The collision of race and sports in Charlotte started in the early 1960s when high school football phenom Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick broke out to become one of the greatest and most controversial athletes in the city’s history.
In 1964, Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick was on his way to becoming one of the greatest running backs to ever play high school football in Charlotte.
As a junior, he scored five touchdowns in one game and gained more than 10 yards every time he carried the ball, twice what the best players averaged.
In an era when black high schools were mostly ignored, Kirkpatrick became the first African-American to make the Charlotte Observer all-county team.
As a kid, Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick dreamed of playing in the Shrine Bowl. It was the biggest high school football game of the year. More than 14,000 people jammed Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium every December to watch the contest between the best players in North Carolina and South Carolina.
Myers Park High School's 1965 championship football team -- including stars Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick (left), Neb Hayden, Mack Tharpe and Harris Woodside -- gathered with trophies for a reunion in January. Photographer: David T. Foster III
Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick came home to visit Charlotte 47 years after moving from Second Ward to Myers Park, and during two emotional reunions learned that both his black and white high school football teammates learned lasting lessons from his experience.