Once jeered Dorothy Counts-Scoggins returns to cheers by children
As Dorothy “Dot” Counts-Scoggins walked down Irwin Avenue last week accompanied by two precocious Irwin Academic Center students, I followed filming with tears streaming down my cheeks. As a student at Irwin, I can remember being taught that the steps I used to walk into one of this community’s most successfully integrated schools was once the scene of one of this city’s most disgraceful moments in upholding segregation. Where Dot had once been spat on, yelled at, and taunted, hundreds of kids now lovingly chanted her name and held affirming signs.
With Dot’s full blessing, a bench was dedicated and female students thanked her for “standing up in the face of racism” 62 years prior, giving them greater opportunity today. This event was full on truth and reconciliation for a woman who continues to fight for educational integration, inclusion, and equity, living in gentrifying West Charlotte while doing work with students at Garinger High School. Although she was failed by adults who did not step up to protect her at then Harding in 1957, as an adult she continues to fight to protect opportunity for our children today.
While this was going on, another educational warrior was continuing the fight he has spent a quarter of a century working on — accelerating segregation in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools. Most recently, Jim Puckett has played an influential role on a commission that, to the surprise of no one, recommended last month that Huntersville not only create a municipal charter, but also secede from CMS. Transparent and consistent, Puckett’s political bio brags about helping to end court-ordered desegregation at CMS while on the school board in 1997. Regardless of intent, the Huntersville commission’s recommendations will undoubtedly exacerbate our county’s already problematic segregation.
Discussing secession, Puckett stated in a WFAE article that “CMS will have to figure out how to deal with challenges they have without looking for white knights in other areas.” As a self-proclaimed “Goldwater conservative,” he has an effective mastery of political Southern dog whistle strategy — not only “white knights,” but also constant references to “busing.”
Not all Huntersville parents agree with Puckett. Beyond increased segregation, some have expressed concerns with a municipal charter/secession raising taxes and stealing community and business support away from local traditional public schools. Parents also worry about underserving kids who need transportation and breakfast or lunch, as well as children with special educational needs and 504 or Individual Education Plans.
The juxtaposition of Dot Count-Scoggins and Jim Puckett comes while CMS is the most segregated district in the state. Meanwhile, Wake County’s school board just announced that resegregation “won’t happen on our watch. It should be noted that in the early 2000s, Raleigh’s business community — understanding the benefit of widespread school quality, diversity, and opportunity — banded together with teachers committing not to let their schools resegregate like Charlotte’s.
I’ve heard many friends bask over Bryan Stevenson’s recent visit, in which he discussed truth and reconciliation and called on us to: get proximate; change narratives; stay hopeful; and do the uncomfortable things. What happened on the steps of Irwin Avenue personifies this.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg and our business leaders need to do the same now. We should follow the lead of Dot, Wake County and Irwin’s students to translate buzzwords into courageous action and put a stop to continued school segregation.