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Honored for taking a step forward

Dot Counts-Scoggins stood in the N.C. governor's mansion, more than 50 years after becoming the first black student at Charlotte's Harding High School, when a young man approached her.

“I just had to come meet you,” said the man, who is black. “I graduated from Harding.”

“Did you?” Counts-Scoggins called out, reaching out to embrace him.

Counts-Scoggins was among eight people honored Wednesday for helping to integrate North Carolina's public schools on Sept. 4, 1957.

Delois Huntley, who integrated Alexander Graham Junior High School in Charlotte, and Girvaud Roberts Justice, who did the same at Piedmont Junior High in Charlotte, were among those honored.

It was the first-ever reunion for the statewide group of pioneers, Counts-Scoggins said, and it combined personal expressions of gratitude with official pageantry.

Each received the Old North State Award from Gov. Mike Easley, who issued a proclamation and commended their childhood courage in the face of taunts and threats.

“All across the country, there were jeers. People were spat upon,” Easley said. “And yet, they went forward.”

Legislators in the House and Senate praised the seven former students and one former superintendent, all from Charlotte, Greensboro or Winston-Salem.

Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat who grew up in Charlotte after integration, said that his generation does not take for granted the struggle for desegregation.

“For me, having Dorothy Counts in the audience is like having Neil Armstrong in the audience,” Martin said.

Others cited ongoing challenges, including the continuing, voluntary segregation of many public schools.

“I want to caution the members of the House that, just because we passed one milestone, all is not well in North Carolina,” said Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Charlotte Democrat.

Counts-Scoggins spent four days at Harding before her parents moved her because of safety concerns. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools presented her with an honorary diploma last year at what used to be Harding, now Irwin Avenue Elementary; she wore a cap and gown just a few weeks ago as an honorary graduate with this year's CMS senior class.

On Wednesday, she described Easley's ceremony as one of the highlights of her life. She also recalled the support she received from her parents more than 50 years ago.

“All of us as a family knew that was important, and knew that it would eventually lead to a better education for everyone,” she said.

Standing next to her 12-year-old nephew, Jaylin Counts, she added, “This is why I did it.”

“Thanks,” he replied.

Dot Counts-Scoggins stood in the N.C. governor's mansion, more than 50 years after becoming the first black student at Charlotte's Harding High School, when a young man approached her.

“I just had to come meet you,” said the man, who is black. “I graduated from Harding.”

“Did you?” Counts-Scoggins called out, reaching out to embrace him.

Counts-Scoggins was among eight people honored Wednesday for helping to integrate North Carolina's public schools on Sept. 4, 1957.

Delois Huntley, who integrated Alexander Graham Junior High School in Charlotte, and Girvaud Roberts Justice, who did the same at Piedmont Junior High in Charlotte, were among those honored.

It was the first-ever reunion for the statewide group of pioneers, Counts-Scoggins said, and it combined personal expressions of gratitude with official pageantry.

Each received the Old North State Award from Gov. Mike Easley, who issued a proclamation and commended their childhood courage in the face of taunts and threats.

“All across the country, there were jeers. People were spat upon,” Easley said. “And yet, they went forward.”

Legislators in the House and Senate praised the seven former students and one former superintendent, all from Charlotte, Greensboro or Winston-Salem.

Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat who grew up in Charlotte after integration, said that his generation does not take for granted the struggle for desegregation.

“For me, having Dorothy Counts in the audience is like having Neil Armstrong in the audience,” Martin said.

Others cited ongoing challenges, including the continuing, voluntary segregation of many public schools.

“I want to caution the members of the House that, just because we passed one milestone, all is not well in North Carolina,” said Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Charlotte Democrat.

Counts-Scoggins spent four days at Harding before her parents moved her because of safety concerns. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools presented her with an honorary diploma last year at what used to be Harding, now Irwin Avenue Elementary; she wore a cap and gown just a few weeks ago as an honorary graduate with this year's CMS senior class.

On Wednesday, she described Easley's ceremony as one of the highlights of her life. She also recalled the support she received from her parents more than 50 years ago.

“All of us as a family knew that was important, and knew that it would eventually lead to a better education for everyone,” she said.

Standing next to her 12-year-old nephew, Jaylin Counts, she added, “This is why I did it.”

“Thanks,” he replied.

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