South Charlotte

Photos tell part of Charlotte's story

Gregory McMurray remembers he cried when he learned he needed glasses at age 16.

The Matthews resident grew up in Charlotte's Piedmont Courts and had never had his eyes examined. When his teachers at West Charlotte High School noticed all the photos he'd taken in photography class were fuzzy, they begin to suspect a problem.

"The tears were those of joy and relief," McMurray said.

He said the hobby he took on in high school has led to scores of life-shaping events. In more than 30 years as a freelance photographer, he has met celebrities and had experiences he never dreamed of.

McMurray now has come full circle.

Earlier this month, he returned to West Charlotte to share his 34-picture photography exhibit entitled, "Inspiration and Drive; The Birth of a Dream." The exhibit was part of the school's celebration of Black History Month and had been shown earlier at Independence High School, where McMurray works as a custodian.

McMurray began developing his talent as a photographer when he participated in the Charlotte Mecklenburg Youth Program under the late Phyllis Lynch. It wasn't long before he found himself on the yearbook staff. In the 1975-76 school year, McMurray and his classmates were involved in the national debate surrounding desegregation.

Members of the West Charlotte High Student Council along with other area youth were part of a Charlotte-Mecklenburg delegation selected to travel to Boston to discuss race relations and desegregation.

McMurray was selected to accompany the group to take photographs.

"It was the first time I had ever been on a plane or been away from Charlotte," he said. "It opened my eyes to an entirely new world, I remember some very open and honest discussions with students up there but also recall we were kept away from the troubled schools and our safety was something that administrators were concerned with."

Several of McMurray's photos from that trip are the cornerstone of his exhibit. They depict Charlotte area youth speaking to classrooms of white students, parents and administrators, the tension cutting through the imagery more than 30 years later.

Other photos offer a range of national and international luminaries who have passed through the Queen City.

McMurray gained access through his work at various local media outlets including the Charlotte Post, Charlotte magazine, WSOC-TV, where he was the station's first black still photographer, and the Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly.

Some exhibit highlights:

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis are caught in a casual moment behind stage at a performance at Ovens Auditorium.

Benjamin Hooks, the first black commissioner of the FCC and former National Director of the NAACP, is pictured in profile, enjoying a laugh with someone off camera.

Michael Jordan, in his first year with the Chicago Bulls, is shown putting on a free clinic at Brayboy Gymnasium at Johnson C. Smith University.

Harvey Gantt, Charlotte's first black mayor, U.S. Rep. Mel Watt and stars for the entertainment world such as Natalie Cole and Ramsey Lewis are also in photos.

"They are all people who crossed my path through the years," said McMurray. "These Charlotte moments represent a lifetime of hard work and perseverance. It has been a long-term goal of mine to feature my work in such an exhibition. I want others, particularly youngsters, to see what kind of life is possible if they work hard and dream big."