The Emergence Of Diversity: African
Dan L. Morrill
of North Carolina at Charlotte
An African American stands in front of the
monument commemorating the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.
Jim Crow and the declaration's promise were irreconcilable.
The significance of the
creation of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte
, the concurrent rise of female influence on local elected governmental
bodies, and the enactment of district representation notwithstanding, it
was the persistent struggle of African Americans to gain the full rights
of citizenship that occupied center stage in Charlotte-Mecklenburg during
the years of social transformation that followed World War Two.
The black veterans who returned to Charlotte in 1945 found the
rules of racial segregation demeaning and repugnant.
"It was very upsetting to realize you
have given precious time of your life for supposed freedom in a
country that was still segregated," said Charlottean Gerson Stroud
. Raymond Rorie
, a school principal, agreed. "This was one of the problems we black
soldiers faced," he declared. "We
were protecting our country when we didn't have freedom ourselves." Jim Crow
was about to enter its last days in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. There were three main
players in this compelling drama -- two blacks and one white. They were Fred D. Alexander
, Julius Chambers
, and Mayor Stan Brookshire
Fred Alexander Being Sworn In As Member Of The
Charlotte City Council. Milton Short is in the middle.
In 1965, Fred D. Alexander became the
first African American elected to the Charlotte City Council and the first
black to hold elected public office in Mecklenburg County since the 1890s. He served for nine years. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and
the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had put the full weight of the Federal
government on the side of equal access for all citizens to public
accommodations and the voting booth.
“Alexander personified a new age in which blacks took advantage
of the opportunities" offered
by Federal Civil Rights
legislation, writes historian Randy Penninger in his M. A. Thesis on
Alexander’s political career.
Frederick Douglas Alexander
was named for Frederick Douglass, the Great Emancipator of the
nineteenth century. Born in
Charlotte in 1910, Alexander had a soft-spoken, diplomatic demeanor, which
assisted him in winning white support for the improvement of the African
American community. “Fred
was just simply a person who handled every kind of situation well,”
commented furniture retailer and fellow City Councilman Milton Short
. Alexander's father was Zachariah Alexander
, who, after graduating from Biddle Memorial Institute
, established Alexander Funeral Home in the Second Ward or Brooklyn
neighborhood. It was there
that Fred and his brother, Kelly Alexander
, who would eventually become State president of the NAACP, learned the
social skills and sensitivities to other people’s feelings that would
serve the two Alexander brothers well in their respective public careers.
Even before Fred Alexander
graduated from Lincoln University in Chester County,
Pennsylvania in 1931, he had decided that access to the ballot box was the
only way that black Charlotteans could improve their lot.
He was asked by a classmate to go with him to Africa to work for
the liberation of its native people.
“My God,” Alexander remembered saying many years later, “I Came from Africa, and If I can go there to help free HIS
people, I can go
back home and help free my OWN Africa.” Alexander
carried through with his promise. “Fred
came back to Charlotte with one thing in mind
-- political action,” said noted local author and newspaperman
Harry Golden, publisher of the Carolina
Israelite, was a prominent Civil Rights advocate in the 1950s
Beginning in the 1930s, Fred Alexander
devoted great amounts of time to registering African Americans
to vote. New Deal programs
assisted him in this endeavor.
“Constantly working for increased political awareness of blacks,
Alexander lobbied for the appointment of black police officers and mail
carriers, for business courses in the black high schools, and for improved
health care,” writes historian Randy Penninger.
Alexander was a
founding member and executive secretary of the Citizens’ Committee for
, an organization established in 1932 to increase political participation
by African Americans. In
1949, the group sponsored two candidates for public office.
, a lanky Texan who operated an insurance and real estate business in
Second Ward, ran unsuccessfully for City Council; and James Wertz
, pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church
on East Second Street, failed in his bid for a seat on the
Charlotte City School Board.
Their defeats were virtually guaranteed, because an at-large voting
and representation system for municipal offices had been instituted after
Dale had almost won a seat on City Council in 1934.
Happily for Fred Alexander
and other aspiring African Americans, the political culture of
Charlotte began to change after 1950, largely because of voluntary
integration of public facilities and businesses in Charlotte in 1963, the
passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of
1965, and, most importantly, the successful integration, albeit limited,
of the local public schools in 1957. It was during the 1950s and 1960s,
sometimes called America's "Second Civil War," that the White
initiatives of the 1890s began to give way to new
arrangements, both politically and socially.
These years, writes Jack Claiborne
in his history of the Charlotte
, were a "time of upheaval."
carefully built the political base from which he would launch
his campaign for City Council. "There
has been no Negro in public office in my lifetime," he proclaimed.
"If there had been, we would have seen a different type of
community human relations." Knowing that he would have to win
a city-wide race, Alexander sought appointments to high profile
institutions so he could become better known in the white community.
He became the first African American member of the Charlotte
Chamber of Commerce
in 1962 and of the Mecklenburg County Board of Public Welfare
in 1963. He was picked to
serve on the Mayor's Community Relations Committee and became a member of
the Executive Committee of the Mecklenburg County Democrat Party in 1964.
Fred Douglas Alexander announced his candidacy for the Charlotte
City Council on February 4, 1965. "Alexander stresses his desire not
to be considered ‘the Negro candidate,’ but rather as a man who will
work for the good of the entire community,” proclaimed the Charlotte
on April 24, 1965. He told reporters that it was "necessary for somebody to
interpret the needs of a third of our population."
Although regarded by some blacks as overly cautious, especially by
outspoken Civil Rights advocate Dr. Reginald Hawkins
, Alexander received an outpouring of support from the African American
precincts and was able to garner just enough white support to win the last
contested seat. On
May 11, 1965, Fred Alexander
took the oath of office as the first black City Councilman in
twentieth century Charlotte.
Alexander sought from
the outset of his tenure on the Charlotte City Council to increase the
voice of the black community in public affairs by having African Americans
appointed to governmental boards and commissions, including the Welfare
Board, the Civil Service Board, and the Urban Redevelopment Commission.
“Alexander believed black representation on boards and
commissions was necessary,” writes Randy Penninger.
As the lone African American member, Alexander met with little
success. He did take a
leadership role in bringing urban renewal to the Greenville neighborhood
and in advocating programs to provide low income housing throughout the
city. “I feel the strain upon the housing needs of the City of
Charlotte, especially as the condition exists among our Negro citizens,”
Alexander declared on September 18, 1967.
Fred Alexander Watches Fence Separating Elmwood
And Pinewood Cemeteries Being Removed On January 7, 1969.
Alexander's most significant victory
during his years of service on the Charlotte City Council was the
removal of a fence that separated Elmwood Cemetery
and Pinewood Cemetery
, the former for whites and the latter for blacks.
“It’s cheaper to take it down than to maintain it.
Plus the insult that comes with it,” said Alexander on April 30,
1968. There was opposition in
the white community. “To me
it seems the colored people are acting just like some children—wanting
everything they can get,” said one woman.
The fence did finally come down.
City Council voted on January 6, 1969, to remove this galling
vestige of Charlotte’s Jim
The greatest challenge to the continuation of the status quo in
Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in the years following World War Two
arose in the area of public education.
On September 4, 1957, the local public schools became racially
integrated for the first time in their history.
With the backing of School Superintendent Elmer Garinger
, Dorothy Counts
enrolled that day at Harding High School
; Gus Roberts
entered Central High School
; his sister, Girvaud Roberts
, became a seventh grader at Piedmont Junior High School; and Delores
matriculated at Alexander Graham Junior High School
In this writer's opinion, the gradual abandonment of rigid racial
segregation in the 1950s and 1960s in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
occurred essentially for the same reason that it had been put into place
in the 1890s. Jim Crow
had now become bad
for business. Men like D. A. Tompkins
, Hamilton C. Jones
, and Cameron Morrison
, had looked upon Populism and black Republicanism as threats to
unremitting economic development and growth at the turn of the last
century. By the 1950s,
however, the racial arrangements of the South were becoming increasingly
anachronistic, even embarrassing, and were isolating the region from the
rest of the county and the world.
Such realizations among Charlotte's business elite allowed Dr.
, the unassuming and fatherly Superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg
Schools since 1949, to summon key members of his staff to his office in
July 1957 and announce that a small number of African Americans would be
assigned to white schools that fall.
"It was the right thing to do, and despite any confusion or
discomfort it might soon cause, Charlotte, North Carolina, was going ahead
with it," states Frye Gaillard in his book, The
Dream Long Deferred.
Tensions were running high between the races in September 1957.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools were scheduled to open on September 4th
with four African American students attending previously all-white
classrooms for the first time. In May 1954, the United States Supreme Court had ruled in the
landmark case Brown v. Board of
Education of Topeka
that "separate but
equal" schools were inherently unequal, thereby setting aside the
legal precedents established in 1896 in
Plessy v. Ferguson
. The Court “handed the
South the greatest problem of readjustment the region has had to face
since the Civil War," declared the editors of
. On December 1, 1955,
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
and other black activists launched the now famous boycott of
the city buses in Montgomery, Alabama.
On September 2, 1957, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubas
surrounded Central High School
in Little Rock with National Guardsmen and declared the campus
off limits to white and to black students. Faubas stated in a televised
speech that night that if African American students attempted to enter Central High,
"blood would run in the streets."
Klansmen picket the Visulite Theater on Elizabeth
It was within this emotionally-charged atmosphere that
Charlotte-Mecklenburg prepared to integrate its schools on September 4,
1957. Robed and hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan picketed the
Visulite Theater on Elizabeth Avenue on September 1st. They were
protesting the showing of the movie, "Island
in the Sun," directed by Robert Rossen and starring such notable
performers as James Mason, Joan Collins, Dorothy Dandridge, and Harry
Belafonte. The film
depicted interracial romances. The
Klansmen dispersed without incident when they were ordered to do so by
Police Chief Frank Littlejohn
. "A few obvious sympathizers of the Klan parked near the
theater jeered photographers who arrived to make pictures of the
pickets," reported the Charlotte
Even more provocative and outlandish were comments made by a racist
rabble-rouser named John Kasper
He delivered an inflammatory speech to about 300 white people
who had gathered on the steps of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse.
He called upon the white citizens of Charlotte to rise up against
the school board. "We
want a heart attack, we want nervous breakdowns, we want suicides, we want
flight from persecution," Kasper declared.
Aware that native-born evangelist Billy Graham
was scheduled to arrive from New York City the next day,
Kasper said: "Billy
left here a white man but he's coming back a
n….. lover." Billy Graham
, a man of impeccable character and highest standing in Charlotte and the
nation as a whole, declined
to respond to such ridiculous dribble when he stepped off the train at the
Southern Railroad Station
on September 2nd.
The culmination of the crisis occurred shortly after 9:30 a.m. on
Wednesday September 4th at Harding High School. 15-year old Dorothy
Counts left her parents' home on Beatties Ford Road just across from
Johnson C. Smith University
, where her father taught religion and philosophy. She
was driven to Harding that late summer morning by
Dr. Edwin Tompkins, also a member of the Johnson C. Smith faculty
and a friend of the family.
Not since D. H. Hill and his colleagues had charged the dormitories
at Davidson College
in 1854 had there been such explosive passion on the campus of
a local school.
In her book
Southern Sampler. Women of Courage, Peggy Barrow Culbertson
quotes from a conversation she had with Counts several years later.
one day several of the leaders of the black community determined that it
was time to test the 1954 Supreme Court ruling, outlawing segregation.
They same and spoke to my parents, as well as to several other families.
After much discussion it was decided that because of my outgoing
personality and early maturity, I was the best candidate the waters.
Dorothy Counts Walks To Harding High School.
A crowd of upperclassmen who had
registered earlier that morning congregated in front of the school to
listen to John Z. Warlick
and his wife, leaders of the White Citizens Council
. "It's up to you to keep her out," shouted
Mrs. Warlick. Attired in a
simple print dress with a broad bow and ribbon dangling from her collar,
walked up the sidewalk that led to the front door.
Hoots and catcalls filled the air.
remained stoical throughout this electrifying encounter.
She said nothing, even though some young whites threw trash and
rocks toward her, most landing at her feet.
"I do remember something hitting me in the back," she
told a newspaper reporter, "but I don't think they were throwing at
me, just in front and at my feet."
exhibited remarkable poise that day. When asked if any whites spat upon her, Counts answered:
A good many times, mostly on the back."
Mayor Brookshire was determined that pictures such
as this would never appear in the press again.
Dorothy Counts soon succumbed to the harassment and scorn she experienced,
largely because she feared for the safety of her family.
"The students were pushing, shoving, spitting in my food," she explained
many years later. "But the first time I was afraid was when I saw my
brother in the car and students broke a window." Counts withdrew from Harding High School after attending for only four days and transferred to a school
in Pennsylvania, but the other three
African Americans who had enrolled with little or no fanfare at other
schools on September 4th remained for the entire year. Gus Roberts
would eventually graduate from Central High School. Indeed, the
contributions of Gus Roberts, Girvaud Roberts, and Delores Huntley to the advancement of integrated schools were more
substantial, if less confrontational, than those made by Counts. Progress, however, was slow.
"Not a lot happened in the schools for the next several
years," writes Frye Gaillard. The
number of blacks attending integrated classrooms increased but only
gradually. Charlotte remained
mostly a segregated city.
The greatest legacy of the stirring events that had transpired at
Harding High School
on September 4, 1957, was the determination of Charlotte's
business leaders that such events would never happen again.
Photographs of Dorothy Counts
walking demurely through a throng of screaming and spitting
students had appeared in newspapers across the United States, including
the New York Times.
"Those pictures sickened Charlotte's corporate
executives," Jack Claiborne
told this writer. Thereafter,
influential Charlotteans, most notably C. A. "Pete"
, editor of the Charlotte Observer
1954 until 1976, nurtured an atmosphere of racial tolerance that
facilitated the rise of Fred Alexander
and other moderate African Americans to positions of
community-wide influence. "We
have not defied the Court, but we have made it clear that we will make
changes slowly and with due regard for the personal feelings of our
people," stated the editors of the Charlotte
Observer on May 17, 1958,
the fourth anniversary of Brown v.
Board of Education of Topeka
The man who best exemplified the accommodating
attitude of Charlotte's white business elite on racial issues was
, Mayor of Charlotte from 1961 until 1969.
Like Ben Douglas
a native of Iredell County, Brookshire graduated in 1927 from
Trinity College, now Duke University, and in 1933 joined with his brother,
, in establishing Engineering Sales Company.
In matters of economics and business Brookshire was a typical New
South booster. Expansion
and growth were at the top of his agenda.
"We had a lazy city ready to burst out at all seams, and it
did, and it's still doing it and will continue to do it," said City
Councilman Jim Whittington
when commenting on Brookshire's impact on Charlotte.
told this writer that Mayor Brookshire assigned him the task
of investigating where Charlotte could construct new water lines -- the
umbilical cords of suburban expansion.
A natty dresser, Brookshire circulated in the same privileged
venues that men like Harry Dalton
had enjoyed during World War Two.
"He loved to play golf, and he enjoyed the burnished ambience
of the country club," remembered Jerry Shinn
, associate editor of the Charlotte
The Savoy Theater on Rozzelles Ferry Road was for
Brookshire "always considered himself
the Chamber of Commerce
's choice for mayor and he ran the city from that perspective,"
stated City Councilman John Thrower
. Having served as president of the Chamber of Commerce,
Brookshire was recruited to run for mayor by Charlotte's white business
leaders who did not want the more liberal Martha Evans
to win. On racial
issues Brookshire was a moderate. Above
all else he sought to avoid a repeat of
the embarrassing events of 1957, when national newspapers had
carried photographs of Dorothy Counts
being harassed as she entered Harding High School
. "Brookshire identified himself with Atlanta Mayor Ivan
.," explains Alex Coffin. Unlike
Mayor Arthur Hanes
of Birmingham, Alabama, who championed the continuation of
segregation, Brookshire, like Allen, favored peaceful reconciliation and
looked upon moderates in the African American community like Fred
as his principal allies.
Johnson C. Smith University students stage sit-in.
Charlotte teetered on the edge of
racial conflict in the early 1960s. There were sit-in demonstrations at
eight local lunch counters on February 9, 1960.
Store managers refused to serve the African Americans and closed
down. Seven did resume
operations on an integrated basis the following July.
Black dentist and Presbyterian minister Reginald Hawkins
, whom Brookshire despised, was the most strident voice in the local
African American community. On
May 20, 1963, Hawkins led hundreds of Johnson C. Smith students on a
protest march against racial segregation in restaurants, theaters, hotels,
motels, or any other business establishment that served the general
|Warner Hall, minister of Covenant Presbyterian Church
and Chairman of the Committee on Community Relations, was a strong
voice for peaceful accommodation and racial tolerance.
Hawkins, a native of Beaufort, North
Carolina, had a penchant for publicity.
He purposely chose the 188th anniversary of the alleged signing of
the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence in 1775 to
stage his protest. "There
is no freedom as long as all of us are not free," the tempestuous
dentist and preacher shouted. The
crowd greeted his remarks with "Yeah"
and "No." "We
shall not be satisfied with gradualism," Hawkins proclaimed.
"We want freedom and we want it now."
As the students began to disperse, Hawkins issued a threat to the
white leadership of Charlotte. "Any day might be D Day . . . . They can either make this an open or democratic city or there
is going to be a long siege. They
can choose which way it's going to be."
This was not idle talk.
Mayor Brookshire knew that demonstrations were occurring in
Raleigh, Durham, and Greensboro, and that large numbers of protestors were
being arrested. "Pete"
of the Charlotte
Brookshire and suggested that decisive action was needed to maintain the
peace. Brookshire agreed.
He asked Ed Burnside
, president of the Chamber of Commerce
, to call a meeting of the Chamber's executive committee.
These actions culminated in the Chamber of Commerce's approving a
resolution on May 23rd calling upon businesses in the community to open
their doors voluntarily to African Americans.
"May 23, 1963, could be the day leading to a major
breakthrough in human relationships for the Queen City and the
Carolinas," stated a Charlotte Observer editorial. "
. . . once the leadership of this community has set its course, regardless
of the individual problems encountered," the newspaper continued,
"it will not swerve from it until all citizens can breathe free in
the public ways." This
prediction was borne out in the weeks and months that followed.
Legal racial segregation ended voluntarily in Charlotte and
Mecklenburg County in 1963. "I positively think that this voluntary
action enabled us to avoid the violence of murder, riots, arson, and
looting, which plagued many of our cities," declared Brookshire
shortly before his death from lung cancer in 1990.
The struggle for full integration of
the public schools was not yet over, however.
, a laconic but brilliant lawyer, often speaks in a quiet monotone that
gives little indication of the passion for racial justice that burns in
the core of his being. Born
in Mt. Gilead, North Carolina, Chambers arrived in Charlotte in July 1964
after receiving a law degree from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill, an advanced degree from Columbia University, and serving for
one year as an intern for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
"He provided for blacks in Charlotte the legal brilliance that
their movement had lacked," writes Frye Gaillard.
did not wait long to visit Chambers in the lawyer's rented
office on East Trade Street to express frustration over the progress of
integration in the public schools.
Dr. Reginald Hawkins
On January 19, 1965, Julius Chambers
, acting on behalf of Vera and Darius Swann
, whose son had been assigned to all-black Biddleville Elementary School
near Johnson C. Smith University
, filed legal briefs in Federal District Court in Charlotte.
Chambers argued that the pupil assignment plan of the
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools violated the United States Constitution and
that the School Board was obligated to take more resolute action to
eliminate the vestiges of racial segregation that persisted in the public
William E. Poe
Many Charlotteans, including School Board
Chairman William Poe
, believed that this community had a sterling record with respect to race
relations and that some in the African American community were pressing
their demands for more comprehensive school integration too assertively.
"I never knew of any occasion when he even wrote a letter," Poe
stated many years later when discussing Chambers.
"He never came in and said, 'let's talk about these
things.'" Such behavior frustrated and angered Poe.
Police Investigate Bombing.
Anger of a more sinister kind erupted
in Charlotte during the early morning hours of November 22, 1965. Sticks
of dynamite exploded with dramatic suddenness in the yards of the homes of
, Kelly Alexander
, Reginald Hawkins
, and Julius Chambers
. It was as if a compressed coil of racial hatred suddenly
sprang forward. Luckily,
nobody was hurt. The
perpetrators were never identified, but Mayor Brookshire and the Charlotte
City Council left no doubt as to how they felt about this incident.
"We are ashamed and horrified by the acts of violence,"
read their official statement. "They
have done much damage to the four homes involved.
They have done far greater damage to our community." According to Alex Coffin, Brookshire regarded these bombings
as the "low point in his time in office." "The despicable
acts of these nightriding terrorists do not represent the spirit of
Charlotte," asserted the Charlotte
. Mayor Brookshire himself would experience the barbs of racial
retaliation. A burning cross
was found in his yard on August 26, 1966.
Charlotte experienced another round of intense
racial stress in the days following the tragic assassination of Dr. Martin
Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968. Cities
across the country exploded in orgies of rage, and many wondered whether
the same would happen in Charlotte. President
R. P. Perry closed Johnson C. Smith early for spring holidays "to
maintain calm." Students
at Davidson College
donned black armbands in honor of Dr. King, and those at
Second Ward High School wept openly during an emotionally wrenching memorial service.
Mayor Brookshire and County Commission Chairman Jim Martin
declared a city-wide day of mourning and scheduled a memorial service for
noon on April 6th at Ovens Auditorium. Dr. Warner Hall,, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church and
chairman of the Mayor's Committee on Community Relations, said that the
people of Charlotte needed to come together to express a "personal sense
Police stood at the Square in April 1968 after dark to assure that
nobody was on the streets.
George Leake, the passionate and physically
imposing minister of Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church, alarmed Mayor
Brookshire and other civic leaders during a meeting of the Committee on
Community Relations on April 6th. Leake spoke with
uncharacteristic candor to representatives of the white elite. African Americans, he said, rejected "attempts to placate the
Negro community and to soothe the conscience of whites."
Leake called upon the business community to "teach Negroes in
the same way that they teach the dumb white folks."
He warned that Charlotte could experience "long hot
summers" and even "chaos" unless it curbed the racist
behavior of some policemen and improved recreation programs in poorer
neighborhoods. Blacks, he
said, would continue to fight "with the ballot, boycott, picket and
will march if that is the only way you'll answer the call."
He ended by inviting whites to come to a memorial service on April
8th where "men of color will honor one of their own."
This writer attended the Dr. Martin Luther
Memorial Service held at St. Paul's Baptist Church on the
evening of April 8, 1968. It
was a memorable experience. The
streets were virtually empty, because Mayor Brookshire had declared a
city-wide nightly curfew earlier that day.
Black ladies in white dresses greeted the people politely and
handed out programs at the door of the Gothic Revival style church, which
would soon fall victim to Mayor Brookshire's "slum clearance"
program for the Brooklyn
The banging radiators along the walls of
the packed sanctuary seemed to underscore the significance of the moment. The audience was about half white and half
Brookshire was there. County
Commission Chairman Jim Martin
was there. “I
didn’t believe you would come,” proclaimed Rev. Leake. “I am encouraged that at last you did come down and share
with us.” Kelly Alexander
glad to see so many people here,” he declared.
“I’m sorry it took Martin Luther King’s death to bring us
Some of the attendees at the April 8th Memorial
delivered a stirring sermon.
His sonorous tones reverberated against the walls of the old
sanctuary, evoking tears and shouts of “Amen” from many in the
audience. He began in a
dignified, measured manner similar to that employed by preachers in white
churches. It did not take
long, however, for the more dramatic style of the African American clergy
to come to the surface. Leake
suddenly thrust his arms skyward and began swaying from side to side in the
pulpit. Perspiration beaded
on his forehead and trickled down the side of his shiny, black face.
“The Lord has gathered him up and said, ‘Martin you have done enough.
You have walked enough miles, you have made enough speeches.'”
The service ended with black people and white people singing
"We Shall Overcome," the anthem of the civil rights movement.
This writer realized that he was witnessing a watershed moment in
the history of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
Dr. Raymond Wheeler of the Southern Regional Council appreciated
its meaning. "I tell all
of you, black and white, racial separation is not the answer."
Local physician Raymond Wheeler was a champion of
There were still major challenges to face.
On April 23, 1969, Federal Judge James B. McMillan
ruled for the plaintiffs in the landmark Swann case.
McMillan, a native of Robeson County,
declared that the public schools of Charlotte and Mecklenburg
County had "the affirmative duty to desegregate 'now' by positive
measures." The eventual
outcome of his order was the establishment in 1970 of a system of
cross-town busing to assure that schools would be racially integrated.
This community is still grappling with the issue of how to provide
equal educational opportunities for all children when many neighborhoods
continue to be racially homogenous. Yet the trend toward greater racial
understanding is irreversible. At
the time of the completion of this manuscript African Americans are fully
represented on the Charlotte City Council and the Board of County
Commissioners. A black man is
Chairman of the Mecklenburg County School Board. Another African American
is County Manager. The City
Manager is a woman. The two representatives from Mecklenburg County in the
U.S. House of Representatives are a black man and a white woman.
Judge James B. McMillan.
Protestors march in front of Judge McMillan's
Banks will lead Charlotte into the new
institutions have long occupied a vital place in the history of this
community. The First National Bank of Charlotte
opened in August 1865, followed by the Bank of Mecklenburg
four years later, and the Merchants and Farmers Bank
in 1871. Word H. Wood
, a native of Elkin, N.C. and graduate of Eaton & Burnett Business
College in Baltimore, Maryland, moved from Winston, North Carolina to
Charlotte in 1901. He and George Stephens
, a boyhood friend, were instrumental in establishing the Southern Trust
, which has evolved into today's Bank of America. On July 26, 1905,
William Henry Belk
and others secured a charter for the Charlotte Trust Company
, which later merged with the Charlotte National Bank
and became an initial tenant of the Realty Building or
. Certainly, the opening of the Charlotte Branch of the Federal Reserve
Bank of Richmond
on December 1, 1927, furthered strengthened Charlotte's role
as a regional banking center.
Hugh McColl, Jr.
significance of financial institutions in Charlotte's economy leaped
forward again in the 1980s. Hugh
, a feisty ex-Marine and president from 1983 until 2001 of what is now the
Bank of America, led a successful effort to expand the operations of local
banks across state lines. The
bank’s first out-of-state full
service acquisition, because it already owned a trust company in Orlando,
was in Florida in 1982. The
pace quickened after the Supreme Court ruled on June 10, 1985, that states
could band together in regional compacts to permit reciprocal interstate
banking without having to open their doors to banks from all states.
Within months McColl’s bank bought Pan American Banks Inc. of
Miami, Florida, Bankers Trust of South Carolina, and Southern National
Bankshares Inc. of Atlanta. “If
you don’t grow, you do the opposite.
You die,” said McColl in 1987.
Like Bonnie Cone
, D A. Tompkins, and Edward
, McColl is a
South Carolinian and a quintessential Charlottean, because economic
development is uppermost on his agenda.
No less aggressive than McColl in expanding Charlotte’s role in
interstate banking was Edward Crutchfield, Jr., president of First Union
If one could somehow cheat the clock
and host a dinner party with such local notables as Cameron Morrison
, Dr. Charles Fox, David Ovens
, Hamilton C. Jones
, Ben Douglas,
Hugh McColl, and Ed Crutchfield
attending, it would be a harmonious and congenial gathering,
because except on the issues of race and increased rights for women,
Charlotte has not had a fundamentally new guiding principle in at least
150 years. This writer cannot
help but wonder what the generations of Native Americans who sat huddled
around campfires at the Big Rock
would think about the world
that white people and black people have wrought.
The Big Rock now sits in the middle of a suburban housing
development that has lots of cul-de-sacs.
The beat goes on.