On September 4, 1957, a 15 year-old girl walked down the street to her first day at a new high school. Dorothy Counts was a special young woman; tall, smart, and pretty.
She was also the first African American student to enroll at Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was one of four students to integrate High Schools in that city that year.
Her walk from her father's car to the school building was short, but she was followed and hounded along the way by a crowd of angry white kids. They told her she was not welcome and should go home. Only less politely than that.
She made it to the school, but her career there was short. The stress of that first day expressed itself in a sore throat and fever. She returned to the school for three more days before the threats, rock-throwing, and spitting convinced her parents to pull her out of the school.
Here's the statement her father released to explain that move:
In enrolling Dorothy in Harding High School, we sought for her the highest in educational experience that this tax-supported school had to offer a young American. ... Needless to say that we regret the necessity which makes the withdrawal expedient. This step, taken for security and happiness, records in our history a page which no true American can read with pride.True. And fifty years later, have we earned the right to be proud of ourselves? Technically, our society is integrated; as are our schools. But, let's be honest: we can do better.
One has only to read the "comments" section of the News Journal web site to see how far we have yet to go.
Yet, I take some hope from the story about this anniversary in last Saturday's Charlotte Observer. Dorothy Counts -- now Dot Counts-Scoggins -- is able to look back with compassion and some understanding on that time, and so are several of the young boys, now older men, who made up part of that mob.
Have a look, it's worth the read.
(Photo credit: Don Sturkey, 1957 North Carolina Collection, Univ. of N.C. Library at Chapel Hill.)