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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bonnie E. Cone, January 7, 1986. Interview C-0048. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Establishment of a community college in Charlotte and its racial implications in the early 1950s

Cone discusses the establishment of Charlotte College in the late 1940s and community efforts to make it a permanent establishment through legislative means. Working through the school board, Cone explains how they successfully lobbied the state legislature to establish a more permanent community college system following the initial and temporary establishment of schools meant to address immediate post-war GI Bill demands. Their efforts resulted in the beginnings of a two year community college that included a separate component for African American students. Several years prior to the 1954 Supreme Court decision calling for the desegregation of public schools, Cone suggests that within the college setting there wasn't much tension surrounding the issue of integration. She offers an anecdote about a school picnic, attended by blacks and whites, that was not challenged by the white community.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bonnie E. Cone, January 7, 1986. Interview C-0048. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So in the spring of '49 they said that they were not going to continue the college centers after June 30th of '49. That was a very sad day for us. But it was an odd numbered year, and the legislature was in session, and we knew we had to. So we were able to get legislation prepared, introduced, and passed to stay alive.
LYNN HAESSLY:
How did you do that?
BONNIE E. CONE:
It took all the effort we could muster. You know, it took teamwork. First of all, you had to sell your community on it.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So you went to the legislators from Charlotte?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Yes, you had to work with the school board because it was the entity under which you had to operate. There was no other agency. Then we came under the school board, you see. At first, that's where we were. We gradually got into our board but that took several years to do that. So we were able to get that legislation prepared and introduced and passed. That was five years before the Supreme Court decision, and we knew that there were blacks to be served. We were able to get-they called it a community college system but it was not much of a community college. It was not the diversified operation that you would expect of a Central Piedmont today. We were offering mainly the first two years of regular college work. We were not able to give the broad program that they give now in Central Piedmont. But we stayed alive, and we were able to get the black center started at second ward. I know it's been torn down.
LYNN HAESSLY:
So you were starting a separate. . . .
BONNIE E. CONE:
entity for the blacks, but they were given the first year of college work and the second year, at least at . I remember, I did a very bad thing that I guess I didn't question, though somehow we were out from under any board except the board of education. That first year we were operating, the public health nurses asked us to give a course in sociology. They needed to upgrade their certificates or whatever documents they worked on. You know, they were public health nurses, and I didn't question that there were black ones. We had all of them we could get in sociology five years before the Supreme Court decision. When we got through, you know, we wanted to celebrate. We didn't think we were doing anything bad so we just went ahead and had a picnic. Everybody just had the best time, and I guess that was the first that we had really been out that way with our black counterparts.
LYNN HAESSLY:
And there was no problem with the community? The white community didn't object at all?
BONNIE E. CONE:
No problem. We didn't go out and put it in the headlines. We didn't do it in private. We just didn't publicize it. I mean, there was no reason to publicize it. It was a normal operation, we felt. So we did have that first year that course in sociology, and all the public health nurses were there. I worked very closely with the black college.