Robert Mathis remembers seeing the charred remains of a cross burned in a black family's yard in Concord.
It was punishment for the family's choice to put their children in an integrated school. They were the first to do so. Everyone drove by to see it for themselves, Mathis said, but it didn't slow desegregation.
"This has been a journey," said 75-year-old Mathis, a former Concord city councilman. "We've been blessed to live long enough to see how things have changed, but the journey isn't over."
Students across the county are taking time to recognize Black History Month, but for a generation of Concord residents, that history makes up the memories of their past.
Mary Blakeney graduated in 1956 from Concord's all-black school, Logan High School, where students used hand-me-down books and band instruments from other schools.
"We were separate - supposedly equal - but we weren't," she said.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the "separate but equal" legal doctrine, which was used to support having separate schools for black and white children, in the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education.
Logan High School closed in the summer of 1968, and the first desegregated high school class graduated from Concord High School in 1969.
Shirley Phifer was a member of that class.
Now Cabarrus County Schools' career and technical education coordinator, Phifer described how black students had to provide their own transportation to Concord High School. And although black students joined the football and basketball teams, there were no black cheerleaders, recalled Phifer, who sang in the school's choir.
And it wasn't just in local schools that African-Americans faced discrimination during the integration era.
Mathis' wife, Margaret, recalled how she used to walk with her children to the Belk department store on Union Street in downtown Concord to buy cloth for sewing. One day she approached the store's lunch counter to ask for a cup of water for her children. The man working there told her she'd have to go to the bus station for water.
"He just shook his head," she said. "I was not a very peaceful person in those days. When you're a human being and you're not treated as such, it's hard for me to take that."
Blakeney, a graduate of Barber-Scotia College in Concord, was completing her student teaching in 1960 when students from N.C. A & T State University staged a sit-in at a Woolworth's white-only lunch counter in Greensboro. Their actions sparked sit-ins across the country, including in Concord.
Soon after the now-famous Greensboro sit-in, Barber-Scotia students started picketing the Belk lunch counter.
Blakeney didn't participate in the picketing, but she found her own ways to protest.
"Silently, I was a rebel," she said.
She described how she refused to sit in the back of buses.
"People would look at me, and I ignored them," she said. "I always pushed to see how far I could get."
No one ever asked her to give up her seat.
Blakeney and the Mathises said they had teachers who taught them that they were no different than anyone else.
"They always told us we had to achieve, be prepared and be twice as good as a white person to survive," said Blakeney, who retired in 1992 after 31 years as a teacher and guidance counselor in Kannapolis City Schools.
Robert Mathis admitted it's hard not to foster some resentment for the discrimination he experienced. His wife said she had to just let it go.
"I would have passed that on to my kids, and that's something I'll never be guilty of," she said.
The Mathises and Blakeney said people should learn about the history of African-Americans' struggle for equality, but said they don't necessarily support Black History Month. Black history shouldn't be confined to one month out of the year, they said.
"If we incorporate black history into American history, which is what it is, we wouldn't need Black History Month," Blakeney said.
"I think that's our fault," Robert Mathis said. "We just accepted it. It was better than no month."
But eventually, he added, things will change.
Concord has come a long way, said Robert Mathis, who spent 16 years on the Concord City Council in the 1980s and 1990s. The Mathises lived for nearly 50 years in Concord's historically black Logan neighborhood, which was often called a derogatory name, Robert Mathis said.
"To come from a place called 'Black Bottom' to an All-American City, we've made tremendous progress."