Jun 18, 2021 - News

10 Charlotte Black history facts and figures you should know

Uptown Charlotte in 1966

An aerial view of Uptown Charlotte in 1966. Photo by Aerial Photography Services, Inc. Courtesy of Robinson-Spangler North Carolina Room Image Collection.

In honor of Juneteenth, which just this week was made a federal holiday, we want to highlight notable Black history facts and figures here in Charlotte.

Juneteenth celebrates the day that enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they were free, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

The big picture: Similar to Juneteenth, other Black history events big and small, from the Wilmington Massacre to the Tulsa Massacre, have just recently made their way back into mainstream conversations.

Local historian Pam Grundy tells me there’s been recent push in Charlotte to better learn and understand Black history.

  • “I think we are at a point where there could be some real serious changes made in how people think about Charlotte history, and how they understand it,” Grundy said.

Here are 10 local historical figures and facts.


Charlotte has a Brooklyn too, and it’s also known for being home to a rich Black history. A few facts about the area:

  • The neighborhood was once located between 4th, Brevard and Morehead and Long streets (Long St. is now gone and I-277 runs where it used to be.)
  • Second Ward High School, the city’s first Black public high school, is described as the heart of the neighborhood.
  • Brooklyn had a wide variety of Black businesses, social clubs and churches.

Grundy did a deep dive on the historic neighborhood as a part of her Black History of Charlotte series for Queen City Nerve. In it she highlights Samuel Pride, a Black community leader in the early 1900s.

  • Pride was born into slavery in South Carolina. Once freed, he was a teacher, the head of the Black YMCA, a neighborhood protector, and played a pivotal role in making Second Ward High School a reality.
The Historic Second Ward/Brooklyn area.
Children playing in the historic Second Ward/Brooklyn area. Courtesy of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room

Mary Jackson McCrorey

McCrorey was heavily involved in the Charlotte community and helped develop the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, one of the first Black YWCA branches in the South.

  • She’s also became North Carolina’s first Black female candidate for public office in 1937, when she ran for the Charlotte Board of Education.
  • She was a long-time teacher and counselor at Johnson C. Smith University, and was married to the university’s president Henry McCrorey.

Dorothy Counts

“Dot” Counts-Scoggins is a civil rights icon who integrated Charlotte schools back in 1957. A large crowd of angry white parents and students yelled and spit at her as she walked into Harding High on September 4, 1957.

  • On that day Counts was escorted to school by Reginald Hawkins, a civil rights activist and dentist who fought to desegregate schools.

Counts-Scoggins is still active in the Charlotte community. Recently she spoke out against the county commission’s decision to withhold $56 million in funding from CMS. She was also one of the first North Carolinians in the 75+ age group to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

Swann v. CMS Board of Education

15-year-old Dorothy Counts walking into Harding High on September 4, 1957. Photo via UNC Charlotte

The landmark 1971 Supreme Court case led to busing as a way to integrate schools in Charlotte and around the country.

  • Following the ruling, Charlotte led the way for integration across the country.
  • Now, 50 years later, following a federal mandate that ended busing, CMS is one of the state’s most segregated school districts.

Julius Chambers

Chambers founded the first integrated law firm in North Carolina. His firm represented a number of landmark cases including Swann v. Board of Education.

  • Another local lawyer and civil rights figure, James Ferguson, worked with Chambers in establishing the firm.
  • Despite having his home and car firebombed and his office burned down, Chambers continued to fight for civil rights.
  • Recently Vance High School, named for a confederate military officer, was renamed after Chambers.

Bertha Maxwell-Roddey

Julius Chambers on the day he heard the Swann v. Board verdict.
Julius Chambers on the day he heard the Swann v. Board verdict. Photo courtesy of Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

A pivotal local educator who became UNC Charlotte’s second Black professor when she started working at the university in 1970.

  • Before becoming a professor, she was one of few Black women to be the principal at a white elementary school.
  • At UNC Charlotte, Maxwell-Roddey championed Black studies programs and was the first chair of the Afro-American and African Studies Department.
  • In 1974 she co-founded the Harvey B. Gantt Center.
  • From 1992-1996 Maxwell-Roddey served as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., one of the oldest Black Greek-letter organizations in the country.

Current UNC Charlotte professor Sonya Ramsey wrote a book about Maxwell-Roddey. It’s scheduled to be released next spring.

Harvey Gantt

Before he was Charlotte’s first Black mayor, Harvey Gantt integrated Clemson University as the first Black student accepted to the university.

  • Gantt was also an architect, his firm developed some of Charlotte’s most iconic buildings.
  • The civil rights leader is still active in the Charlotte community.
  • Learn more about him at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African American Arts+Culture.

J. Charles Jones

Harvey Gantt runs for senate 1990
Gantt during the 1990 campaign for Senate. (Photo courtesy of the Charlotte Observer collection, Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library)

A civil rights leader and attorney who was a Freedom Rider, and helped plan and attended the March on Washington. He also founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which organized students during the civil rights movement.

  • Jones played a large role in planning at participating in local sit-ins.
  • He spent his law career representing poor Black Charlotteans.
  • In 2019 Charlotte’s city council declared December 9 as Joseph Charles Jones Day.

Mertye Rice

A longtime West Charlotte teacher during the segregation era. She was described by the first white principal at the historically Black school as “probably the greatest teacher I have ever known in North Carolina,” as Grundy recounts in her book “Color and Character.”

  • Rice played an integral role in West Charlotte’s desegregation.
  • She took great pride in the school and ensured new faculty members and students felt welcome as the school desegregated.

Colored Charlotte

Photo of students on a bus in Charlotte in 1973
Photo of students on a bus in Charlotte in 1973. Photo: Warren Leffler, photographer/Library of Congress online catalogue

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of “the freedom of the Negro in the county of Mecklenburg and the city of Charlotte, North Carolina,” Colored Charlotte is a 1915 pamphlet put together by multiple authors and edited by C.H. Watson. The document shows what life was like for Black Charlotte’s over 100 years ago.

  • It also lists local businesses and institutions from schools to news publications to a section on “relations between the races in Charlotte.”

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