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A Picture Counts
September 4, 2007 12:23 PM   Subscribe

On Sept. 4th, 1957, a 15-year-old girl named Dorothy Counts took a walk that changed Charlotte. The photograph was taken by Don Sturkey. He took a lot of great pictures of North Carolina history.
posted by zzazazz (42 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
President Eisenhower sent in the 101st Airborne Division to escort the children to class.

101st Airborne. To escort children to class. Damn.
posted by DU at 12:42 PM on September 4, 2007


Dignity, and grace, and guts. I don't know that I'd have the courage to do something like that now; I certainly didn't have it when I was fifteen.

Thanks for this.
posted by rtha at 12:49 PM on September 4, 2007


In our criticism of the media in the Gore FPP below, a small offering of thanks should be made: thank God there were reporters present during Dorothy's walk. If there weren't, it's obvious from the expressions on the faces of the hecklers that things would have been a lot, lot worse.
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:50 PM on September 4, 2007


Good post, some captions for some of the pics you linked to are at the bottom of this page. The newsroom picture (from the "a lot" link) is of the JFK assassination. I did kind of guess that one.

This is great stuff though, I never heard of this guy before. (Sturkey, not JFK).
posted by marxchivist at 12:52 PM on September 4, 2007


We still have a long way to go. (previously)
posted by caddis at 12:56 PM on September 4, 2007


We still have a long way to go.

Yes we do.
posted by ericb at 1:03 PM on September 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's sort of amazing how far we've come with race relations in the last 50 years. It's also kind of amazing to consider how not long fifty years really is, and how embarrassing it is to consider that my grandparents generation found this kind of behavior acceptable.

It's good that there was such a talented photographer present to document the moment, and provide us with a reminder that what we believe is allowable today might be considered barbaric in two generations.
posted by quin at 1:07 PM on September 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


Longer all the time, apparently:
Report: Segregation in U.S. Schools is Increasing
posted by uosuaq at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


“In 1957, forty black students applied for transfers at a white school. At 15-years of age, on September 1957, Counts was one of the four black students who were enrolled at various all-white schools in the district; Counts was at Harry Harding High School, North Carolina. Three students were enrolled at other schools, including Central High School. The harassment started when the wife of John Z. Warlickthe, the leader of the White Citizens Council, urged the boys to ‘keep her out’ and at the same time, implored the girls to spit on her, saying, ‘spit on her, girls, spit on her.’ Counts walked by without reacting, but told the press that many people threw rocks at her—most of which landed in front of her feet—and that many spat on her back. More abuse followed that day. She had trash thrown at her while eating her dinner and the teachers ignored her. The following day, she befriended two white girls, but they soon drew back because of harassment from other classmates. Her family received threatening phone calls and after four days of extensive harassment—which included a smashed car and having her locker ransacked, her father decided to take his daughter out of the school. At a press conference, he said:
It is with compassion for our native land and love for our daughter Dorothy that we withdraw her as a student at Harding High School. As long as we felt she could be protected from bodily injury and insults within the school’s walls and upon the school premises, we were willing to grant her desire to study at Harding.
The family moved to Pennsylvania, where Counts attended an integrated school in Philadelphia.”*
posted by ericb at 1:08 PM on September 4, 2007


You know, I often wonder what became of the people taunting folks like Dorothy in similar photos. I wonder what they think when they see these pictures years later. I hope that they are truly embarrassed for their behavior. I hope beyond hope that today they feel remorse for how truly ignorant and ridiculous they were.
posted by Pollomacho at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2007


This isn't complete without mentioning the resegregation of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools due to a court decision in 1999.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:10 PM on September 4, 2007


Wow. She really held her head up high above the ocean of venom surrounding her.

Amazing photos. Amazing girl.
posted by brain_drain at 1:12 PM on September 4, 2007


"'I expected something. But really, I didn't expect it to be like that,' Dorothy Counts said.

(In the auditorium) a girl sat beside her, told her not to worry, 'everything is going to be all right.' 'She said she hoped we'd be in the same class, and we are,' said Dorothy..."

As word of her reception at Harding got around, the phone started ringing at the Counts' residence. By 5:30 p.m., there had been no abusive calls. Several callers had apologized for the student behavior.

'One mother said she was calling at the request of her two daughters who attend Harding,' said Rev. Herman L. Counts, Dorothy's father. 'She said they wanted her to tell Dorothy how embarrassed they were at the way the student body acted, and to tell her that not all of the students were like that.'"*

-----

"She got sick. At home that night Dot's throat ached and her forehead was on fire. It was so bad that she stayed home the next two school days -- Thursday and Friday.

But she had some hope for the next week. She had hit it off with a couple of girls that first day, one in particular. They joked and shared family pictures. Dot expected things would get better.

This is how the week turned out.

On Monday, when Dot walked up, the girl told her they couldn't be friends anymore. Other white students had thrown eggs at the girl's car and shoved her in the hallways.

On Tuesday, a group of boys surrounded Dot at lunch and spit in her food.

On Wednesday, she decided to go home for lunch, which students were allowed to do. Her brother drove up to take her home. Somebody threw something at his car and shattered the back window.

She came out and saw it and that was the first moment in all those days that she was afraid.

They went home. Her parents talked to her and thought about it. On Thursday the family announced that they were pulling Dot out of Harding.

....She spent just four days in class at Harding.

But the pictures of those days -- Don Sturkey's picture, and others -- had traveled the world.

In Paris, writer James Baldwin -- who had left the United States, heartsick at how his people were treated -- walked by a newsstand and saw Dot's picture. He decided he had to go back.

At home, Dot got a stack of mail every day. Charlotte's own Billy Graham wrote her a letter: 'Those cowardly whites against you will never prosper because they are un-American and unfit to lead.'

The one Dot remembers best was a letter of encouragement from comedian Steve Allen. It came with a check for $100.

But she was gone by the time most of the letters came. Her parents sent her to live with an aunt and uncle in Philadelphia, where she went to an integrated school.

Life magazine's Sept. 16 issue came out with an eight-page spread on integration in Southern schools. The package included two photos of Dot.

A few weeks later, the magazine published a letter to the editor from Michigan:

'My deepest admiration goes to Dorothy Counts for her quiet dignity and courage in the face of the indecency committed upon her by those tragic boys.'"*
posted by ericb at 1:20 PM on September 4, 2007 [4 favorites]


Local news station, WBTV, clip on Dorothy Counts documentary (by Steve Crump) airing tonight in Charlotte, NC.
posted by ericb at 1:29 PM on September 4, 2007


In 1970, Charlotte became the first major American city to use busing to integrate schools.
My brother started school in 1970 in Charlotte, me, two years later. I don't remember any particular turmoil, but I was probably more interested in what flavor ice cream we got for dessert. Thanks for the post, zzazazz.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:35 PM on September 4, 2007


Pictures like that still make me angry.
posted by NationalKato at 1:37 PM on September 4, 2007 [1 favorite]


I too wonder if any of the ignorant kids in the picture look back on that with a deep sense of shame--perhaps the photo forever showing their cowardly actions prove to be a prod to do better in this life than they did back then. We can certainly hope so.*

* Though I have little doubt that for a few of them "the day we showed that nigger her place" is probably the highlight of their life.
posted by maxwelton at 1:47 PM on September 4, 2007


wonderful stuff--and it's disgusting that we're resegregating (with the approval of the supreme court!)
posted by amberglow at 1:50 PM on September 4, 2007


I too wonder if any of the ignorant kids in the picture look back on that with a deep sense of shame...

This article from the first link in the FPP has the recollection and perspective of some of those kids.
posted by ericb at 2:03 PM on September 4, 2007


As the mother of a gay son, and as a "nice", non-judgemental person in general, ericb's link to GodHatesFags made me SICK. Literally. I can't believe this shit goes on. Where the hell have I been?
posted by wafaa at 2:12 PM on September 4, 2007


wafaa -- Fred Phelps, his Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful ways are real and alive. BTW -- check out their recent music video: God Hates the World.
posted by ericb at 2:21 PM on September 4, 2007 [2 favorites]


In response to GodHatesFags there is GodHatesShrimp.
posted by ericb at 2:22 PM on September 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


Dang, this brings back memories.

Our schools desegregated in 1970. A day or so before school started, there was a big meeting at the Cumberland County Memorial Auditorium, which my parents and our neighbors attended. There they were urged to protest by keeping their children out of school on the first day. My parents-and the parents of my best friend-did so. (We were entering fifth grade.)

Apparently everyone else had the sense to send THEIR children anyway. While I and my friend were conspicuously absent.

We went the next day and of course, we had been assigned a black teacher. To her credit, I don't really remember her taking our parents' actions out on us. And in the blissful ignorance of childhood neither I nor my friend had even thought that that would have been a possibility to start with.

Meanwhile before the week was out I had made my first black friend, a girl who was in my class and was also on my bus. To my best recollection all the kids got along just fine, no one made racial comments to anyone else, and that was that.

The one downside to "busing" was that now all of us had to be bussed miles and miles across town to make sure all the classrooms were integrated. But in all fairness, the black students had always pretty much been doing that to begin with.
posted by konolia at 2:43 PM on September 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


I read this at the end of my work day. I drove home saddened but also hopeful.
posted by mmahaffie at 3:11 PM on September 4, 2007


wafaa -- Fred Phelps, his Westboro Baptist Church and their hateful ways are real and alive. BTW -- check out their recent music video: God Hates the World

Interesting bit of history: Fred Phelps was a civil rights activist and made his fortune representing black plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits in that era and right after.
posted by delmoi at 3:12 PM on September 4, 2007


This post is why I read MeFi. Great find.
posted by nola at 4:14 PM on September 4, 2007


increible post, incredible event, but most of all what an incredible girl. I'd like to think i would have tried to be her friend... but i know for certain i wouldn't have had the guts
posted by derbs at 4:26 PM on September 4, 2007


Thanks, zzazazz, for this great post.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:27 PM on September 4, 2007


It's also kind of amazing to consider how not long fifty years really is, and how embarrassing it is to consider that my grandparents generation found this kind of behavior acceptable.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. We're not far removed from this at all, temporally or culturally. That came home for me while reading online comments during the weeks after Katrina.
posted by brundlefly at 4:47 PM on September 4, 2007


Today also marks the 50th. anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, the students who were initially prevented from entering Little Rock's Central High by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.
posted by ericb at 4:49 PM on September 4, 2007


related: the Little Rock 9 (40th anniv site--history, pics, video, the school paper at the time, etc)

and nowadays, as we go backwards fast--WaPo editorial: ... If we as a society -- black, white, brown, yellow, red -- are going to work toward fairness, inclusion, equality and, yes, integration, we're going to have to do it by working around those dour men in black robes on Capitol Hill. They have decided to stand in the schoolhouse door.
posted by amberglow at 4:52 PM on September 4, 2007


On the Gang of Seven cd, "First Words," Richard Smalley recalls watching Dorothy Counts enter into school that first day.

It has always been a powerful story.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 4:53 PM on September 4, 2007


That's a great photo. I've never seen it before, but I have Rockwell's (post Saturday Evening Post) impression of the event hanging up in the hall.
posted by djfiander at 4:55 PM on September 4, 2007


Correction! Richard B. Stolley is the man who told the story.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 4:56 PM on September 4, 2007


Today also marks the 50th. anniversary of the Little Rock Nine, the students who were initially prevented from entering Little Rock's Central High by Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus.

Ah, yes, Faubus. I first heard of him through this song by the great Charles Mingus. Here are the lyrics.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:57 PM on September 4, 2007


I always wanted to know what happened to that one white girl with face all scrunched up and contorted, possibly sticking a tongue out, at one of the four students. Possibly Dorothy Counts, but pulling up pictures of her on Google reveals no contorted-face white girl next to her.
posted by Xere at 5:04 PM on September 4, 2007


It appears to me that most of the harrassement was coming from boys.

One should mention Jena high school, where this same tired racist bullshit is being played out yet again.

I, too, would dearly love to know what those racist creeps in the photographs have to say for themselves now.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:16 PM on September 4, 2007


GodHatesShrimp!
Ahhhhhh, thanks for putting it into perspective!
posted by wafaa at 6:24 PM on September 4, 2007


I figure God Hates Phelps.

Which explains why he's so cheesed-off at everyone. His life must suck to an exceptional degree.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:42 PM on September 4, 2007


The documentary discussed here about Phelps is quite interesting. The website doesn't represent a big organization or movement. It's one small church (mostly Phelps and his extended family) who are just very productive trolls.

His being a lawyer isn't surprising, actually. Anyone else would have slipped and done something bad enough to get shut down. If only he had stayed a civil rights lawyer instead of turning into a crazy hateful cult leader. He seems very good at what he does (which is unfortunate).
posted by Gary at 8:41 PM on September 4, 2007


this article relates a story which i found profound and joyous.

if you remember, minnijean brown was one of the little rock 9. she was the one who, in the lunchroom and being the butt of endless taunting, ceremoniously "accidentally on purpose" dumped a bowl of chili on a white student.

50 years later, she and the white student came together and -- of all things -- judged a chili-cookoff together.

that gives me a bit of hope.
posted by CitizenD at 9:59 PM on September 4, 2007 [3 favorites]


If you're ever in need of a good cry, watch the Disney movie about Ruby Bridges or read her book . I'm getting verklempt just typing this. Cannot imagine the courage of both the children and the parents involved in that time.

Thanks for posting, zzazazz. I enjoyed reading the article in Sunday's paper and hope that Steve Crump's documentary gets seen outside of Charlotte some day.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:57 AM on September 5, 2007


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