On the morning of September 4, 1957, fifteen-year-old Dorothy Counts set out on a harrowing path toward Harding High, where-as the first African American to attend the all-white school – she was greeted by a jeering swarm of boys who spat, threw trash, and yelled epithets at her as she entered the building.
Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey captured the ugly incident on film, and in the days that followed, the searing image appeared not just in the local paper but in newspapers around the world.
People everywhere were transfixed by the girl in the photograph who stood tall, her five-foot-ten-inch frame towering nobly above the mob that trailed her. There, in black and white, was evidence of the brutality of racism, a sinister force that had led children to torment another child while adults stood by. While the images display a lot of evils: prejudice, ignorance, racism, sexism, inequality, it also captures true strength, determination, courage and inspiration.
Here she is, age 70, still absolutely elegant and poised.
"You have to get away from them. You have to get as far away as you can otherwise they’ll kill you with their lives. They don’t know what they do. They are careless with themselves and they take too much for granted. They make their shortcomings your problem. The only way to keep your head above it and heal your wounds is to crawl away."
"I know you
You were too short
You had bad skin
You couldn’t talk to them very well
Words didn’t seem to work
They lied when they came out of your mouth
You tried so hard to understand them
You wanted to be part of what was happening
You saw them having fun
And it seemed like such a mystery
Made you think that there was something wrong with you
You’d look in the mirror and try to find it
You thought that you were ugly
And that everyone was looking at you
So you learned to be invisible
To look down
To avoid conversation
The hours, days, weekends
Ah, the weekend nights alone
Where were you?
In the basement?
In the attic?
In your room?
Working some job - just to have something to do.
Just to have a place to put yourself
Just to have a way to get away from them
A chance to get away from the ones that made you feel
so strange and ill at ease inside yourself
Did you ever get invited to one of their parties?
You sat and wondered if you would go or not
For hours you imagined the scenarios that might transpire
They would laugh at you
If you would know what to do
If you’d have the right things on
If they would notice that you came from a different planet
Did you get all brave in your thoughts?
Like you going to be able to go in there and deal with it
and have a great time.
Did you think that you might be the life of the party?
That all these people were gonna talk to you and you
would find out that you were wrong?
That you had a lot of friends and you weren’t so
strange after all?
Did you end up going?
Did they mess with you?
Did they single you out?
Did you find out that you were invited because they
thought you were so weird?
Yeah, I think I know you
You spent a lot of time full of hate
A hate that was pure sunshine
A hate that saw for miles
A hate that kept you up at night
A hate that filled your every waking moment
A hate that carried you for a long time
Yes, I think I know you
You couldn’t figure out what they saw in the way they lived
Home was not home
Your room was home
A corner was home
The place they weren’t, that was home
I know you
You’re sensitive and you hide it because you fear
getting stepped on one more time
It seems that when you show a part of yourself that is
the least bit vulnerable someone takes advantage of you
One of them steps on you
They mistake kindliness for weakness
But you know the difference
You’ve been the brunt of their weakness for years
And strength is something you know a bit about because
you had to be strong to keep yourself alive
You know yourself very well now
And you don’t trust people
You know them too well
You try to find that special person
Someone you can be with
Someone you can touch
Someone you can talk to
Someone you don’t feel so strange around
And you find that they don’t really exist
You feel closer to people on movie screens
Yeah, I think I know you
You spend a lot of time daydreaming
And people have made comment to that effect
Telling you that you’re self involved, and self centred
But they don’t know, do they?
About the long night shifts alone
About the years of keeping yourself company
All the nights you wrapped your arms around yourself
so you could imagine someone holding you
The hours of indecision, self doubt
The intense depression
The blinding hate
The rage that made you stagger
The devastation of rejection
Well, maybe they do know
But if they do, they sure do a good job of hiding it
It astounds you how they can be so smooth
How they seem to pass through life as if life itself
was some divine gift
And it infuriates you to watch yourself with your
apparent skill at finding every way possible to screw it up
For you life is a long trip
Terrifying and wonderful
Birds sing to you at night
The rain and the sun the changing seasons are true friends
Solitude is a hard won ally, faithful and patient
Yeah, I think I know you"
"Long ago I threw out the idea that the world was against me, trying to undermine all that I was trying to do. I used to think the same thing about life itself. I used to think that life was hunting me down and trying to destroy me. I have found that to be untrue. It’s always the easiest way out, to blame your problems on something else, someone else. I threw out the ideas that the world and life were my enemies. I found that I was protecting myself from the real enemy that I had not yet dealt with. Myself. As soon as that was stripped away, I saw things more clearly. I also stopped talking to people and became more withdrawn than usual."
"When I was 18 I wanted to fuck on the floor and break shit. When I was 25 I wanted to fuck on the floor and break shit. When I was 35 I wanted to fuck on the floor and break shit. Now I’m 40 and I want to fuck on the floor and break shit."