What strategies and actions led to the desegregation of Charlotte’s public spaces?
Like many places across the U.S. South, segregation was widespread in Charlotte. Segregation is the enforced separation of different racial groups. The desegregation of public spaces in the city began after World War II. African American soldiers returned home and demanded change. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, civil rights activists in Charlotte organized successful protests against segregation and discrimination in the city.
In 1951, African American men began fighting for equal rights to play golf at the whites-only Bonnie Brae golf course in Revolution Park. Bonnie Brae desegregated in 1957. In the mid-1950s, Dr. Reginald Hawkins and others challenged the segregation of the Charlotte-Douglas Airport. These cases and others launched the movement toward desegregating Charlotte’s public spaces.
By 1960, activists had made progress toward desegregation. Yet public places such as theaters, restaurants, and pools remained segregated. On February 9, 1960, Black students at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) launched their sit-in movement at a whites-only lunch counter at Charlotte’s Kress. In response, Charlotte’s mayor James Saxon Smith formed the “Mayor’s Friendly Relationships Committee.” The Committee’s purpose was to negotiate the desegregation of Charlotte’s public spaces. On July 9, 1960, fifteen black students ate at a formerly whites-only lunch counter, signaling the success of the protests.
Despite these successes, fine dining restaurants still barred African Americans. In May 1963, Dr. Hawkins organized a march from JCSU to Charlotte City Hall demanding the total desegregation of the city’s public spaces. Mayor Stan Brookshire and Chamber of Commerce leaders approved a resolution that said any business serving the public must be open to people of all races. White restaurant owners feared that desegregating dining rooms would turn away white customers. African American leaders and activists, along with the mayor and Chamber leaders, arranged an “eat-in.” At eat-ins, members of the Chamber invited a Black leader to lunch across the city’s fine restaurants. Two weeks later, on May 29, 1963, civil rights leaders and white business leaders ate lunch together in Charlotte’s restaurants, opening the door to desegregation.
The efforts of Charlotte’s civil rights activists helped it become one of the first southern cities to end segregation in public places. Their work helped set the stage for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended segregation in public accommodations across the country.
Desegregation: the elimination of segregation or of any law, provision, or practice requiring the segregation of a particular race
Civil rights activists: those who fight for full legal, social and economic equality for a particular group
Negotiate: discuss and arrange an agreement about an issue or problem
Resolution: an expression of an opinion or intention made by a group, usually after voting
Using the evidence you collected during the case study, design an illustrated timeline that answers the question, “What strategies or actions led to the successful desegregation of public spaces in Charlotte?” Your timeline should have a title and include information about the different actions that led to the successful desegregation of Charlotte’s public spaces. Write a description of the events you include, as well as an explanation of how civil rights activists and community leaders achieved desegregation. You can draw the timeline or use digital tools to create it.