‘Going down South (!) for a lesson in racial relations’

“To see busing succeed [in 1974], Americans could look to the South. In Charlotte, North Carolina, 16-year-old Tina Gouge was one of many busing pioneers. At West Charlotte High School, Gouge’s student government committee started a campaign to write letters to Boston’s students and citizens. Gouge, an African American, acknowledged her initial trepidation at the prospect of a 12-mile bus ride. But she eventually found integration to be ‘a fantastic experience.’ She counseled Boston’s students to exercise patience and openness. Don Turbyhill, a white student, wrote, ‘You can’t expect to adjust overnight — but please give it a chance.’

“The Charlotte students then extended an invitation to their Boston brethren. In the last week of October, four students from Hyde Park High School traveled to North Carolina. As Linda Lawrence, a 17-year-old Bostonian, admitted, ‘I never thought I’d be going down South for a lesson in racial relations.’ The world turned upside down.”

— From “All Eyes are Upon Us: Race and Politics from Boston to Brooklyn” by Jason Sokol (2014)

Even in 1974 not everyone thought so highly of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.  And of course that was far from the end of the CMS desegregation story


Last refuge of poor white man: ‘At least I ain’t a n—–‘

“A white man named Billy Harwood, who was imprisoned in 1994, started work at Smithfield [Packing Co. in Tar Heel] after his release in 2001.

“Aghast at the number of Mexicans, Harwood wondered aloud, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ By that year, fully one-third of the babies born at the health clinic in neighboring Robeson County were Latino.

“As Charlie LeDuff reported in the New York Times, Harwood ‘was Rip Van Winkle standing there.’ Locked up for seven years, he had missed the birth of a new kind of Southern racial order. Suddenly, he found himself thrust into the middle of it.

“Harwood still believed his skin color conferred on him a certain kind of advantage. While Harwood found the work terrible, he could take solace. ‘At least I ain’t a n—–. I’ll find other work soon. I’m a white man.’ ”

— From “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975” by Jason Sokol (2007)


Labor vs. capital showdown never came

“A 1976 advertisement in Forbes symbolized the state’s priorities. ‘North Carolina has a commitment to provide the most favorable climate to industry that is possible.’  By that year previously agricultural North Carolina had become the eighth most industrialized state…. Only 6.8 percent of its nonagricultural workers belonged to unions….

“A writer for The Progressive believed a great showdown was in the offing. ‘In North Carolina… the battle between labor and capital is still in its infancy. It is a replay of the struggles witnessed elsewhere from the 1880s through the 1930s.’  Those epic confrontations never came. … By 1988, less than 5 percent of workers…  belonged to unions.”

— From “There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945-1975” by Jason Sokol (2006)

By 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina’s unionization rate had fallen even further, to 3.1 percent — still the lowest in the country.