Dorothy Counts

04 September, 1957

Dorothy Counts, the first and at the time only black student to enroll in the newly desegregated Harry Harding High School in Charlotte (NC), is mocked by protestors on her first day of school. Bystanders threw rocks and screamed at Dorothy to go back to where she came from.

The man walking beside her is probably Dr. Edwin Tompkins, a friend of the family and a professor at the black college Johnson C. Smith University. After a string of abuses, Dorothy’s family withdrew her from the school after only four days. Children had been enrolling for the new school year and tension was particularly high in the south for districts trying to comply with the US Supreme Court’s ruling that states should desegregate their schools with deliberate speed.

World Press Photo

I cannot imagine what she must have felt.

“There was unutterable pride, tension and anguish in that girl’s face as she approached the halls of learning, with history jeering at her back,” he later said. “It made me furious. It filled me with both hatred and pity. And it made me ashamed. Some one of us should have been there with her.”

Michael Graff, quoting James Baldwin, “This picture signaled an end to segregation. Why has so little changed?”, The Guardian

Photos by Douglas Martin.