Civil Rights and Desegregation in Charlotte

Alfred Alexander oral history interview, 2001 May 10
Alfred Alexander describes his early life in Charlotte, North Carolina during the 1950s-1970s as the son of prominent civil rights pioneer Kelly Alexander Sr., a leader in the Charlotte and the North Carolina branches of the NAACP. As a child he lived in the Brooklyn neighborhood, and he recalls having limited access to certain public spaces and separate public facilities in the downtown area because of the local laws that enforced racial segregation. The Alexander family was central in the fight against racial discrimination in Charlotte, and Mr. Alexander discusses how his father gained strong local support for the NAACP’s core philosophy of using legal action to bring about change and promote interracial cooperation. He also discusses his experience as a student at West Charlotte High School during the first years of school integration. He talks about the lack of physical violence in most student disputes, the school administration’s implementation of integration policies and student assignment plans, and his work on the NAACP Youth Council to protest busing policies that were disproportionately unfair for black students. However, Mr. Alexander recalls that while racial violence was minimal in schools, it was not absent from the Charlotte community. He describes the night his home, and the homes of his uncle Fred Alexander and two other civil rights activists were bombed in 1965, and vividly recalls it as a frightening and emotional experience. Mr. Alexander goes on to explain that the attack ultimately had a positive effect on race relations in Charlotte because it united black and white members of the community together in their efforts to combat violence., Alfred Alexander was a 48-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place in his mother’s home (Margaret Alexander) in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born in Charlotte in 1952. He was educated at West Charlotte High School, North Carolina Central University, and Gupton Jones College of Mortuary Science; and was employed in his family’s business, Alexander Funeral Home., Kelly Alexander, Sr. Family papers, 1930-1980. J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Charlotte.; Kelly Alexander, Sr. collection of NAACP materials, 1911-1997. J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at 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.
Margaret Alexander oral history interview 1, 2001 April 30
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 Lou Clarke oral history interview, 2001 May 11
Mary Clarke, Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP president (1986-1990), describes her experiences working for the NAACP from the 1950s to the 1990s, with attention given to her early role as a fundraiser and her later work as chapter president. Ms. Clarke explains the role the NAACP played in the evolution of Charlotte's race relations, from the civil rights movement and school desegregation in the 1960s and 1970s to community/police tensions and the role of racism in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) in the 1980s. She recounts the racial violence groups like the KKK used in an attempt to silence the NAACP, including personal threats made against her and the bombings of the homes of several African American leaders in the area. Also discussed is the central role women played in the Charlotte chapter, how the NAACP worked with local white government leaders, and her experience as part of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee. Ms. Clarke describes her motivations for making health care and health education her top priority during her presidency, and in particular, the work she did on combating substance abuse and raising AIDS-awareness in the community.
Kathleen Crosby oral history interview, 2001 October 1
Kathleen Crosby was a 76-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place in her home in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was born in Winnsboro, South Carolina, on March 9, 1925. She was educated at Johnson C. Smith University, Bank Street College of Education, and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte; and was employed as a teacher, school principal, and school administrator., Kathleen Crosby recounts her forty-year career as an educator in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS), as well as her involvement in the civil rights movement in Charlotte. She describes the conditions for African Americans living under Jim Crow in the Charlotte region in the 1930s to the 1950s, with special focus on the way it affected teachers and students. As the original Head Start Program coordinator for CMS, as well as the former director of the regional Head Start training center, Ms. Crosby explains the beginnings of the program in the Charlotte area, the training teachers underwent, and how Head Start classes were racially integrated long before the rest of the school system was. She discusses how she was brought in as the principal of Billingsville Elementary in the early months of busing and how she changed the school's institutional culture, working and bringing together teachers, students, and parents of all backgrounds and turning what had been a troubled school into a successful model of school integration., 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.
Thereasea Delerine Elder oral history interview 2, 2001 May 9
Thereasea Elder recounts her and her family's experiences living in Charlotte throughout the twentieth century, as well as her forty-five years as a nurse. Growing up in a segregated Charlotte, she describes life in the close-knit African American community and details the central role of the church and the focus on education within the community. Ms. Elder's medical career began at the white only Charlotte Memorial Hospital, and after earning her nursing degree she went to work at Good Samaritan Hospital, Charlotte's only medical facility for African Americans. She explains the disparities between the two and recounts the difficulties Good Samaritan's staff faced due to the scarcity of resources. Joining the Mecklenburg County Health Department as a public health nurse in 1962, Ms. Elder was part of the pilot program in the 1960s to integrate Charlotte's community health program. This led to her experiences working in the Paw Creek area, an economically disadvantaged white community. Describing the region as 'Klan country', she recounts the racism she faced from residents and how ultimately she and her fellow nurses were able to make the program a success, leading to the full integration of the health department. Ms. Elder discusses the integration of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system from the perspective of a parent whose two sons were bused to a formerly all-white school. She discusses her views on the limited success of integration and the current state of race relations in Charlotte, with particular attention to the role housing policy could have played in producing a more fully integrated Charlotte with improved health and educational outcomes for disadvantaged Charlotteans of all races.
James E. Ferguson II oral history interview, 2001 November 28
James E. Ferguson was a 58-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place in his office in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was born in Asheville, North Carolina, on October 10, 1942. He was educated at North Carolina Central University and Columbia University School of Law, and was employed as a lawyer., James Ferguson, a partner at the first integrated law firm in North Carolina, recounts his life's work fighting for civil rights in the state. His involvement with social justice began when he was still in high school, where he helped found the Asheville Student Committee on Racial Equality, which successfully negotiated the desegregation of Asheville's public facilities. Mr. Ferguson explains his role in Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education and describes the community's reaction to school integration. He argues against the popular narrative of Charlotte as the "city that made desegregation work" with examples from his experience, including the school board's resistance to integration at the time of the Supreme Court ruling and how the board continued to subvert the spirit of Judge McMillan's requirement of "equal distribution" through busing and new school development policies through the present date of interview. Mr. Ferguson shares what he sees as the most positive outcomes of school integration, including a higher quality of education for African American students, and how exposure to each other has benefited both white and black students and strengthened the community as a whole. He also discusses his involvement with the "Charlotte Three" case and how, despite the government's fears at the time, Charlotte lacked any real radical movement. The interview closes with his thoughts on the future of race relations in Charlotte. Despite the city's growing diversity, he foresees continued tensions as the fight over neighborhood schools and the push to re-segregate the school system increases as a result of the appeals court's 2001 affirmation of the district court's 1999 ruling ending mandatory busing in the reactivated Swann case., 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.
Sidney Freeman oral history interview 1, 2003 May 21
Sidney Freeman was a 76-year-old man at the time of interview, which took place in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte. He was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on January 23, 1927. He was educated at the University of Wisconsin, Bowling Green State University, and Cornell University; and was employed as a minister with the Unitarian Universalist Church., Rev. Dr. Sidney L. Freeman, the longtime minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte (UUCC), recounts his involvement in the city's civil rights movement. Originally from Wisconsin, Dr. Freeman moved to Charlotte in 1957 to take the ministerial position at the socially progressive UUCC. That same year he was invited to join the faculty of Johnson C. Smith University as the second full-time white faculty member, and would continue to teach there until 1987. It was through his teaching position that he became a more active participant in the civil rights movement. Dr. Freeman explains how student Charles Jones invited him to participate in the first Charlotte sit-in, stressing that Jones and other student leaders managed and organized the sit-ins in such a way as to reassure the university faculty and also open a line of communication with the Charlotte Police Department. Dr. Freeman describes what the sit-ins were like, including the strategies of the the participants and the reactions of the lunch counter staff and patrons. He also describes how his congregation was active in supporting the protesters, and explains that it was through his role as a Unitarian minister that he was invited by President John F. Kennedy to participate in a meeting of civil rights leaders at the White House in 1963. Dr. Freeman goes on to discuss school integration, both as a member of the clergy and as a father who had children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system at the time. He discusses Charlotte's transformation into a diverse multicultural city over the past thirty years (1970s-2000s); in particular, the growth of the Muslim community and the positive work organizations like the National Conference for Community and Justice have been doing to bring diverse religious groups together. The interview concludes with a discussion of the end of busing to achieve racial balance in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, due to a 2002 court decision, and the damage he feels it will do to students and to the city as a whole. Dr. Freeman expresses his view that the only way to overcome the persistent racism in our society will be through education and exposure to diversity., 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.
Reginald A. Hawkins oral history interview 1, 2001 June 11
In this interview, Dr. Reginald Armistice Hawkins discusses his significant involvement in the African American Civil Rights Movement nationally, within the state of North Carolina, and in Mecklenburg County. Mr. Hawkins candidly describes his experiences during the era of segregation, as well as his activities as a political activist when he was a student at Johnson C. Smith University during the early 1940s, and after his return to Charlotte to practice dentistry in 1948. As a member of the local NAACP, and as the organizer of the Mecklenburg Organization on Political Affairs (MOPA), Mr. Hawkins was closely involved with local political protests for many years. He discusses his role in advocating for school integration during the period following Brown v. Board of Education. He also highlights his involvement in the landmark Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education case, which introduced integration through busing in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. Mr. Hawkins also describes the reprisals he experienced in response to his activism. Of particular note were bomb attacks on his and other local black leaders' homes in 1965. Mr. Hawkins describes his involvement with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the local response to Dr. King's tragic assassination in 1968. He closes the interview by stressing the impact that black women had on the civil rights movement, and the significance of his local political action group, MOPA.
Girvaud Justice oral history interview 1, 2006 August 6
Girvaud Justice was one of four African American students who attended all-white schools in Charlotte in 1957 as a challenge to the city's slow response to desegregate schools, which had been mandated by the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In this first of four interviews, Mrs. Justice discusses her childhood experiences in the First Ward and Second Ward neighborhoods, stressing the negative impact of serial displacement that her family faced during urban renewal in the 1960s. She describes local businesses, churches, and other institutions in these neighborhoods, including Myers Street School, the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, and the Brevard Street Library, which was the first free black library in the South. Mrs. Justice recalls the cohesiveness of the local culture and the way that families assisted each other with child rearing, and compares this with what she sees as a lack of discipline for children at the time of the interview. Encouraged by her mother's pioneering activism in demanding equal educational opportunities for her children, Mrs. Justice explains that she and her brother Gus were eager to attend the all-white schools of Piedmont Junior High and Central High. She describes the prejudice and discrimination that she and Gus faced in their respective schools, but she also recollects the support she had from the principal of Piedmont, and the way that attitudes shifted over time. In addition to race, Mrs. Justice also notes that class has played a significant role in inequality.
Girvaud Justice oral history interview 2, 2006 August 11
Girvaud Justice was one of four African American students who attended all-white schools in Charlotte in 1957 as a challenge to the city's slow response to desegregate schools, which had been mandated by the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In this second of four interviews, Mrs. Justice continues to discuss her school experience at Piedmont Junior High School, her family's move during urban renewal, and challenges that her neighborhood of Belmont has faced since. Mrs. Justice explains that while she and her brother Gus did not face extreme hostility, their pioneer efforts did not lead to a change in public opinion about school integration, and she was ultimately prevented from attending the all-white Garinger High School. Mrs. Justice continues with a reflection on the impact that Charlotte city planning has had on poor black neighborhoods, describing her own family's enforced move from First Ward to make way for a road which never materialized. She recalls that hers was the first black family to move into the Belmont neighborhood, where they witnessed the practice of blockbusting by property speculators as more displaced black families sought places to live. Mrs. Justice describes the increase in crime, including drug trafficking, that her neighborhood has struggled with, and also the negative consequences of gentrification, which has led to increased property taxes that have priced poorer people out of the neighborhood.
Girvaud Justice oral history interview 3, 2006 August 25
Girvaud Justice was one of four African American students who attended all-white schools in Charlotte in 1957 as a challenge to the city' slow response to desegregate schools, which had been mandated by the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In this third of four interviews, Mrs. Justice discusses changes in the Belmont neighborhood where she had lived for forty years. She describes the recent effects of gentrification in the neighborhood and the hardships experienced by many long-time homeowners. Mrs. Justice expresses her disappointment in local government, especially in regard to the running of the Belmont Community Center, the Belmont Community Development Corporation, and what she describes as misleading guidance from the city planning department. She relates her personal experience as the president of the Belmont Neighborhood Strategy Force and her concerns over the impact of Habitat for Humanity in Optimist Park and Belmont. Mrs. Justice also recalls her late father, Edward Roberts, and his work with Norfolk Southern Railway and the Charlotte Country Club, where he was the green keeper for many years. Continuing her discussion of education from her second interview, she describes her high school education at the integrated Charlotte Catholic School., Girvaud Justice was a 62-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place in St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. She was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1944. She was educated at UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College; and was employed with the U.S. Postal Service as a station manager and data technician, and with the Social Security Administration and the Charlotte Water Department in administrative roles., 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.
Girvaud Justice oral history interview 4, 2006 September 22
Girvaud Justice was one of four African American students who attended all-white schools in Charlotte in 1957 as a challenge to the city' slow response to desegregate schools, which had been mandated by the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In this final of four interviews, Mrs. Justice discusses her career in Charlotte, starting in the early 1960s at the Charlotte Water Department, where she was the first person of color to be employed. Her next employment was with the local Social Security Administration, which she describes as a model work environment where employees were valued and good work was rewarded. Following the advice of her brother, who was employed at the Charlotte Post Office, Mrs. Justice moved from the Social Security Administration into the post office, where she remained for many years despite the difficult work environment. Although well recompensed and promoted to management, Mrs. Justice recalls that she witnessed discrimination of various kinds at the post office, including racism, sexism, and ageism. In particular, she recalls inappropriate behavior by male workers and especially white male managers who took advantage of their positions to seduce black and white female employees. During the interview Mrs. Justice also discusses her opinions about children' discipline, which she feels should be handled directly by parents and teachers, and illegal immigrants, who she feels should not be sanctioned and permitted to work since they have broken the law., Girvaud Justice was a 62-year-old woman at the time of interview, which took place in St. Luke’s United Methodist Church. She was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1944. She was educated at UNC Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College; and was employed with the U.S. Postal Service as a station manager and data technician, and with the Social Security Administration and the Charlotte Water Department in administrative roles., 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.
Gerson L. Stroud oral history interview, 2001 June 20
Gerson L. Stroud recounts his experiences as a lifelong resident of Charlotte as well as his thirty-one year career with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system where, as principal of West Charlotte High School, he oversaw that school's racial integration. Reflecting on his childhood, Mr. Stroud discusses the complete separation of black and white communities in Charlotte and the impact this had on children, who even from a young age understood that there were racial rules that must be followed. He also recounts how his father, who worked at some of Charlotte's finest hotels and restaurants, provided employment opportunities to Johnson C. Smith students so they could finance their education. An army veteran of World War II, Mr. Stroud explains how segregation affected African American soldiers throughout their military career from induction to access to veterans' benefits. Following his service, Mr. Stroud recalls the path he took into teaching and how Superintendent Dr. Elmer Garinger recruited him for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. Mr. Stroud discusses his experience as West Charlotte High School's principal as the school weathered a number of challenges including the closure of Second Ward High School, the subsequent incorporation of Second Ward's population into West Charlotte, and the implementation of school busing to integrate the school system. In particular, he details the challenges the school administration and staff faced when all but nineteen of the school's teachers were transferred to other high schools and replaced with newly hired white teachers, and how in the lead-up to integration the local media and the school system all expected West Charlotte to be the epicenter of racial conflict. However, when it came time to integrate, other than a short-lived boycott by white students, West Charlotte had fewer racial issues than the other high schools. Mr. Stroud attributes this to the hard work of the teachers and the staff. Mr. Stroud concludes by reflecting on how Charlotte has changed over his lifetime.