A Colored School

Combining original film footage with alumni recollections, this stirring documentary shares the unique history of Charlotte's Second Ward High School, the Queen City's first high school for African-American students.

Colored School

When a Johnson C. Smith University professor came in the spring of 1941 to Charlotte's Second Ward High School to film a day in the life of the students, no one knew he was creating history.
Then in 1969, Second Ward teachers and students watched a demolition team level the school, the signal that an era of open segregation was ending. All that remained of that time and the school was the film. One of the teachers at Second Ward kept the film in her possession until she retired. Her son then gave it to Vermelle Diamond Ely, a former student. With the help of producer Kathryn Frye, Second Ward alumni made the original film into a 30-minute documentary about the laughter, nurturing, fun--and pain--that characterized Second Ward High School.

A Colored School combines the original film footage with recollections of alumni who gathered one day to watch the film and reminisce about their high school experience. Vermelle Ely, Dr. William Yongue, Margaret Alexander, who was the May Queen the day of filming, and several others share their memories of life at Charlotte's first high school for black students.

Before 1923, there were public high schools for white children, but none for black children. When Second Ward opened in 1923, it offered black children from age 13 up an opportunity they had never had before. Several other high schools for black children opened during the next 20 years, predominantly in the Second Ward area. Second Ward stood in the center of Brooklyn a mostly black neighborhood between the center of the city and Dilworth neighborhood.

Students and clips from the film document events such as the procession of the May Queen, walking to school amidst rocks being thrown, and some of the life skill classes. Students also recount the demolition of the school and the arrival of the plaque that now stands at the site in its memory.

The project is funded in part by grants from The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and the Arts & Science Council. Several groups have previewed the documentary at the Charlotte Library and the Charlotte Museum of History.