Happy Friday everyone!
The North Carolina Military Institute opened in Charlotte at the corner of Morehead Street and South Boulevard on October 1, 1859. The massive castle-like dormitory and classroom building was known as Steward’s Hall and was designed to look like the buildings at West Point, since the school sought to emulate its curriculum. The first superintendent was Daniel Harvey Hill, a West Point graduate and veteran of the Mexican-American War. The institute closed when the Civil War broke out, and the cadets soon went to Virginia to fight against the Union Army. Hill would go on to become a prominent Confederate general and an avid Southern scholar. The Confederate army used Steward’s Hall as a medical dispensary and a federal prison during the war, and later housed the Mecklenburg Female College, and then the Charlotte Military Academy (1873-1882), a private school for boys. In 1882 it was purchased by the city and became the first white school in the Mecklenburg County Public School system. As it was owned by the city, tax revenues funded the school.
This photograph from 1927 shows the dedication of the stone historical marker for the school, which was attended by Governor Angus McLean, as well as Daniel Harvey Hill’s grandson and great-grandson.
The former military institute was alternately known as the South Graded School during its early life as a public education institution, and from 1882 to 1900 it was the only white school in Charlotte. In 1920 Alexander Graham Junior High was built next door as the first junior high school in North Carolina, and was named after the former principal of the South Graded School. Sometime in the 1920s, the grade school became known as the D. H. Hill School, acknowledging its roots as a military training school. D. H. Hill closed in 1937, and both of the schools were torn down in the 1950s to make way for the Independence Boulevard expressway that cut across town and ended at Morehead. One year before Alexander Graham Junior High was torn down in 1958, in 1957 the school was integrated following the landmark Supreme Court decision of Brown. v. Board of Education. A new school of the same name was then built in Myers Park and remains today. Today the site of the D. H. Hill School is occupied by the Dowd YMCA building, built in 1960.
It is unclear when the initial monument, dedicated in 1927, was removed. This likely occurred when the school was torn down. Per the photo, the front plaque displays two rifles crossed. It is unclear whether the initial monument donned any Confederate signage or specifically listed any official or affiliated Confederate groups. 36 years after the building of the Dowd, in June 1994 a new stone monument to the North Carolina Military Institute was installed. Along with celebrating cadets who attended the school, the pillar displays a carving of the Confederate battle flag on the front and bears the name of at least two organizations, The Sons of Confederate Veterans, who raised about $3,500 to have the monument installed, and the Daughters of the Confederacy, who have a bronze plaque attached to the monument’s back.
Today, the Dowd YMCA manages between 3,000 to 4,000 visitors per day, the most in the region, and has some pretty significant renovations planned, to the tune of about $20 million. Renovations were to start towards the end of 2015, but were delayed due to a change of plans regarding a parking deck and rezoning. At a minimum, the renovations would have called for the movement of the monument to another location on the grounds. But in the spirit of inclusiveness, the YMCA has decided that once removed for renovation, the monument will not be reinstalled. To many, the Confederate Battle flag represents and is symbolic of time in our nation’s history when free slave labor and African/African-American subjugation were the backbone of the southern social and economic engines, and its residents went to war to protect their way of life (i.e. state’s rights). For that reason, Chris Orr, Executive Director of the Dowd YMCA stated, “[The monument] challenges our Y’s commitment to welcome all… In no way do we wish to show any disrespect to any person who works to celebrate heritage and honor ancestors.”
Perhaps the monument can be moved to the Confederate section of Elmwood Cemetery, where it would be in like company. A Confederate Soldiers Monument was installed in front of Charlotte’s Old City Hall in May 1977, but was moved to Elmwood in 2015.
Until next week!
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Information taken from:
Charlotte, Then & Now; 2013, Brandon Lunsford
Additional commentary added.
“We have to do with the past only as we can make it useful to the present and the future.” – Frederick Douglass