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West Charlotte exhibit opens Aug. 27 [The Charlotte Post]

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West Charlotte exhibit opens Aug. 27 (Special to the Post)

Reprinted with the permission of The Charlotte Post.

With all the debate about desegregation; with all the talk surrounding West Charlotte High School, isn't it time for people to listen?

The Museum of the New South presents a new and compelling exhibit with the opening of "Carrying the Spirit: Voices of Desegregation at West Charlotte High School" on Friday, Aug. 27. It will be on display through April 29, 2000. This exhibit uses oral histories of both West Charlotte and Second Ward to trace the history of African American education in Charlotte.

West Charlotte is the last remaining formerly all-black high school in the system and was a tense site for the desegregation forced by U.S. District Judge James McMillan's busing order.

This is the 30th anniversary of McMillan's ruling that crosstown busing could be used to desegregate the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that ruling in 1971.

Ironically, in a few days, another federal judge, Robert Potter, an opponent of desegregation in the early '70s, is set to rule in an anti-busing lawsuit. Potter's may well reverse McMillan's rulings.

That only makes the "Carrying the Spirit" exhibit that much more timely.

"Carrying the Spirit" tells the story of West Charlotte High School in the words of the people who have made the school one of Charlotte's most significant institutions during its 61-year history. "It relies extensively on oral history tapes, so visitors will be able to listen to people recount their experiences in their own words," said Pamela Grundy, curator. Sections of the exhibit cover West Charlotte's history as a segregated school, its nationally-acclaimed success under Charlotte's school busing program, and reflections on desegregation.

"Carrying the Spirit" tells two stories, according to Grundy. The first is about the African American community neighboring West Charlotte, which has nurtured the school throughout its history. The second deals with the era of desegregation, in which citizens of all ethnic backgrounds and from many parts of Charlotte came to West Charlotte. By working together and making it thrive, these courageous individuals built the school into a national symbol of successful desegregation.

For this exhibit, listening takes precedence over viewing. Former teachers, principals and students talk about the West Charlotte of yesterday, sharing their thoughts on desegregation… then and now. The museum hopes that visitors will become emotionally engaged by hearing a variety of voices instead of reading transcripts on the wall.

Visitors will listen to audio recordings in four recreated school settings to enrich the learning experience. They are:
  • a classroom (from the early 1960s)-where loyal alumni of West Charlotte and Second Ward high schools remember what it was like attending an all-black school.
  • a hallway (from the early 1970s)-where oral histories describe the turbulent atmosphere surrounding the landmark busing decision of Swann v. the Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education.
  • a school bus (1974-1975)-where former students talk about the implementation of the busing plan; and
  • a cafeteria (1990s)-where recent graduates and current students describe West Charlotte today.

In telling this story, artifacts such as old photographs a collage of newspaper clippings, old lockers and even a real Charlotte-Mecklenburg school bus are featured in the exhibit, bringing the past to life.

"Carrying the Spirit" is produced in conjunction with the Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as part of "Listening for a Change: North Carolina Communities in Transition," a statewide project funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.

The Southern Oral History Program
Center for the Study of the American South
Love House and Hutchins Forum
410 East Franklin St., CB# 9127, UNC-CH
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127
(919) 962-0455