High School Segregation
Photographer: Douglas Martin
Year: 1957 World Press Winner
Dorothy Counts (born 1942) was one of the first black students admitted to the Harry Harding High School, in Charlotte, North Carolina. After four days of harassment that threatened her safety, her parents forced her to withdraw from the school.
A Walk of Faith
In 1956, forty black students applied for transfers at a white school. This was after the passing of the Pearsall Plan in North Carolina. At 15 years of age, on 4 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. Photographer Douglas Martin won the 1957 World Press Photo of the Year with an image of Counts being mocked by a crowd on her first day of school.
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. At a press conference, he said:
It is with compassion for our native land and love for our daughter Dorothy that we withdraw her as a student at Harding High School. As long as we felt she could be protected from bodily injury and insults within the school’s walls and upon the school premises, we were willing to grant her desire to study at Harding.
The family moved to Pennsylvania, where Counts attended an integrated school in Philadelphia, and later earned a degree from Johnson C. Smith University. She has spent her professional career in child care resources.
In 2008, Harding High School awarded Counts an honorary diploma. In 2010, Counts received a public apology from a member of the crowd which harassed her in 1957. In 2010, Harding High School renamed its library in honor of Counts-Scoggins, an honour rarely bestowed upon living persons.