Dorothy Counts

Posted: September 9, 2012 in news, photo, photographers, women
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Dorothy Counts or the 4 days that shook the racism in the United States

On the morning of September 4, 1957, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts set out on a harrowing path toward Harding High, where-as the first African American to attend the all-white school – she was greeted by a jeering swarm of boys who spat, threw trash, and yelled epithets at her as she entered the building.

In 1957, forty black students applied for transfers at a white school. At 15 years of age, on September 1957, Dorothy Counts was one of the four black students enrolled at various all-white schools in the district; She was at Harry Harding High School, Charlotte, North Carolina. Three students were enrolled at other schools, including Central High School. The harassment started when the wife of John Z. Warlick, the leader of the White Citizens Council, urged the boys to “keep her out” and at the same time, implored the girls to spit on her, saying, “spit on her, girls, spit on her.”

Dorothy walked by without reacting, but told the press that many people threw rocks at her — most of which landed in front of her feet — and that many spat on her back. More abuse followed that day. She had trash thrown at her while eating her dinner and the teachers ignored her. The following day, she befriended two white girls, but they soon drew back because of harassment from other classmates. Her family received threatening phone calls and after four days of extensive harassment — which included a smashed car and having her locker ransacked, her father decided to take his daughter out of the school.

Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey captured the ugly incident on film, and in the days that followed, the searing image appeared not just in the local paper but in newspapers around the world. The photograph above portrays Dorothy first day of school at the University of Harry Harding, North Carolina (USA) in 1957. Dorothy’s dress was made by her grandmother especially for his first day of school. Spit on him.

The family moved to Pennsylvania, where Dorothy Counts peacefully attended an integrated school in Philadelphia. Rather than permanently quitting the city that failed her, she moved back three years later to earn her degree from Johnson C. Smith University and, except for a couple early years spent living in New York City, she has lived here ever since.

She has worked primarily with children, for twelve years heading up a churchbased child-care center that served low-income kids and for the last twenty-two years at the local nonprofit Child Care Resources Inc. advocating for better child care. She’s divorced, and the two children she adopted as babies are now grown (one lives in Charlotte). “What happened on that day really set me on a path,” says Dorothy Counts-Scoggins, now a vibrant grandmother. “I’ve always wanted to work to make sure that bad things don’t happen to other children.”

Since the fiftieth anniversary of the Harding High incident five years ago, Counts-Scoggins has been asked many times by journalists, historians, school groups, and others to recount her memories of September 4, 1957. She doesn’t consider it a burden and is in fact thrilled that the library at Harding High was recently named for her – a rare honor given that the school board has a policy of not naming buildings after living people. “It gives me a chance to talk to kids about the importance of education, and to let them know that people have had to fight for them to have these opportunities,” she says. “I can be a reminder to them.”

It may seem little but the four days when Dorothy tried to attend the Harry Harding High School were of great importance to the Civil Rights Movement and the end of racial segregation in the United States.

Prejudice makes the brain ignorant and people blind.

  1. […] All That Love Blog-Dorothy Counts […]

  2. pkayden says:

    I’ve never heard of her, but what an inspiring story. Glad to hear that she’s alive and kicking and giving back to her community.

  3. Sharon Dunn says:

    What a brave girl at only 15! I applaud her courage and the fact that she moved back to the area later.

    • mkenobi says:

      I would like to see a movie about her story of life some day. And maybe some day more people know about Dorothy and all that she had to face with courage, dignity and perseverance.

  4. […] Dorothy Counts or the 4 days that shook the racism in the United States. […]

  5. […] having a good squad, Harding also has a place in the American history for being the place where these iconic photos of Dorothy Counts were taken in 1957. Counts was the first black student to desegregate the then all-white Harding […]

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