I am a Lincoln (Neb.) City Council member and delegate to the DNC. I looked forward to coming back to my hometown of Charlotte, but this trip is much larger than just another trip home, and not just because it happens to coincide with my mother’s 85th birthday.
As a child of Charlotte, I am astounded by the fact that the nation’s first African-American president will be nominated for a second term here. On this momentous occasion, it is a nostalgic time to ponder the incredible changes in the city since my birth at Charlotte’s Mercy Hospital in 1953.
The images of segregation are etched deep in my memory. I recall attending Charlotte Hornets baseball games, looking out into the separate left field bleachers and seeing hundreds of black faces and white shirts looking into the hot summer sun. As a little boy, I wondered: Why?
I recall our family business and the separate restrooms designated for White or Colored. I remember in our own home a restroom that was for Viola and for no one else. Why was that? I remember trips to Windy Hill Beach, S.C., and looking to the north at Atlantic Beach, the “Colored” beach. I noticed the separate fishing pier and amusement park of Atlantic Beach. We could not go there and they did not dare come to our beach. None of this made any sense at the time, and it makes a lot less sense to me now.
I attended two years of kindergarten thanks to a strong program offered by Myers Park Baptist Church. There was no public kindergarten and most other kids did not have this opportunity. I attended Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools but it was not until junior high that my school was segregated. When I was in 11th grade, the courts ordered desegregation and quite suddenly things were very different. Every school in the system was required to have a ratio of approximately 35 percent African American students. Student councils, cheerleading squads and other groups were also to adhere to that ratio.
Throughout the system there was anger, fear, and frustration over these forced changes. Many more-affluent students left public schools for a private education. At Myers Park, students, faculty and parents worked to make this legal experiment a success, or at least tolerable. Boston students were sent to Charlotte to learn from our experience. Though it was difficult at the time, it seemed that in 1970, Charlotte began to grow up.
On Thursday in the city of Charlotte, our nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, will be nominated for his re-election. Knowing the history of race in Charlotte, what an incredible moment this will be.