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LEGACY: Three Centuries of Black History in Charlotte, North Carolina

Pamela Grundy

THREE WAYS TO READ

Buy the paperback version

Paperbacks are available at select local retailers and for online ordering.

Buy the Ebook version

Purchase the Ebook to read on all Kindle-supported e-readers

Access the free digital version

A free version of the entire book is available at the Queen City Nerve Issuu page

Legacy: Three Centuries of Black History in Charlotte, North Carolina

$10.00

The stories told by many generations of Charlotte’s African American residents mingle strength and hardship, accomplishment and setback, joy and pain. Through slavery, through war, through Jim Crow segregation and into the 21st century Black residents from all walks of life have played essential roles in making Charlotte the city it is today. Everyone needs to know this history.

About the Author

Pamela Grundy has lived in Charlotte for three decades, pursuing a range of writing, teaching, museum and education projects. Much of that work has depended on the generosity of the many Black Charlotteans who have shared their wisdom and experience with her, among them Vermelle Ely, James and Barbara Ferguson, James Peeler and Sarah Stevenson. Legacy began as a series of articles on Black history published in the Nerve in 2020 and 2021. Grundy’s other works include Color & Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality.

The mural on Legacy’s cover, which features early Black leaders Thad Tate, J.T. Williams and W.C. Smith, is by Abel Jackson, one of many Black History murals he has painted around town.

Dimensions5.5 × 8 in

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A brief history of Black culture in Charlotte

ENSLAVEMENT & REVOLUTION

Charlotte was built on a foundation of forced labor, from Davidson College to the U.S. Mint to the railroad that made the Queen City a major trading hub. This section explores the roles that enslaved men, women and children played in building our city and the contradictions in a Revolutionary War that did not champion liberty for all.

ACCOMPLISHMENT & BACKLASH

Following the Civil War, African Americans in Charlotte began to build independent lives. But these efforts sparked backlash from planters and industrialists who wanted to control the “New South'' that was growing up around them. This section moves from the quest for first-class citizenship to the violent white supremacist campaign that disfranchised Black voters and ushered in half a century of separate-and-unequal Jim Crow segregation.

COMMUNITY, CIVIL RIGHTS, URBAN RENEWAL

Despite the constraints of segregation, Black Charlotteans built vibrant communities that nurtured formidable civil rights activists, including attorney Julius Chambers, NAACP leader Kelly Alexander, and the young Dorothy Counts, whose calm amidst the white mob that surrounded her on her first day at Harding High School made her an icon of the national struggle for school integration. This section tells the tales of generations of Black leaders and of the activists whose courage fueled sit-ins, campaigns to raise wages for domestic and sanitation workers, school integration efforts and the creation of new cultural institutions. It also examines the destructive effects of urban renewal and highway construction, which wiped many historic Black neighborhoods off the map.

TWO CITIES

As Charlotte neared the new millennium, it became a shining example of how Black-white cooperation on issues such as school integration could work for the betterment of all. In 1983, Charlotteans elected Harvey Gantt, the first Black mayor of a majority-white Southern city. But steps forward also brought pushback and retrenchment. This section examines how far the Black community of Charlotte has come, and the work that remains.

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The stories told by many generations of Charlotte’s African American residents mingle strength and hardship, accomplishment and setback, joy and pain. Through slavery, through war, through Jim Crow segregation and into the 21st century Black residents from all walks of life have played essential roles in making Charlotte the city it is today. Everyone needs to know this history.

About the author

Pamela Grundy

Pamela Grundy with Sarah Stevenson, 2015.

Pamela Grundy has lived in Charlotte for three decades, pursuing a range of writing, teaching, museum and education projects. Much of that work has depended on the generosity of the many Black Charlotteans who have shared their wisdom and experience with her, among them Vermelle Ely, James and Barbara Ferguson, James Peeler and Sarah Stevenson. Legacy began as a series of articles on Black history published in the Nerve in 2020 and 2021. Grundy’s other works include Color & Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality.

 

She describes her research process for this book in an Author’s Note from Feb. 23, 2022.

 

The mural on Legacy’s cover, which features early Black leaders Thad Tate, J.T. Williams and W.C. Smith, is by Abel Jackson, one of many Black History murals he has painted around town. 

At a glance:

Railroad workers. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The railroad men stooped and lifted, stooped and lifted, their breath heavy in the October air. Beside them rose piles of hand-hewn oak crossties, each seven feet long and eight inches thick.

 

One by one, the workers laid the ties across the gravel roadbed, two and a half feet apart, more than 2,000 per mile. They hefted iron rails into place atop the wood, each rail 18 feet long and weighing more than 300 pounds. The sound of hammers striking metal spikes rang through the air, mingling with shouted orders and perhaps scraps of song. The men had risen before sunrise and would work to sunset.

 

A mile or so away, people in the town of Charlotte listened eagerly for the whistle of the train that resupplied the lines as they inched forward. One crosstie, one rail at a time, the railroad men were bringing prosperity to town. . . .

 

Most local histories, even today, describe Charlotte as shaped by hardworking Scots-Irish Presbyterians, whose thrift and independence helped fuel the American Revolution and laid the foundation for an industrial boom. Numbers tell a different story. In 1850, almost half of Charlotte’s residents – 47 percent – could trace their ancestry to Africa. The vast majority were enslaved.

women of the charlotte sit-ins - black history of charlotte
Courtesy of the Robinson-Spangler Carolina Room, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.

On a crisp February morning in 1960, Hattie Ann Walker put on her new suit with the sailor collar, fixed her hair, and joined fellow Johnson C. Smith students for the two-mile walk to downtown Charlotte. 

 

As the students approached the city center, they began to catch sight of the establishments that refused to treat them as equals – Kress’s five and dime, where they could buy hot dogs but not sit down to eat them; Belk’s department store, where the only restrooms they could use were in the basement; the palatial Carolina Theater, where they were not allowed at all. 

 

Walker struggled to look cheerful, but inside she was trembling. “I knew that it was something I wanted to do, and I should do,” she explained. “But in spite of that, I was afraid. I was really afraid.”

 

Her group headed to Woolworth’s and sat down at the counter. As they waited, a photographer snapped the picture that would become the icon of the Charlotte sit-ins, capturing the students at the height of the civility that was their greatest weapon. Well-dressed, well-behaved and exuding quiet dignity, the students exposed the absurdities of segregation for everyone to see. At the center of the image, Hattie Walker looked calmly at the camera.

IN THE PRESS

Legacy three centuries of black history book

AXIOS CHARLOTTE: New book highlights the history of Black excellence in Charlotte

"Why it matters: The book is a brisk, useful overview of Black history for Charlotte newcomers or those just new to the city’s story. But it has several moments — like the Baldwin quote — that were new finds even for a historian like Grundy." -Michael Graff

Legacy three centuries of charlotte black history book

STORIED CHARLOTTE: Pamela Grundy’s Legacy: Three Centuries of Black History in Charlotte, North Carolina: How the Book Came to Be

"This book provides readers with a concise overview of the history of Black culture in Charlotte. As Pamela documents in her book, African Americans have played important roles in the history of Storied Charlotte from the origins of the city to the present day." -Mark West

CHARLOTTE PODCAST: Episode 251 - Pamela Grundy

"This week, the fellas were joined by Charlotte author Pamela Grundy to discuss her new book LEGACY: Three Centuries of Black History in Charlotte, North Carolina. They also spared some time for Cheers and Jeers, and John gave Miller a new mantra."

THREE WAYS TO READ

Buy the paperback version

Paperbacks are available at local retailers and through Amazon. Copies will be available through a local platform soon.

Buy the Ebook version

Purchase the Ebook to read on all Kindle-supported e-readers

Access the free digital version

A free version of the entire book is available at the Queen City Nerve Issuu page

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