Happy Friday everyone!
Last week’s #704FF focused on how business and deals were done in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in the 30 years following the end of WWII and how it was everything but inclusive.
Bonnie Cone as Vice Chancellor of UNC Charlotte.
Few Charlotteans noticed when Bonnie E. Cone, a mathematics teacher at Central High School, was named the director of the Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1947. The school was a temporary facility created to educate veterans. Cone’s appointment to head the institution turned out to be a momentous event and a harbinger of significant change. A woman of indomitable will and determination, Cone began almost immediately laying plans to make the school a permanent institution of higher education. “It is doubtful that city leaders fully anticipated at the beginning the ramifications of having a major university in their midst,” writes Ken Sanford in his history of Charlotte College and UNCC. “However, Sanford continues, “the coming of state-supported higher education to Charlotte set in motion a sequence of events that would forever change Charlotte and its greater region.”
The creation of Charlotte College in 1949 as a municipally-financed institution and its eventual transformation into the University of North Carolina at Charlotte in 1965 was a seminal development in the history of this community, perhaps as notable as the arrival of Alexander Craighead in 1758, the coming of the first railroad to town in 1852, and the opening of the Charlotte Cotton Mills in 1881. So profound was the impact of Cone’s attainments that one must place her accomplishments even above those of Jane Renwick Smedburg Wilkes, the second most important woman in Charlotte-Mecklenburg history in the opinion of Dan L. Morrill.
“Charlotte College wouldn’t be where it is now if it hadn’t been for her,” said Board chairperson J. Murrey Atkins about Bonnie Cone. Born on June 22, 1907, in Lodge, South Carolina, Cone earned an M.A. in mathematics from Duke University and moved to Charlotte in 1941 to teach the same subject at Central High School. In 1943 Cone returned to Duke to work as a statistician for a U.S. Naval Ordnance Laboratory. After a brief stint in Washington, D.C., she returned to Central High School in 1946 and resumed her career as a high school math instructor. Elmer Garinger recruited Cone also to be a part-time teacher in the newly-opened Charlotte Center of the University of North Carolina.
Bonnie Cone teaching math at Charlotte College.
In August 1947 Garinger summoned Cone to his office and asked her to become the Director of the Charlotte Center. Everybody assumed that Cone had taken a dead-end job. “People told me I was out on a limb, that I couldn’t last. They said I should look for another job.” Cone worked up to 18 hours a day. She taught classes. She recruited faculty. “I can’t say anything but good about her,” proclaimed Mary Denny, a long-time associate.
Cone decided to fight to keep the Charlotte Center open because of the educational opportunities the institution provided for students who otherwise would have had little hope of attending college. “I saw what was happening to the young people,” she explained. Governor James Holshouser summed up Cone’s achievements best at the time of her retirement. “Some people devote their lives to building monuments to themselves. She has devoted her to building educational opportunities for others.”
Cone’s first major victory came in 1949. She and her supporters won permission from the North Carolina General Assembly to continue the two-year college under the auspices of the Charlotte public school system of which Garinger had just become Superintendent. Named Charlotte College, the institution ran on a shoestring. It operated with part-time faculty in part-time classrooms and had to depend almost solely upon student tuitions for its financial survival.
Except for the tenacity of Bonnie Cone and others, including W. A. “Woody” Kennedy, Charlotte College would never have moved beyond being a two-year community college. “Miss Cone has provided the faith on which the college many times found its primary ability to exist,” commented J. Murrey Atkins. “She has stuck with it and never even thought of giving up when sometimes the sledding seemed pretty hard.” Support among the business executives of Charlotte for the school was lukewarm at best. “Charlotte has never been short on pride,” said the Charlotte News on May 11, 1956, “but with the chips down, it has often exhibited distressingly little interest in higher education in the past.”
Dramatic breakthroughs for Charlotte College did occur in 1957 and 1958. The school began holding its first day classes; it acquired an independent Board of Trustees; local property tax revenues in support of the school increased; and Charlotte College secured options on land for its own campus. On August 12, 1957, the Charlotte College Board of Trustees voted to buy land on Highway 49. Businessman Oliver Rowe remembered going to the site with Bonnie when the only on the tract were a barn and a silo left from farming days. “She reached down and grasped a handful of earth, let it sift through her fingers and said, ‘This is the place. This is the place.’”
The beginnings of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus, 1962. At this time it, it was Charlotte College - a two-year school.
Charlotte College moved to its suburban campus in 1961. On May 8, 1962, the Board of Trustees voted to request the addition of the junior year in 1963 and the senior year in 1964. The NC General Assembly did approve four-year, state-supported status for Charlotte College in 1963. Victory came on March 2, 1965, when the General Assembly approved the transformation of Charlotte College into the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, effective July 1, 1965. A spontaneous celebration erupted on campus when word reached Charlotte from Raleigh. “Miss Cone, can you hear the victory bell ringing?” exclaimed her secretary into the telephone.
Until next week!
Email me at chris@704Shop.com if you have interesting Charlotte facts you’d like to share or just to provide feedback!
Find all previous Fact Friday blog posts by clicking here.
Information taken from:
Historic Charlotte: An Illustrated History of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County; 2001, Dan L. Morrill.
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