In Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina, authors Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain, and Amy Rogers have compiled an intriguing pictorial history, which includes images and keepsakes from both the Second Ward Alumni House Museum archive and private collections, to celebrate Charlotte's African-American citizens and the rich heritage they possess. In this week's Fact Friday, I'll share just a few.
On September 4, 1957, the same morning that three other African-American students set out to become the first blacks to attend all-white Charlotte public schools, Delois Huntley smiled bravely from the porch of her home in this photo attributed to noted African-American photographer James Peeler. At Alexander Graham Junior High School, she was spared the taunts and attacks that befell others, but her experience was difficult nonetheless.
The strain of Delois' ordeal is evident in this photo. Although photos taken earlier in the day show a hopeful young woman setting out for school, this photo captured Delois sitting alone at a corner desk, very much aware that she is being ignored by her classmates.
Of the four segregation pioneers who first integrated Charlotte's previously all-white schools, two were from the same family. This photo of Gus and Girvaud Roberts leaving for school early the morning of September 4, 1957 is thought to have been taken by James Peeler, also.
Gus Roberts, Girvaud's older brother, encountered resistance when he entered Central High School but the calm leadership of school administrators prevented trouble. Of the four black students who entered all-white Charlotte schools on the first day of integration, only Gus remained to graduate from his school. He went on to work in public education, and became superintendent of schools in Darlington, South Carolina.
Girvaud Roberts, the first African-American to attend Piedmont Junior High, peacefully joined the student body on September 4, 1957, amid concerts that protests could turn violent. Fortunately, they did not.
Fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts walked through an angry crowd of white students to become the first African-American to attend Harding High School. As she entered school that first day in 1957, she endured taunting, racial epithets, and being spat on. In this photo, Dr. Reginald Hawkins escorts her as she leaves school. As the week wore on, the pressure grew. Dorothy's locker was ransacked, students threw trash at her, and teachers ignored her. Despite the efforts of some sympathetic classmates, after four days of increasing hostility, Dorothy's parents withdrew her from Harding and sent her to live with relatives and attend school in Pennsylvania. Eventually, Dorothy would return and make her home in Charlotte.
For more information on these four trailblazing students, see Fact Friday 61 - The First Four.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
Black America Series: Charlotte, North Carolina by Vermelle Diamond Ely, Grace Hoey Drain, and Amy Rogers (2001)
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass