My grandchildren and I attended an event at the library. In a room overflowing with kids making crafts, Carolyn Gray handed me a flier advertising an exhibit: “The Carver High Experience” at Carrollton High School. She’s the force behind a museum to house artifacts from the all-black high school that closed in 1968.
I told her I wanted to meet a female Carver graduate from the class of 1966, the year I graduated from West Charlotte High School. My hunch was we shared similar experiences 300 miles apart. Carolyn introduced me to Carl Ann (named after her father and mother) Jones. Carl Ann worked at Tanner Hospital for 31 years as a cardiopulmonary lab technician.
When we talked I suggested we have our yearbooks handy for reference. Carl’s class size was 64. Mine was about 400. Her class prophecy began, “All the world’s a stage.” My motto: “To thine own self, be true.” We belonged to clubs and attended sock hops, proms and sporting events. Both schools had a newspaper and championship teams, a homecoming parade, and queens — I was Miss National Honor Society. She attends class reunions. I’m the poster child for alumni apathy.
I anticipated seeing Carver’s display. In Carrollton High’s office I met a well-informed volunteer, retired history teacher Rita Gentry. I peppered her with questions and she provided an oral and written history of local schools.
In 1886 the Georgia Legislature authorized Carrollton citizens to vote on creating a public school system. The first public school opened the next year for grades 1-10 in the re-furbished Carroll Masonic Institute. That school was for white children.
During the1920s Mandeville Mills had a school for the children of their workers. The Carrollton Training School was constructed with WPA public works and Rosenwald funds in 1932. It served black students in Carroll County in grades 1-11 until Carver High School was constructed in 1954.
Then Rita said something that still has my head spinning: In the mid-1960s schools adopted a “Freedom of Choice” plan. There was voluntary integration. Say what?!
I was stunned because in my beloved former hometown school integration was anything but voluntary, or peaceful. Charlotte will forever be linked with court-ordered busing to root out the old patterns of official segregation. Protests made the community wrestle with issues of race.
Dorothy Counts was one of four black students chosen to break the color barrier in 1957. On her first day at a white high school she and her father, a Presbyterian preacher and university professor, walked through an angry mob. They navigated a sea of 400 faces blazing with hatred, taunting and jeering her. That picture appeared around the world. Dot was driven out of Harding High school by acts of violence.
Ninety miles north, in 1960 four college students were refused service at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, based on “local custom.” The civil rights movement spread like wildfire through the south. The homes of three Charlotte community leaders and an attorney were bombed in 1965. I was friends with the children in those families. We went to school and church together.
In spite of an abundance of civic pride, city fathers were slow to recognize the inevitability of change. Charlotte has always been prosperous and moving forward. Gold was discovered in a neighboring county before the strike at Sutters Mill in California. In the 1830s a branch of the U.S. Mint was built in Charlotte so we could coin gold. There’s a branch of the Federal Reserve. The Bank of America headquarters enhances the smell of money in the air.
Wealthy communities maintain the status quo. Maybe that’s why politicians and the chamber crowd didn’t hasten toward integration.
At Carrollton High I asked Tamara Boykin, class of 2016, if she liked the Carver display. She said, “Oh yes. It’s so good to see past generations of students. I’m looking for a picture of my father.” I loved that moment.
I also love that when it mattered, Carroll County offered freedom of choice. Our community should be proud.
Murphy is a member of the Carrollton Creative Writers Club and the Carrollton Civic Woman’s Club. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.