Writing this is moving. I knew the end was near, but I am comforted by the memories and the tears. My beloved high school in West Charlotte will be torn down next month. Decades of footsteps, laughter and sweat inhabit the buildings laid out like a university campus.
The school moved to its current location on Senior Drive in 1954. In the fall, students and staff will move to a new facility being built next door. I praise the steel and bricks – the soul of West Charlotte High, which will also live in the new building.
West Charlotte is one of the oldest public schools in the area. It was once presented as a flagship institution. Change was inevitable and my alma mater went through phases. I graduated in 1966, about to move from segregation to integration.
As new high schools were built and attendance areas were drawn, West Charlotte experienced a brain drain. Black principals transferred to other schools. The teachers have been reassigned. Students moved to new attendance areas. The changes have diluted the strength of our pool of talented faculty and students.
My mind is wobbling over high school highlights. Life was simpler, going to school was safer. I took the city bus from the Biddleville-Five Points area and walked home after school with friends. There was no pressure from social media, no internet.
We were trained in the humanities and were confident that we could hold our own in college and in the world. It was expected of us. The majority of teachers held master’s degrees from northern universities. Blacks could not attend the University of North Carolina as undergraduates until 1955.
West Charlotte’s athletic program has produced champions. Our Thespians and our group have been awarded. The group performed in what was then known as carousel parade, always towards the end, before the Santa Claus float. Because when West Charlotte came by, the crowd followed.
On April 30, 2022, the school held Lion Pride Day so former students could see the school before it was torn down. My daughter Sommer lives in Washington, DC, but her team, friends since kindergarten, were there. I asked a few of his friends – all from the class of 1999 – about their recollections.
Christina said: ‘When people talk about West Charlotte you often hear the word ‘pride’ – pride in the local community, as they lined the Beatties Ford road in support of the marching band at the homecoming parades, teachers car they offered a comprehensive view of education, from environmental science classes to welcoming Rosa Parks….That’s what made West Charlotte great!”
Shara: “When I was a kid, I remember being amazed when Mom told me that Martin Luther King Jr. gave my Aunt Mill’s commencement address (Class of 1936). So it came full circle when Rosa Parks came to visit my sophomore in West Charlotte. Due to logistical constraints, only certain classes were invited — I was not on the list. Deeply disappointed, Christina and I weighed the pros and cons of cutting classes to sneak into the event. We had a substitute teacher that day and decided to take the risk. Best decision I’ve ever made in my time in the WC!”
Erin: “My God! What can I say about WC? It was legacy, family, community, everything. Learning with my friends whom I had known since elementary school (and some since preschool) in a community where my family had deep roots was incredible. I learned valuable life lessons that I will never forget and witnessed the better football and basketball games of all time!”
Ulonda: “For me, WC is special because of the pride felt by the generations of students who have passed through its halls. It is the community created by being part of a legacy that began in 1938 and will continue into the future. Maybe other people feel that way about their high schools, maybe not. But I know when I’m at a football game and the crowd starts chanting, “We love West Charlotte, deep in our hearts,” that love is real, because I feel it deep in my heart.
Graduates are justifiably proud of West Charlotte. When my daughter attended law school in Durham, people knew the “WC”. When she moved to DC, people knew about WC. It is the pride of Leo.
Dee Dee Murphy is a Charlotte native who attended West Charlotte High School from 1962 to 1966 and was subsequently active in the Charlotte arts community, including 30 years as a Mint Museum guide. She now lives in Carrollton, Ga.