Desegregating Education: Past and Present
In 1957, at age 15, Dorothy Counts was greeted with jeers and taunts as she became the first African American to attend the all-white Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her bravery that day is captured in a powerful photo featured in our current exhibit. For this panel discussion, Counts will share her story about that day, her role in the desegregation of U.S. schools during the 1950s, and how “the girl in the photograph” became a powerful symbol for change around the world.
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On September 4, 1957, 15-year-old Dorothy Counts walked into Harding High school as one of four African-American students attempting to integrate the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system in North Carolina. That day, Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey captured the now-famous image of Counts as she bravely approached school, taunted with threats of violence from a menacing crowd. After a week of harassment and abuse and non-acceptance by her peers, teachers and administration, her parents withdrew her and she furthered her education in Yeadon, Pennsylvania and Asheville, North Carolina.
Fifty years later, Counts was finally recognized by Harding High School and awarded an honorary diploma. During the ceremony, 9-4-57, a documentary produced by television reporter and award-winning filmmaker Steve Crump – featuring footage chronicling Counts’ four days at Harding High School – was aired to family, friends, citizens, students, and public officials. Harding’s School Leadership Team made a request to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to rename the school’s media center in Counts’ honor. On May 25, 2007, the Board approved the request. The Dorothy Counts-Scoggins Media Center now stands as a lasting honor to her hard-won legacy.
Counts has dedicated her life working to enrich the lives of others and with organizations that strive create a more just and caring world. After her experience with the desegregation of schools in Charlotte, North Carolina, Counts chose to work to ensure that all children would receive a quality education regardless of their race, religion, or culture.
In June 2007, Counts was invited to the North Carolina Governor’s Mansion along with eight other pioneers from across the state who were involved in school integration. They were awarded the Old North State Award from Governor Mike Easley. The Old North State Award honors outstanding North Carolinians for exemplary service and commitment to the state. A proclamation was issued that the recipients be commended for childhood courage in the face of taunts and threats.
After 24 years of service, Counts retired as Vice President of Quality Improvement and Business Consultation at Child Care Resources in July 2012. She has since started her own Early Childhood consulting service to assist in the development and management of quality early childhood education programs. She is a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University and received certification in Early Childhood Leadership at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
Not an Ostrich: And Other Images from America’s Library is the result of celebrated American photography curator Anne Wilkes Tucker’s excavation of nearly 500 images—out of a collection of over 14 million—permanently housed at the Library of Congress.Learn More
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