An overlooked piece of Charlotte’s African-American history is being recommended for historic landmark status by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.
The group of historians voted June 12 to seek landmark designation for the home at 1703 Madison Avenue, which belonged to two-time gubernatorial candidate Reginald A. Hawkins. A City Council vote is required on the matter, and that is not expected until September, officials said.
Historians acknowledge the site northwest of uptown is not necessarily an architectural treasure. It’s basically just another mid-century modern suburban home in a city full of such structures.
However, it’s the life of Reginald Hawkins that makes his home worth preserving, says historian Dan Morrill of the commission.
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Hawkins, who died in 2007, was a major figure in the civil rights movement in the second half of the 20th century, but not the stoic, Bible-verse-quoting type.
He was confrontational, more like the members of the modern group Charlotte Uprising, which has recently made headlines for challenging elected officials, community leaders and police.
Hawkins distrusted the business elite of Charlotte and called them the “downtown Ku Klux Klan,” historians say. That approach made him enemies all over the city, including Charlotte Mayor Stanford Brookshire, who labeled Hawkins as “belligerent” and his actions an attempt at “coercion,” according to NorthCarolinaHistory.org.
Yet that didn’t stop Hawkins from running for North Carolina governor twice, in 1968 and again in 1971.
“In his opinion, the only effective way to make the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and its allies listen was to impact their pocket books,” says Morrill. “Pugnacious and outspoken, he reveled in being controversial.”
The Madison Avenue home was the site of important meetings where civil rights luminaries met to plan their next moves in a movement that changed the city forever, Morrill says.
Hawkins, a native of Beaufort, N.C., moved to Charlotte in the early 1940s to attend Johnson C. Smith University. He went on to attend Howard University, where he got a dentistry degree, and set up practice in Charlotte in 1948, historians say.
Soon after, Hawkins joined the Charlotte NAACP chapter.
“He was a live wire, a dynamo, an unremitting and sometime caustic critic of the status quo,” Morrill says.
In 1943, Hawkins participated in the first public protest in Charlotte against segregation. It was over the refusal of the postmaster to hire African-Americans to work at the Post Office, according to the Historic Landmarks Commission.
Then, in 1953, he organized the initial Charlotte sit-in at the restaurant in Douglas Airport, because blacks were not then allowed to eat there, historians say. Three years later, he started the Mecklenburg Organization on Political Affairs to encourage blacks to vote as a bloc.
Hawkins was also among the plaintiffs when attorney Julius Chambers filed a groundbreaking lawsuit in federal court in 1965, contending that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools must increase the rate of racial integration.
It was a lawsuit that pitted Charlotteans against each other, even spawning acts of violence. That violence included a night in November 1965, when sticks of dynamite exploded in the yards of four local civil rights leaders, including Hawkins.
Hawkins responded to the noise by running out of his front door with a “high-scope rifle,” Morrill says.
The bombers were never found.
“His rhetoric continued sometimes to be wounding and disdainful, even condescending,” Morrill says of Hawkins. “But one cannot deny the contributions Hawkins made to the destruction of legal racial segregation.”