Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick (left), with De Kirkpatrick at Myers Park in January, says, ''There is so much division and bickering over basic issues. This has reaffirmed that there are people with similar views on humanity.'' Photographer: David T. Foster III
In early January, Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick and De Kirkpatrick scraped away leaves and dirt from the edges of stone slabs to look for clues at Sardis Presbyterian Church Cemetery.
For a year, the past has kept calling to them. The discovery of a shared family history has expanded both of their personal narratives back a full century before they first met. Instead of beginning in 1965 when they were seniors together at Myers Park High, their history traces to 1860 on the eve of the Civil War, when De’s ancestors owned Jimmie Lee’s ancestors.
- PROTECTING THE PAST: Slave cemetery at Sardis Presbyterian is 'sacred ground'
- HOME PROVIDED HISTORY: A historian writes about his family’s role in trading slaves.
Part 2 of a 3-part series
In the mid-1920s, 12 Kirkpatricks gathered around their father, Sam, for a portrait. That’s him in front, holding a photograph of his wife, Isabella, who died in 1922 after more than 40 years together. Sam Kirkpatrick was born a slave in about 1853.
The family portrait, which looks as though it might have been taken on a Sunday after church, connects two generations of Kirkpatricks to more than 100 years of African-American life in Mecklenburg County: the freed slave Sam and his children, more than half of whom lived through the civil rights struggle in the 1960s.
- SLIDESHOW: Kirkpatrick family history
- COLUMN: The power of a story and a connection
- GENEALOGY: Church research helped overcome a genealogy dead end
There was a message waiting for De Kirkpatrick when he returned to his Charlotte office: “Your cousin from Oregon called.” De laughed. Jimmie Lee Kirkpatrick still has a sense of humor, he remembers thinking.
The two weren’t relatives and hadn’t been friends at Myers Park High School in 1965, but they did share the same last name. In the hallways then, they sometimes jokingly yelled, “Hey, Cuz.”
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.