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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 >>

Consequences of the lack of a university in Charlotte, North Carolina

Cone discusses why Charlotte did not have its own university before the 1950s and she describes the impact this had on the city. According to Cone, taxation and land were both important factors in thwarting earlier efforts to establish a college in Charlotte. She offers a short anecdote describing how Duke University might have been established in Charlotte, rather than Durham, had land prices been more affordable. Because the closest big universities (Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) were several hours away, Cone explains that many Charlotte families were unable to afford to send their children to college despite the fact that they were academically able.

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

LYNN HAESSLY:
Let me ask you, before I talk to you more about Charlotte College, you lived in Charlotte for several years on and off before Charlotte College really began. Other Piedmont cities had developed universities-some of them through the state like Greensboro or Raleigh, and others like Winston-Salem or Durham had private universities-but there is no real university here in Charlotte, and I wanted to ask you for your assessment of why you think a university hadn't developed in Charlotte before that.
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, it really was very hard for us to understand why this most populous region, where we had more than twenty-five percent of the high school graduates within commuting distance of this area, why a university had not developed. I know some of the stories. But we knew that we had to have a university, either publicly or privately supported. That's exactly why we tried everything we did to move so that we would be able to get this institution that was very much needed in the city and area and state. It's a service to all.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What were some of the stories about why a university hadn't developed?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, you know people will tell tales that say, "Oh, Chapel Hill and State want all the money up there. They just want your area to pay thirty percent of the taxes." You have this tremendous population needing to be served as long as you pay the taxes. They get the income to operate those institutions in the effective manner in which they operate, and they are going to be very satisfied. They don't go pushing to get a permanent institution.
LYNN HAESSLY:
And there is nobody comparable to one of the Dukes in Charlotte?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well I'm not going to say that this is a true story, but I know that in the early history of the location of Chapel Hill, if you go back to-what was it, 1789-I understand that there was a real push to get the university here at that time. But that the availability of the land [prevented that]. Apparently we didn't go out and provide it, but the land was provided in Chapel Hill. And that's perhaps the reason that it went to Chapel Hill, the initial one. Secondly, I understand that Mr. Duke came here, too, and tried to acquire land in the Plaza area. This is the story-I have not checked.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Where is the Plaza area?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Do you know where Hawthorne land is? Do you know where Presbyterian Hospital is? It's in that general area but on out to the north. He tried to get land, and he felt that the landowners were jacking up the price, and he said, "Oh, well, thank you," he would go back to Durham. This is a story we have heard, too, that we lost Duke University because of the . It seems that land would be a terrible thing to keep you from having an educational institution. So when we went out, we tried to get land.
LYNN HAESSLY:
What kind of impact did it have on , not having a university?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, first of all, it seems to me, there were people who needed higher education whose families could not send them to these institutions. The nearest one to us when we became a higher educational institution was at Greensboro, Woman's College. It was still a woman's college. The first year we operated at that old college center we had more students coming to us from old Tech High School, where the mill area of the city was, than had gone from that high school in its twenty-odd years of history. You see, the availability. I can tell you where some of those men who were in that first class went. You know, one of them who came the second year from old Tech, is now one of the vice-presidents at . But he would never have had a chance to be an engineer if we had not been there. You think about the young man who is the chief neurosurgeon at Chapel Hill, in the medical school there, Steve Mahaley, who says that he never could have started at college if there hadn't been a Charlotte College. He could never have come there if there had not been a partial scholarship, and here he is doing cancer research. We were able, after his two years with us, to get him into Wake Forest. He graduated Wake Forest and was admitted to Bowman Gray, was admitted to Duke Medical School. I said, "Steve, you better take Duke because you don't have any money." His people couldn't have sent him, you know. And we were able to get help at Duke. He graduated from Duke. He was the only graduate with an award. He got the Borden Award for Advanced Study, and he was able to go on and get his Ph.D. degree in microbiology. Then he stayed on at Duke, and he got his M.D., too, and taught at Duke, and, you know, in his work at Duke he was doing cancer research there. Then when Chapel Hill needed a chief neurosurgeon, they looked around the country and where did they go? Found one of our early students back from the '50s, and he's there, I think, doing a fine job. He wouldn't be there if he wasn't. I think we need to take a rest now.
LYNN HAESSLY:
Yes, I think so, too. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE A] [START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
LYNN HAESSLY:
We were talking about the beginnings of Charlotte College, and you had talked some about how individuals had come to the college who wouldn't have had a chance before. What kind of impact did the lack of a university have on the city's intellectual and cultural life and the city as a whole?
BONNIE E. CONE:
Well, it's hard to answer that one. It's hard to measure that. You know, we know that there were parts of Charlotte, the southeastern part of Charlotte, where those young people from that area afforded the best education. You couldn't find better educated people than those people. But, it seems to me, that a community is the poorer when one of its citizens is able to receive a broad education, and therefore to make a greater contribution to life, [rather than] for them to be denied it simply because they were born in a section, in an area, where they didn't have those opportunities. We found there was just nothing wrong with those people from north Charlotte and from the Harding High School area. They had good minds, and they had the ability to do the work. They just had parents who were not able to financially afford to send them to college.