Students At School Dorothy Counts-Scoggins Integrated Celebrate Her Courage

May 31, 2019

Sixty-two years ago, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins was ridiculed, spit on and heckled as she walked through the front doors of Harding High School on Irwin Avenue, the first African American to enroll there. Things became so bad for Counts-Scoggins, that her parents withdrew her about two weeks later out of fear for her safety. Today, Counts-Scoggins received a different welcome at Harding—now the Irwin Academic Center—a day in honor of her historic walk to break down racial barriers.

The entire school turned out to give Counts-Scoggins a welcome, a welcome she did not have she came here in 1957 to integrate Harding High School. 

Students and staff lined both sides of the street leading to the entrance of the school. They held signs of all shapes and sizes with messages telling Counts-Scoggins how proud they are of her and how much they love her. From the youngest to the oldest, they all knew who this special day was for and what she had done.

Mya McClain (l) and Morgan Winston (r) organized day to celebrate Dorothy Counts-Scoggins (center)
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn

“Dorothy Counts was the first black woman that went to this school,” said fifth-grader Brysun Conner.

“When she first came here they didn’t have a warm welcome, and spit on her, so we’re going to welcome her back,” another student chimed in.

“We’re gonna give her a warm welcome back because when she first came all the white people were spitting on her and we want to make sure she comes back and doesn’t remember this place as one of horror and racism,” said yet another student.

Students give Dorothy Counts-Scoggins a big welcome to celebrate her being the first African American to attend Harding High in 1957
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn

And then the wait was over and the lady of the hour, Counts-Scoggins, walked down the middle of the street with the two students who organized the event, at her side. Counts-Scoggins slowly made her way to the same steps she climbed as a 15-year-old, as rocks, sticks and other objects were thrown at her. On this day, there were only cheers.

“It is because of her courage that I can now walk through the front doors of our own Academic Center because it is no longer segregated,” said Morgan Winston. She organized the day honoring Counts-Scoggins along with classmate Mya McClain. They asked their principal if they could not just have the event, but raise money to have a bench placed in front of the school, with a plaque in Counts-Scoggins honor. McClain says she came up with the idea after a visit to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC

Dorothy Counts-Scoggins walks down street where she was met by hecklers in 1957 when she became the first African American to attend Harding High.
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn

“I was excited to see the story of Ms. Counts-Scoggins featured in the museum and made me know there was nothing marking this important history here at Irwin,” McClain said. “My goal was to let others know about her contribution to the Civil Rights Movement that took place on these very steps 62 years ago.”

When it was her turn to speak, Counts-Scoggins said she cried when the two students told her what they wanted to do for her.

“It says to me that everything I endured here at Harding has made a mark on two young women of Charlotte,” Counts-Scoggins said to thunderous applause.

After she cut the ribbon for the black, wrought-iron bench, nestled under several trees, in reflecting, Counts-Scoggins said she was disappointed that her parents decided it was too dangerous for her to remain at Harding.

Students raised money to have a bench with a plaque honoring Dorothy Counts-Scoggins in front of the school she integrated in 1957
Credit Gwendolyn Glenn

“I said after I left here at 15 that no matter what I did, I would make sure that what happened to me would not happen to another child,” Counts-Scoggins said.

Counts-Scoggins spent most of her career as a child care administrator, working with teachers and other school staff. What she says she’s most disappointed in these days is that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are not much different now than they were in 1957.

"In 2019, I’m reliving something in this city the same way it was in 1957 - segregated - and that’s very disappointing, but not only segregated but in a lot of ways they replicate a lot of the things I went through as a child, being under resourced and not getting what they need form the city."

Iconic photo taken of Dorothy Counts-Scoggins in 1957 when she faced hecklers on her first day at Harding High as its first African American student.
Credit submitted

As crowds surrounded Counts-Scoggins in front of her bench, she told students that they can do whatever they want to and challenged them to show the world how great they can be.