Robert Smith Student Project on the Charlotte African American Community

Miriam Bates oral history interview, 2006 November 18
Miriam Bates recounts her life growing up in Charlotte, her college experience at Hampton University in Virginia, and her return to Charlotte in 1978. Mrs. Bates recalls growing up in the Biddleville neighborhood in Charlotte, where she lived through high school. Her father was the principal of Second Ward High School, but she attended rival West Charlotte High School in the 1940s (both schools were segregated at the time). Mrs. Bates describes her neighborhood growing up as close-knit and safe, but she resented that her school received hand-me-down textbooks and band uniforms from the local white schools. After college she moved to New Haven, Connecticut, worked as a teacher, and had children in public schools. She describes the inequality in integrated schools there during the early 1960s and compares it with her experience when she was a student in a segregated high school in Charlotte. Mrs. Bates then recollects her time at Hampton University in Virginia, which she enjoyed, and participation as a charter member in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority. She moved back to Charlotte when she was in her 50s, and talks about her membership in the First United Presbyterian Church in uptown Charlotte and charitable activities of her church. She also discusses urban renewal and its impact on the African American community in Charlotte. Mrs. Bates concludes her interview by comparing the segregation of her childhood and adolescence with the civil rights movement of the 1960s when her children were growing up. She expresses her belief that the old physical barriers between whites and blacks are gone but subtle barriers still exist, and that people can fight this subtle inequality through education.
Carson H. Beckwith oral history interview, 2006 December 1
In this interview, Carson Beckwith recounts his life and career as a cosmetologist in Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Beckwith discusses his upbringing in rural Craven County, North Carolina, his experiences while attending school at the North Carolina College of Negroes (now North Carolina Central University), and his move to Charlotte in 1939 with his wife. He highlights his journey to New York City in the 1930s to learn cosmetology, and discusses how he opened the first cosmetology school for African Americans in the Charlotte region during the 1940s, Bands Beauty College. Mr. Beckwith states that he also founded the Charlotte Negro Chamber of Commerce with a fellow cosmetologist, Ned Davis. In addition, Mr. Beckwith discusses the civil rights movement in Charlotte and shares reflections on the city's African American community, particularly in his neighborhood, McCrory Heights., Carson Beckwith was a 97-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place in his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born in Dover, North Carolina in 1909. He was educated at the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and Molar Beauty College in New York, and was employed as a cosmetologist and the founder and director of Bands Beauty College in Charlotte., Digitization made possible by funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.
William Frank Bonham oral history interview, 2006 November 16
William Frank Bonham discusses his life growing up in segregated Charlotte and his significant contributions to the community, in particular his involvement in the local branch of the NAACP and his career as one of the first black telegram delivery men. He also describes his experience playing football at Second Ward High School, and explains the differences between the racially segregated sports facilities. Mr. Bonham recalls the racial discrimination that blacks encountered when they entered white-owned establishments and the downtown shops' resistance to desegregation, as well as the police brutality that blacks endured from Charlotte's white police force. Further, he describes how economic hardship and racial discrimination threatened the survival of African American businesses. Examples he discusses include efforts to drive black-owned cab companies out of business in the late 1930s and the disproportionate closing or seizure of black-owned businesses by local government as part of Charlotte's urban renewal program during the 1960s.
Harvey Boyd oral history interview, 2004 April 17
Harvey Boyd reflects on his extraordinary life achievements, despite his limited opportunities as an African American man growing up in the segregated South. He begins by describing his childhood home, where he also lived at the time of interview, in the community of Crestdale in Matthews, North Carolina. Boyd emphasizes his passion for art and discusses the resistance he met from his family and community toward his dream of becoming an artist. Mr. Boyd reflects on the perception at the time that a career in art was not an option for an African American. To pursue his goal, Mr. Boyd decided to transfer to West Charlotte High School in order to take art classes. Following high school he attended Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), acquiring an Associate's degree in graphic design. He recounts his experiences working for the Charlotte Observer in advertising, particularly in regard to his growing awareness of segregation. Moving north, Mr. Boyd continued his art education at Howard University in Washington, DC, while working for the Washington Post. He describes his experiences living in a non-segregated city for the first time and the impact this had on his life and work. While at Howard, Mr. Boyd was heavily influenced by his art professor, Lois Mailou Jones, whose example confirmed for him that a career as an artist was indeed possible for an African American. Mr. Boyd goes on to describe his career in advertising and his mission to integrate the advertising world by including African Americans in advertisements for companies such as Kellogg.
Viola Boyd oral history interview 1, 2004 March 9
Viola Boyd describes her life as an African American woman during segregation and the civil rights movement. Mrs. Boyd describes Matthews, North Carolina, and in particular the Crestdale neighborhood where she lived and grew up. She speaks frequently about her husband Sam Boyd, describing his various jobs and involvement in the community. Mrs. Boyd also describes how she became a beautician and talks about beauty parlor culture. Addressing the subject of civil rights, Mrs. Boyd recounts her memories of Ku Klux Klan activities in Matthews and Charlotte, and her son Harvey Boyd's involvement with protests in the area.
Viola Boyd oral history interview 2, 2004 March 26
In this follow-up interview, retired hairdresser Viola Boyd speaks about her life, career, and family. She begins by discussing her experiences while living in Philadelphia as a young wife at the age of 15 in the 1920s, including her search for a job and her social life. Mrs. Boyd had a son and left him with her mother in Matthews so she could work. She recalls how she and her husband Sam moved back to Matthews so their family could be together. She describes her family's difficulties farming cotton the first year they were back in Matthews, then their search for different work. Mrs. Boyd recounts her husband's career working for Seaboard Air Line Railway and her work as a hairdresser at her home. She recalls experiences of racism in her community in Matthews, including a time when a local doctor demanded that she go to the back door with her injured son. Mrs. Boyd shares her opinion that conditions had improved for African Americans by the time of her interview, but there were still prejudiced people in Matthews. She also discusses her leisure activities, including her membership in the Matthews-Murkland Presbyterian Church, working on her home garden, and entertaining visitors including local politician Rod Autrey. As the interview closes, Viola shares stories about raising her children, including teaching them about sex, avoiding arguing in front of them, and making sure they looked presentable.
Banita Brown oral history interview, 2006 December 2
In her interview, Dr. Banita Brown, an associate chemistry professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, reflects on her upbringing, education, and career. Dr. Brown recollects her formative years and early education in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and her educational journey from junior high school to earning her PhD. She discusses the academic challenges and the social environments she encountered, explaining that her ability to handle and grow from difficult situations stemmed from her family and faith. In regard to racial integration, Dr. Brown discusses how her family became the first African American family to join their local YMCA in the 1970s. She describes her participation in swimming and dance classes, and how some of the white children had never interacted with African Americans as peers before they had met her. As she concludes, Dr. Brown discusses how attitudes towards higher education have changed and how this has affected her as a professor.
Dorothy Counts-Scoggins oral history interview 1, circa 2004-2006
Dorothy Counts-Scoggins was the first African American student to attend the all-white Harding High School as part of the Charlotte City Schools' first reluctant attempt at school desegregation in 1957. In this interview, Mrs. Counts-Scoggins reflects on her brief time at Harding and how things have changed for African Americans since that time. She begins by contextualizing the desegregation of schools in Charlotte within the wider African American civil rights movement, and explains that desegregation efforts, initially led by the NAACP, came first. Mrs. Counts-Scoggins then describes her experience attending Harding at the age of fifteen and the reaction of white students and teachers. She was shunned by students and teachers; fellow students threw rocks at her, spit in her food, and broke the windows of her brother's car. She withdrew after four days. She shares her thoughts that there are more opportunities for African Americans today than there were when she was growing up, but prejudice and complacency still hold the black community back. She comments that segregation is no longer the law, but some schools today are mostly white or mostly black because of where people choose to live. Mrs. Counts-Scoggins then discusses how she believes that the family structure has changed from when she was growing up in the 1950s to the time of interview and how those changes have increased discipline problems in schools. She concludes by describing the Biddleville neighborhood where she lived at the time of interview. She talks about how some people perceive it to be dangerous, but she considers it home and she knows her neighbors. It's where she grew up, and she would like to help restore the community.
Dorothy Counts-Scoggins oral history interview 2, 2006 December 10
Dorothy Counts-Scoggins recounts her experience growing up in the Biddleville community in the 1950s, including being the first African American student to integrate Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. She discusses her four days at Harding in detail and explains how her time there influenced her own choices and goals in her personal and professional life. Other subjects discussed include Charlotte busing, the future of Charlotte's public schools, and the importance of preserving black community history.
Price F. Davis oral history interview 3, 2006 November 18
Price Davis recounts his early life in segregated Charlotte, North Carolina. He shares his memories of living in the predominantly white township of Providence in Mecklenburg County as well as his experiences of growing up in Cherry, one of Charlotte’s African American neighborhoods. Mr. Davis discusses the profound influence of racial discrimination and segregation in his life and on his community. In particular, he explains how racism influenced local government and the police department in Charlotte, specifically noting the way politicians perpetuated negative racial stereotypes and the brute force used by white police officers against African Americans. Despite segregation, Mr. Davis describes how he believes that Second Ward High School provided a quality education for African Americans during his youth in the 1930s and 1940s. He explains that education provided a means of economic and social uplift for African Americans and that it played a crucial role in bringing about a gradual change in race relations in the community by diminishing widespread cultural insensitivity and ignorance.
William Samuel Dunlap oral history interview, 2006 December 1
William Samuel Dunlap, commonly known as Sam, recounts his life in Charlotte’s Brooklyn neighborhood, focusing on his success as a student-athlete at J.H. Gunn High School and his time as a student at Carver College. Mr. Dunlap describes joining non-violent protest with students from Johnson C. Smith University, which helped to integrate uptown Charlotte's businesses. He also discusses the police brutality and racial discrimination enforced by white police officers as well as the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. He criticizes Charlotte’s civil rights movement for being too moderate. Specifically, he states that the local movement took a passive stance on integration and failed to produce vocal and aggressive civil rights activists who dared to take on controversial issues. He does note, however, that Black Panther Party members took an active role in assisting poor black Charlotteans with food and were effective in preventing white police brutality. Mr. Dunlap also discusses how urban renewal displaced blacks and attempted to keep them out of the inner city by limiting their long-term affordable housing options.
John Love oral history interview, 2004 April 9
South Carolina native John W. Love discusses his life in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his personal experiences with segregation, the civil rights movement, integration, and race relations in the city. Originally from Chester, South Carolina, Mr. Love moved to Charlotte in the mid-1950s and attended segregated Charlotte City Schools before continuing his education at Mecklenburg College (later Central Piedmont Community College) and UNC Charlotte. Mr. Love returns to the topic of race and education throughout the interview, reflecting on the high value which the black community placed on education, the inequality of the segregated system, and the black experience with desegregation through busing. Although Mr. Love does not see himself as a civil rights activist, he acknowledges his significance as one of the first African Americans to integrate the workforce within both the Charlotte city government (the city engineering department and the post office) and the Charlotte Observer in the 1960s. He reflects on his uneasy position as a minority within these institutions and his awareness of prejudice within the wider community. He also remembers local and state civil rights activism and the retaliation of extreme white groups. In particular he recalls the death of his cousin Sandra Smith in Greensboro, who was killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1979. However, Mr. Love also recalls Charlotte's relative calm in comparison with other southern metropolitan areas, attributing this to successful communication that was facilitated by Charlotte's black leadership. Considering contemporary challenges with respect to race, Mr. Love notes that job discrimination was still a major issue at the time of the interview and he stresses his own experience of prejudice within recreational sports and in particular golf. During the interview Mr. Love also describes the vibrancy of the black community and black businesses in Charlotte during the 1950s-1970s.
LaVerne Miller oral history interview, 2006 November 26
LaVerne Miller discusses her experiences growing up in Second Ward, a predominantly African American neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, in the 1950s and 1960s. She describes the communal support for each family and how residents felt that it was safe enough to let kids roam the neighborhood and leave their doors unlocked. Mrs. Miller also relates her experiences at segregated Second Ward High School, the city's original high school for African Americans, including school clubs she was involved in and homecoming. She explains that the teachers went beyond their required duties to help students and describes attending the school as a wonderful educational experience. As the interview concludes, Mrs. Miller discusses how urban renewal dismantled Second Ward, the closing of Second Ward High School, and her belief that the break up of the neighborhood ultimately harmed Charlotte's entire African American community.
Marty Johnson Saunders oral history interview 1, 2006 November 28
Charlotte native Marty Saunders talks about her life, family, and career as a teacher. She recounts growing up in the Biddleville neighborhood, and how her family emphasized the importance of education. Mrs. Saunders describes attending West Charlotte High School, where her father was a teacher, and Johnson C. Smith University, before working as a teacher at segregated Charlotte elementary and middle schools in the 1950s. After integration, she taught at the formerly all-white J.M. Alexander Junior High School. Mrs. Saunders discusses at length her experiences at the newly integrated school, including stories of racial tension among teachers, parents, and students. She characterizes the majority of white students at her school as being from working-class families and the black students were from professional families, and noted that students from different racial backgrounds often got along better than the teachers. Mrs. Saunders recalls holding meetings at her home where the black teachers discussed their experiences with racism in the school. The group then brought their complaints to administration, which led to the school instituting workshops to improve race relations and cultural awareness. As the interview concludes, Mrs. Saunders shares her thoughts on topics, including negative changes in society by the time of interview and urban renewal in Charlotte's African American communities.
Marty Johnson Saunders oral history interview 2, 2006 December 7
Charlotte native and teacher Marty Saunders continues the conversation about her life and the Biddleville neighborhood where she grew up in this second interview. She explains that during the 1940s-1950s, Biddleville had a strong sense of community and that many of its residents were well-educated homeowners with professional jobs, and that there was very little crime. Mrs. Saunders describes her early interactions with white people as limited but mostly pleasant, and says that she never had a negative attitude toward white people when growing up. She talks about urban renewal and how part of the Biddleville neighborhood was torn down, including the house where she grew up. She also describes some of the other African American neighborhoods in Charlotte, including Greenville and McCrorey Heights, and the poor white community of Stumptown. Mrs. Saunders relates a sense of anger from some of her former neighbors for losing their community, and says that the new neighborhoods do not have the same values and communal spirit of Biddleville. She opines that there will never be another neighborhood like the Biddleville of her youth, and that while largely beneficial, integration has taken the "blackness" out of the culture of her children's generation.
Vernard Thompson oral history interview, 2006 December 2
Digitization made possible by funding from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina, a division of the Department of Cultural Resources.
Mary Vaughn oral history interview, 2006 November 18
Mary Vaughn describes her experiences growing up in the segregated Charlotte neighborhood of Brooklyn and shares her opinions on social issues at the time of interview. She recalls the poor quality of the homes in her neighborhood and how her family was forced to relocate in the 1960s when the Brooklyn neighborhood was torn down during urban renewal. Ms. Vaughn explains how blacks faced discrimination during the 1950s and 1960s as they were prohibited from entering many public businesses, including restaurants and movie theaters. She also discusses important challenges faced by blacks at the time of the interview. Specifically, she states her opinion that unfair housing policies persisted in the 2000s, since urban revitalization was encouraging the gentrification of neighborhoods and pushing longtime residents out much as it did during urban renewal in the 1960s. Ms. Vaughn also describes how blacks in low wage jobs suffer because they have fewer financial resources and struggle to maintain their self-sufficiency. In addition, she discusses the negative influence of drugs on African American men, and her belief that drugs have led to increased violence and higher unemployment among young black men.
Nathaniel Washington oral history interview, 2006 November 14
Nathaniel Washington describes his early life in the Third Ward section of Charlotte, North Carolina. He discusses his experience in segregated schools during the 1950s-1960s, explaining that there were inequalities as black schools were supplied with outdated textbooks and failed to incorporate black history into the school curriculum. Further, he describes how he faced racial discrimination in his daily life through downtown restaurants that had separate ordering procedures for blacks, segregated seating on buses, and Charlotte's urban renewal policies, which destroyed traditionally black communities that were important to his family history. He also explains that he was able to advance to the position of assistant manager at a Denny's restaurant, a position that allowed him to oversee white employees. Despite building strong relationships with his employees, he experienced racial discrimination from a local white hotel manager who disliked his social interaction with whites. Although Mr. Washington experienced prejudice in the community and in the workplace, he describes how he always treated people with respect and accepted people as individuals, regardless of the color of their skin.