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On This MLK Day, Remembering A Charlotte Civil Rights Icon

Courtesy photo
Dr. Reginald Hawkins

On this day we remember the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and his legacy in the Civil Rights Movement. We also want to remember the people who helped him and continued his legacy. In Charlotte, one of those people was Reginald Hawkins, a dentist and a graduate of Johnson C. Smith University.

Reginals Hawkins Martin Luther King Jr.
Credit UNCC Special Collections and University Archives
Reginald Hawkins escorts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Johnson C. Smith University in 1966.

Hawkins helped desegregate Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. When Dorothy Counts arrived at Harding High School in 1957 as one of the first black students to integrate an all-white school in CMS, Hawkins was by her side.

As a member of the NAACP, he worked with another Charlottean — national NAACP Chairman Kelly Alexander Sr. Their efforts led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that busing would be used to integrate CMS schools. He also led efforts to desegregate Charlotte Memorial Hospital, now Carolinas Medical Center.

Hawkins’ notoriety gained him followers and staunch opposers. A reality that culminated in his house being bombed, as were the homes of Alexander and two other black leaders in Charlotte.

Hawkins spoke about the bombing and his activism in a 2001 interview for UNC Charlotte’s Civil Rights and Desegregation Collection.

“It was rainy, misty, November 22, 1965 — two years after they assassinated President Kennedy," Hawkins said. "The same day, they were trying to get that bomb on my bedroom. They knew — whoever it was — where all of our bedrooms were."

The bombings didn’t stop him. In 1968, he ran for governor. Hawkins was the first African-American to run for statewide office since reconstruction and Rev. King was helping him.

“Martin was killed on a day he was supposed to have been with me on the campaign,” Hawkins said. “April 4, 1968. We got a call from his office, they telegrammed us and stated that they wanted to postpone it because they were having trouble in Memphis.”

He received news that evening that King was killed. Soon, riots broke out nationwide.

“People, my people, Ben Chavis and all of them called me and said should we burn Charlotte down? And I said no," Hawkins said. "Rev. Dr. Ray Worsley, Ben Chavis — all of them will tell you that. I saved Charlotte. Charlotte would have been the main target had I given the word."

He continued, "I was nonviolent at that time and I said this does not jive with my nonviolent philosophy.”

Dorothy Cotton Reginald Hawkins
Credit UNCC Special Collections and University Archives
Telegram from Dorothy Cotton, assistant to Dr. King to Reginald Hawkins on April 2, 1968.

Hawkins said he first brought Dr. King to Charlotte in the 1950s.

“We were very good friends, very close friends. Came out of the same mode of theology," Hawkins said. "Ralph Abernathy... John Lewis, all of the young turks at that time and they would call me 'the philosopher.' Jesse Jackson would call me 'the Daniel' and Martin 'the Hosea.'”

And when he wasn’t fighting racial injustice, Hawkins stayed busy as a dentist and a preacher.

“I don’t know how in the world I did all that I did. But it came from organization and that’s how we were able to do it,” Hawkins said. “Some of my friends in the Presbyterian Church would say — I took Wednesdays off — look out for Wednesday because that’s when all hell would break loose.”

Hawkins died in 2007 at the age of 84.

Sarafina Wright is the "All Things Considered" producer for WFAE 90.7 Charlotte’s NPR Source. Before coming to WFAE, she worked as a political correspondent for EBONY.com, staff writer at the Washington Informer and editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge in Washington, DC. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Howard University. When she's not writing professionally, Sarafina can be found blogging at www.sarafinasaid.com or hanging out with her book club, Charlotte West.