City News

School names tie us to our history

What's in a name? In the case of many of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's schools, the answer is: our history.

Some schools are named for locations: Newell Elementary is in a mostly new building, but it stands in what used to be the village of Newell. Just like Derita, North Carolina's liberal annexation laws allowed Charlotte to swallow Newell. At least these villages managed to maintain their names.

The place once known as Shuffletown along the Catawba River around Rozzelles Ferry Road is now called Mountain Island Lake, and the elementary school bears the new name.

“New” is a relative term here. William Lee States, for whom UNC Charlotte's School of Engineering is named, oversaw the building of Mountain Island Hydroelectric Station in 1924. Since then, more and more of this area of west Charlotte has become associated with the man-made water feature.

Gen. Rufus Barringer, who was a member of the N.C. House of Representatives and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, lends his name to Barringer Academic Center on Walton Road.

Alexander Graham Middle School is not named for the inventor of the telephone, but for a prominent Charlotte merchant and landowner who established his fortune before the Civil War.

In Zebulon Baird Vance's eventful 65-year life (1830-1895), he served as a lawyer, state legislator, congressman, senator, and N.C. governor during the Civil War. His legacy is remembered by those attending Vance High School.

Nestled among a tangle of intersecting highways stands the classic 1960s architecture of J. T. Williams Middle School, with its surprisingly tidy landscaping. One doesn't expect manicured lawns and bright pots of flowers on a middle school campus, but award-winning Principal Ronald Dixon thinks Dr. John Taylor Williams would expect the effort.

In 1886, Williams was one of the first African Americans to earn his medical license. He became a surgeon at Good Samaritan Hospital as well as president of the Queen City Drug Co. and member of the Mecklenburg County Board of Health. He was also a founding member of the AME Zion Church. In 1897, President McKinley named Williams the first consul to the African nation of Sierra Leone.

More local history is available through the Public Library's Robinson-Spangler collection (310 N. Tryon St.), the Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. Seventh St.) and the Charlotte Museum of History (3500 Shamrock Dr.). Thomas Hanchett's excellent book, “Sorting Out the New South City,” provides a good survey of Charlotte's economic and political history from 1875 to 1975. I thumbed through my copy while standing in line for early voting.

Remember that early voting ends Saturday, which also happens to be All Saints Day.

Coincidence or fate? You be the judge, and don't forget to vote for judges.

You must vote for president, judges and the bond issues separate from the straight-party ticket.