Nearly 60 years ago, Dot Counts-Scoggins, then known as Dorothy Counts, endured racism so harsh that her parents had to send her to school out-of-state. As one of the first students to racially integrate Charlotte, North Carolina’s Harry Harding High School, Counts became an unwilling figure of the civil rights movement.
The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling which ended school segregation, took place a few years before Counts and 40 other students applied to transfer to an all-white school, but with a glaring difference. Unlike the Little Rock Nine, Counts did not receive federal protection and escorts, which subjected her to ongoing harassment. A photo of a then 15-year-old Counts surrounded by a savage white mob made national headlines.
The mob spat on Counts’ dress, newly made by her grandmother, and threw trash on her. Segregationist groups organized protests to block Counts from entering Harding. After four days, school officials told her parents they could no longer keep her safe, and they sent her off to school in Philadelphia to safely attend an integrated school.
Despite the harsh treatment she received, Counts returned to Charlotte to attend John C. Smith University, graduating in 1965. She’s lived there ever since. She worked in childcare services and said in an interview that her Harding experience inspired her to prevent similar acts from happening to other children.
Harding honored Counts by naming its school library after her. The school also presented her with an honorary degree in 2010 and that same year, one of the white mob members publicly apologized.
She is the mother of two adopted adult children.
PHOTO: Public Domain