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Civil Rights Trail Podcast Series Launches with Beginnings in Charlotte

Dorothy Counts walks down the streets to Harding High School, now a site on the Civil Rights Trail
Dorothy Counts walking to Harding High School in 1957 has since become an iconic image. (Photo by Don Sturkey/Charlotte Observer)

Visit NC on Tuesday announced the launch of a new three-episode podcast series that acts as a companion piece to the NC Civil Rights Trail, aiming to amplify the student-led protest story that anchors the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in Greensboro. 

Visit NC released all three episodes of the North Carolina Civil Rights Trail podcast on Tuesday, with the first in the series taking place partly in Charlotte. Titled “NC Students Start a Revolution,” the lead episode begins with the story of Dorothy Counts, who in 1957 braved abuse from her white classmates as she integrated Harding High School in northwest Charlotte.

The episode then continues to Greensboro, where a 1958 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. inspired students at Bennett College and North Carolina A&T State University to act. The episode includes voices and perspectives of Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, who has remained a tireless advocate for equal rights in the education system locally and beyond; and Keri Peterson, senior director of history and exhibitions at Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, among others. 

“Hearing the voices of history-makers underscores how vital these stories remain,” said Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit North Carolina. “It also stirs the desire to visit the sites that preserve, present and interpret the actions that led to transformation.”

The second episode, “The A&T 4 Sit Down,” delves into the planning of the Woolworth sit-in, the events of Feb. 1, 1960, and the aftermath. The third, “Greensboro Sparks a Movement,” travels east to a W.T. Grant lunch protest led by students at Elizabeth City State Teachers College (now University), then reaches Shaw University in Raleigh, where Ella Baker organized the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

“Most people know the essential story of the Greensboro Four, the students who took a stand against segregation with their sit-in at the Woolworth lunch counter,” Tuttle said. “The three new podcasts trace the overarching story and add details and insights while introducing other people who played important roles. It’s striking how many of them are women, from 15-year-old Dorothy Counts in Charlotte to the Bennett Belles at Bennett College and student organizer Ella Baker.”

Learn more: Dorothy Counts-Scoggins’ Lifetime Achievement Award in Best in the Nest

Produced by Tanner Latham of Ingredient Creative, the series was created in partnership between Visit NC, the state’s tourism marketing organization; the N.C. African American Heritage Commission, architects of the N.C. Civil Rights Trail; and the U.S. Civil Rights Trail Marketing Alliance. The series advances these organizations’ efforts to direct travelers to places significant to the pursuit of civil rights, according to a release on Tuesday. 

The U.S. Civil Rights Trail is a collection of churches, courthouses, schools, museums and other landmarks primarily in the Southern states where activists challenged segregation in the 1950s and 1960s to advance social justice. 

Developed as a collaboration among the 14 member states of the Travel South USA consortium, the trail highlights such key sites as the former F.W. Woolworth in Greensboro, site of the landmark 1960 sit-in; Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama; Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas; the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee; and Dr. King’s birthplace in Atlanta. 

The people, locations and destinations included in the Civil Rights Trail provide a way for families, travelers and educators to experience history firsthand and tell the story of how “what happened here changed the world,” stated Tuesday’s release. 

From left: Morgan Winston, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins and Maya McClain walk Irwin Avenue, lined with supporters, during a ceremony dedicating a bench to Counts-Scoggins near the former site of Harding High School. (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

Charlotte is home to three sites included on Visit NC’s interactive map: Harding High school for the importance of Dorothy Counts’ bravery in desegregating the school in 1957; the courthouse where, in 1972, three civil rights activists were falsely convicted of terrorism for a barn burning; and the location on North Kings Drive where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his speech, “The Negro and the American Dream,” in 1960. 

In the case of “The Charlotte Three” who were arrested for the barn burning — Jim Grant, T.J. Reddy and Charles Parker — it was revealed two years after the trial that the federal government had bribed two witnesses to testify against the men.

The trail also includes three historic sites in nearby Monroe, including the site of the Monroe Swim-ins in 1957. On July 25 of that year, eight African American youths arrived at the city-owned public swimming pool. They asked to swim but were refused admission. Following multiple demonstrations to integrate, the pool closed and sat unused and empty for over 20 years.

Other Monroe map locations include the site of “The Kissing Case” of 1958 and the location on North Main Street where Freedom Riders were ambushed by Klansmen in 1961.  

Created in 2008, the African American Heritage Commission is a division of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The commission works across the department to preserve, protect and promote the state’s African American history, art and culture for all people. 

Learn more: Black History of Charlotte

Its endeavors include the identification of heritage sites, compiling resources for educators, extending the work of national programs such as the National Park Service’s National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and carrying out independent initiatives including the Oasis Spaces: Green Book Project.

The new podcasts are just the latest way the commission is attempting to add avenues that lead North Carolina residents to a more informed understanding of our past.  

“The more we understand our history, the better our ability to chart our future,” added Tuttle. “The podcasts create a meaningful way to extend our knowledge and inspire us on a critical journey to learn more.”

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