When a Teenager Held Her Head Up High Against Racism: Dorothy Counts – September 4, 1957.

Dorothy Counts, a 15-year-old from Charlotte, North Carolina, woke up early on the morning of September 4, 1957, and prepared for the most difficult day of her life. It was the first day of school. Her new school, Harding High, was an all-white school in a completely segregated Charlotte. Dorothy was black. Today, on the first day of her freshman year, she was to become the first African American to attend the newly desegregated all-white school. Every neighborhood, every public facility, every other school in Charlotte was segregated. Dorothy was one of four black students enrolled at various all-white schools in the district after the Supreme Court ruled public school segregation unconstitutional three years earlier. Dorothy was about to end segregation in Harding High-school and Harding High was not going to have it.

Dorothy Herman
Dorothy Counts with her father Herman Counts mocked by whites on her first day of school at a newly desegregated school (source: Douglas Martin – World Press Photograph of the Year 1957)


Throughout the torturous road to Harding High, Dorothy held her head high, just as her father, Herman Counts, told her to do so.


Dorothy Counts on her way to school (source: Douglas Martin)

From the moment she approached, they were waiting. A large crowd of white boys and girls, ridiculing her, harassed her, spitting on her, throwing things at her and following her until she reached the school. Throughout the torturous road to Harding High, Dorothy held her head high, just as her father, Herman Counts, told her to do so.

Dorothy Counts on her way to school (source: Douglas Martin)

Dorothy Counts attended Harding High for four days. Despite her desire to study there, after the intensifying harassments and the threatening phone calls, her father, unable to secure his daughter’s safety, decided to withdraw her as a student at Harding High School.

Dorothy mocked
Dorothy Counts mocked at school (source: Douglas Martin)

Herman Count moved his family to Pennsylvania and Dorothy attended an integrated school in Philadelphia. In 1961, Dorothy returned to Charlotte, attended the Johnson C. Smith University and earned her degree in 1965. After devoting her life to child care services, in 2008, the school she so courageously attended for four days, awarded her an honorary diploma.

A young boy, Woody Cooper, was in that crowd at Harding High on Dorothy’s first day of school. Even though he wasn’t one of the people who insulted or threw things at her, Woody felt guilty for never saying anything to prevent it from happening. Almost fifty years later, he found Dorothy Counts, who changed her name to Dot Counts-Scoggins, and asked for her forgiveness. They became close friends until Cooper’s death in 2010.


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