One Person Awakening: Dorothy Counts

Harding High (1957) vs. Harding High (2017).

“Each of us begins the journey toward personal discovery because someone else gave us a vision that allows us to be more creative, more resourceful, more powerful than the child inside us ever thought possible. The pattern of one person awakening sharing and organizing is key to positive social change….”  – Juan Williams, My Soul Looks Back in Wonder, 2014

In 1957 Dorothy Counts was admitted into Harding High after North Carolina passed state wide desegregation legislation three years after Brown vs. the Board of Education decision was handed down on May 17th. Three years later.

After 4 days of harassment, the barrage of threats drove her entire family out of state in fear of their lives. The states actions reflected a broader sentiment of the time, a commitment that was to meet minimum federal requirements, thick with as much suffocating discrimination in the process as it was seen in the streets. With a Governor who did not support desegregation the “Governor’s Special Advisory Committee on Education” was formed, and as to be expected not a single voice of color was represented on the committee. The Pearsall Plan of North Carolina was ripe with perpetuating the problem, with everything from offering private school vouchers to families who did not want to attend integrated schools, and went so far as to negate attendance policies for families who chose not to send their children to public schools at all because of integration.

Ultimately the North Carolina model was very much in line with hegemonic views on integration and white resistance at the time. For nearly a decade after the Brown ruling schools continued to remain segregated not only in Charlotte, but across the nation.

Without the Dorothy’s, one person awakening, her parents who understood the implications of their decision to support hers there isn’t much debate we would not be where we are at today. Without our Clarence and our Thurgood that decision and choice would have never even been on the table… But why is in in 2017 our schools continue to be segregated on racial lines? Why are schools in the United States now more racially segregated than they were pre Brown vs. the Board of Education?

ProPublica examined 24 years of demographic data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics and found that districts grew steadily more segregated after their desegregation orders ended. A separate 2011 study in the American Economic Journal found that within 10 years of being released, school districts unwound about 60 percent of the integration they had achieved under court order.

Despite the leaps and bounds the movement of education equity is still very much alive because unjust and oppressive conditions still very much exist. Much like in the era of Jim Crow, current education legislation has played a historic role in limiting the educational opportunities for our underrepresented youth. From Prop 13 in our precious California to the disaster of the woman we know as Betsy De Vos who will destroy our education system, current policy and practice truly highlights people of color are seen as commodities, and the core of what motivates and moves this country is money.

Until we make a commitment to education rooted in truth, in love and invest equitably we will continue to grow the gap we already see. We have researched it, read it, presented on it, now we must act on in. Recalling the courage of the efforts of advocates like Dorothy Counts are a key piece in that process. Malcom X reminds us to know our history is like armor and will enlighten our lens and perspective tackling the same oppressions we have struggled with for generations, but it will also inspire us. I honor the risk taken by those before and commit to take them in solidarity for the sacrifice given for me. Our history is dark and tangled with the worst of human hate, but lightened by the capacity of hope and truth to rise above even the most gruesomely violent atrocities that have unfolded. I choose the righteous path armed with a critical consciousness and understanding my love for myself and those around me in our Salinas will be the catalyst that disrupts the cycle we have been part of for too long. I love you Salinas. I will be brave. You make me brave.


Huffington Post on Dorothy Counts (

North Carolina History Project (

William S. Powell, The Encyclopedia of North Carolina2006. The University of North Carolina Press.

Juan Williams, My Soul Looks Back in Wonder, 2014. AARP.

Davison Douglas, Reading, Writing and Race: The Desegregation of the Charlotte Schools, 1995.

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