added indicating a main conclusion of the study. A few format changes have also been added to the new edition, e.g. the summary list above of people interviewed was not included in the original dissertation, and the formats of the tables in the appendix have been modified. As in the original dissertation the interviews are included in the appendix.
A few selected conclusions from the study:
“Based on the official position taken in North Carolina toward the Supreme Court decision of May 17, 1954, and a review of pertinent court cases, the following conclusions as to the law pertaining to desegregation of the public schools in North Carolina may be drawn.”
The approach to the problem was to circumvent the
decision by legislation.”
The vehicle designed to circumvent the decision was the
Pupil Assignment Act and the Constitutional
The enactment of the Pupil Assignment Act and the
Constitutional Amendment in North Carolina was a
deliberate attempt to provide the individual a means of
avoiding compliance with the Court’s decision and has
tended to perpetuate the bi-racial school system in North
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964 interjects an economic element into the desegregation problem. The threat of the loss of large sums of Federal aid which are available to school districts has caused the desegregation of more schools than the previous decade of litigation in North Carolina had effected.”
“If, as stated in the School Segregation Cases, the Supreme Court held that segregation and discrimination were synonymous, and that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal and a violation of the guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment, then there is general discrimination on account of race in the public schools of North Carolina. As the term is defined in this study, there are no integrated school districts in North Carolina and no conclusive evidence which indicates that the North Carolina Public School System is not, in fact, a bi-racial system.”
“Some of the persons closest to, and most influential in shaping, North Carolina’s official reaction to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in the Brown case were interviewed, and their comments made a decade after the decision are reported.”
A few selected quotes from the interviews:
Question: The Report of the Supreme Court Decision of May 17, 1954 by the Institute of Government at Chapel Hill discussed the alternatives open to the State, and the alternatives appear to boil down to three possibilities; that is, as stated in the report, defiance, compliance, or to play for time, making haste slowly enough to avoid litigation, and yet make haste fast enough to come within the law; thereby keeping the peace and keeping the schools.
I have simplified the third alternative by calling it what it appears to be – circumvention, which of course, means to go around, to gain advantage over by artfulness or stratagem.
Do you agree that the three possibilities cover the alternatives available to North Carolina at the time?
Mr. Conrad O. Pearson: “Yes, and North Carolina followed the alternative offered by circumvention.”
Mr. Conrad O. Pearson:
“The committee [The Special Advisory Committee appointed by the Governor] took a negative approach. They made no effort to influence public opinion toward compliance with the Court’s decision.”
Gov. Luther H. Hodges:
“I did not practice circumvention. We did make an effort to play for time.”
“At all times, the paramount consideration was that we must obey the law. We were sincerely trying to see if certain changes could be affected by new legislation.”
“We tried to keep the schools open. For example, at a meeting in Wilmington last night, I was introduced as the one who was responsible for ‘not a child lost a day of school’ in North Carolina as a result of the Brown decision.”
Gov. Terry Sanford:
“I would say that the vast majority of the people in North Carolina did not like the Brown decision, and even those that felt that it had to come, looked at it with a certain amount of regret.”
“And even those that felt that segregation in the schools should end looked with considerable dismay at it because of the possible violence and the difficulties that they knew would follow.”
“As I understand what Governor Hodges said at the time, there was a determination that North Carolina would not defy the court, and there was a feeling that the instantaneous compliance was not feasible. Not even desirable. I personally don’t feel that Governor Hodges and the Pearsall Committee were trying to get around the decision as much as they were attempting to soften the effects of it.”
Question: Did the committee [Special Advisory Committee, chaired by you] ever seriously consider immediate desegregation as a possible solution?
Dr. Thomas J. Pearsall: “No.”
Mr. Larry I. Moore:
“The Pearsall Plan made possible a more orderly transition.”
“At that time, if North Carolina had integrated the schools in proportion to population ratios, the school system would have been destroyed and there would have been riots. The people would not have accepted integration.”
Dr. Thomas J. Pearsall:
“For all practical purposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act voided the effects of the Pearsall Plan. We no longer have to deal with a Court decision but are dealing with social legislation from the Congress.”
The modern reader will notice that word choice has changed since 1966, when the word “Negro” was standard terminology, for example, as used by Mr. Conrad O. Pearson, the General Counsel for the North Carolina NAACP in his interview published in the appendix of this book.
My father gave me permission to publish his dissertation.
Ray L. Winstead
 Hawkins v. North Carolina Board of Education, 11 Race Relations Law Reporter 745 (Civil Action No. 2067, United States District Court, Western District of North Carolina, 1966). Front page headline and article “U. S. To Enter Suit Against N. C. Schools” in The Spartanburg Herald, (Spartanburg, S. C.), January 12, 1966.
 “Federal Court To Rule On Pearsall Plan,” The Bee, (Danville, Virginia), February 24, 1966, p. 19.
 Godwin v. Johnston County Board of Education, 301 F. Supp. 1339 (United States District Court, Eastern District of North Carolina, 1969).
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