Dorothy Counts

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Dorothy Counts-Scoggins (born 1942) is an American civil rights figure who 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.


In 1956, forty black students applied for transfers at a white school.[1] This was after the passing of the Pearsall Plan in North Carolina, which amended the Compulsory School Attendance Law so that students may be excused from attending an integrated public school. At 15 years of age, on September 4, 1957, Dorothy Counts was one of four black students enrolled at various all-white schools in the district; she was enrolled at Harry Harding High School in Charlotte, North Carolina.[2] The three other students—Gus Roberts, his sister Girvaud and Delois Huntley—attended schools including Central High, Piedmont Junior High and Alexander Graham Junior High.[3] Dorothy Counts, whose nickname was Dot, was dropped off on her first day of school by her father Herman Count along with their family friend Edwin Thompkins. As their car was blocked from going closer to the front entrance, Edwin offered to escort Counts to the front of the school while her father parked the car. As Counts got out of the car to head down the hill, her father told her, "Hold your head high." The harassment started when the wife of John Z. Warlick, an officer 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."[1] Counts walked by without reacting, but told the press later that many people threw rocks at her—most of which landed in front of her feet—and that students formed walls but parted ways at the last minute to allow her to walk past. 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.[4]

Counts fell ill the following day. With a fever and aching throat, she stayed home from school for the next two days, but had hoped to start the next week better. On her first day, she had befriended two white female students and hoped their friendship would lessen the stress of starting a new school. As she arrived the following week on Monday, the girls told her they could not be friends with her anymore due to them enduring their own harassment while she was absent, including eggs being thrown at them.[5] A few days later on Wednesday, Counts requested to go home for lunch after a group of boys spit in her food the previous day. When she returned that afternoon with her brother, a bystander threw something at their car and shattered the back window. The following day, a week after her first arrival, her parents pulled her from Harding High. At a press conference, her father 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.[1]

Her father sent her to Philadelphia to finish high school and, after earning her diploma, she returned to Charlotte to earn her degree from Johnson C. Smith University in 1965. After attending Harding High for only four days, she was inspired to work in the childcare services and later worked her way to the Vice President position at Child Care Resources Inc.[6]


In 2008, Dorothy Counts-Scoggins along with seven other people were honored for helping integrate North Carolina's public schools .[7] Each honoree received the Old North State Award from Governor Mike Easley. In 2006, Counts-Scoggins received an email from a white man named Woody Cooper. He had admitted to being one of the boys in the famous picture and wanted to apologize. They met up for lunch where Cooper asked her to forgive him and she responded by saying, "I forgave you a long time ago, this is opportunity to do something for our children and grandchildren."[8] They agreed to share their story and from there, did many interviews and speaking engagements together. In 2010, Counts received a public apology from a member of the crowd that harassed her in 1957.[9] In 2010, Harding High School renamed its library in honor of Counts-Scoggins, an honour rarely bestowed upon living persons.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Wallenstein Newsletter of the Society for the History of Children and Youth
  2. ^ The Emergence Of Diversity: African Americans
  3. ^ "From Observer archives (2007): Dorothy Counts at Harding High, a story of pride, prejudice". charlotteobserver. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  4. ^ "1957 World Press Photo of the Year". World Press Photo. Archived from the original on 3 August 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  5. ^ "From Observer archives (2007): Dorothy Counts at Harding High, a story of pride, prejudice". charlotteobserver. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  6. ^ "Dorothy Counts (1942– ) • BlackPast". BlackPast. 2016-08-31. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  7. ^ "Honored for Taking a Step Forward". The Charlotte Observer. 13 June 2008. Retrieved 20 November 2013.
  8. ^ Graff, Michael (2018-09-17). "This picture signaled an end to segregation. Why has so little changed?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-02-16.
  9. ^ a b Burkins, Glenn (27 May 2010). "Dorothy Counts-Scoggins to receive public apology". Q City Metro. Archived from the original on 16 September 2015. Retrieved 20 November 2013.


External links[edit]

  • ^ Club, History Lovers (2019-08-05). "Dorothy Counts during an assembly at Charlotte's Harry Harding High". @historylvrsclub. Retrieved 2019-08-05.