Dorothy Counts: The teenager who challenged the segregation, 1957

Dorothy Counts made national news in September 1957 when, at age 15, she became the first and then only black student to attend the newly segregated Harry Harding High School in Charlotte (North Carolina). This came nearly three years after the Supreme Court ruled public school segregation unconstitutional in Brown v.

Counts was abandoned by his father on his first day of school with his family friend Edwin Thompkins. As their car is stopped from approaching the front entrance, Edwin offers to escort the Counts to the front of the school while his father parked the car. As she got out of the car to go down the hill, her father told her, “Keep your head high. You are no less than anyone."

There were about 200 to 300 people in the hostile crowd, mostly students and parents, who followed him and shouted racial adjectives at him. The mob taunted him, spat on him and pelted stones at him with sticks and pebbles.

Unceremoniously, Dorothy left without reacting but later told the press that several people threw stones at her - most of whom landed in front of her feet - and the students built walls but parted ways past her at the last moment. allowed to walk.

Photographer Douglas Martin won the 1957 World Press Photo of the Year for an image of the Counts being mocked by a crowd on their first day of school (first image above).

After entering the building she went to the auditorium to sit with her class. She faced the same harassment that happened outside the school building, constantly shouting at her after hearing racial slurs. She said that no adult helped or protected her during this time.

She mentioned that after going to her house to pick up her books and shows, she was ignored. After the school day around noon, her parents asked if she wanted to continue attending Harry Harding High School. Counts said she wanted to return because she expected to be friends with her classmates.

The next day Dorothy fell ill. She stayed home from school that Friday, with fever and sore throat, but returned on Monday. There was no crowd outside the school after returning to school.

During lunch on Tuesday, a group of boys surrounded her and spit in her food. She proceeded to move out and met another new student, part of her homeroom class, who had talked to the Counts about Charlotte and being new to the school.

When the Counts returned home she told her parents that she felt better that she had made a friend, and that she had someone to talk to. Following her experience during the lunch period, the Counts encouraged her parents to pick her up during her lunch break so she could eat.

On Wednesday, the counts saw the young girl in the hallway and the young girl ignored the counts and hung her head. During lunch that day, a blackboard eraser was thrown at him and fell on the back of his head.

As she went outside and visited her eldest brother for lunch, she noticed the family car was crowded around, and the rear windows were broken. Counts says this was the first time she was scared because now her family was being attacked.

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